I've watched the finest of games for 48 summers now and would bracket the tall South African with Viv Richards and Brian Lara as the best of my experience. It wasn't so much the runs he made, as the way that he made them. Viv had the power and Brian had a wonderful eye in their prime, but there are plenty who would acclaim Barry as the finest of them all.
It wasn't the runs he made as the way that he made them. Barry Richards had a classical technique and never seemed to do anything in a hurry. The fastest of bowlers - and there were plenty of them, in his era - never seemed to change his organised, cultured, yet innovative game, seemingly having a shot for every ball and some that others didn't consider possible. Most of all he had time, the surest indicator of supreme talent.
I never saw a batsman go 'inside out' and hit over extra cover before Barry Richards. This was often against bowlers who pitched outside leg stump in the vain hope of tying him down. His footwork, eye and timing combined to open up the off side and captains and bowlers alike shrugged their shoulders as they waited for him to get bored.
Which was ultimately the most effective weapon. This outstanding book confirms what most of us who had the pleasure of seeing him already knew. Barry Richards got bored. He was happier making a scintillating seventy than a turgid ton and generally needed a challenge to play at his best. That challenge may have been a quality bowler, a bad wicket, a game his team needed to win or a financial incentive. He went to play for South Australia in the winter of 1970-71 and was sponsored to the tune of a dollar a run above his salary, responding with 1538 of them in 16 innings at an average of 109.86...
Against Western Australia, featuring Graham McKenzie and Dennis Lillee as opening bowlers, he made 356, with 325 made on the first day. For over a decade, he made Hampshire one of the biggest draws on the county circuit, especially when he latterly partnered Gordon Greenidge, but over the years one of the greatest of batsmen became seen as an under-achiever, despite a final career average of almost 55.
He could easily have exceeded a hundred centuries, but often gave it away when he felt he had done enough. The ultimate challenge, Test cricket, was to afford Barry Richards only one series, in 1970, against the Australians. In four matches and seven innings he scored 508 runs at an average of 72.57, with two centuries and two fifties. He was only 25 and his international career started and finished at the same time.
That's as far as the record books show, but World Series cricket between 1977 and 1979 gave him one last crack at the best. He had not played international cricket for seven years and was facing the fastest bowlers in the world, operating in packs and encouraged by Kerry Packer to bowl short, fast and dangerously to create a spectacle. All this on wickets that were sometimes sub-standard and occasionally dangerous. Only three batsmen had the talent and skill to average over forty - Greg Chappell managed 56.6, Viv Richards 55.69.
Barry Richards averaged 79.14. He says in the book that his eyes had gone by that stage, which is a strong indicator of his talent and technique, let alone his bravery, at a time when the wearing of helmets was in its infancy.
This is a wonderful read and his former team mate at Hampshire, Andrew Murtagh, has done a fine job. Life has presented its challenges to Barry Richards, with a difficult relationship with his father, a far from affluent childhood and personal tragedy in retirement, but the author avoids none of them and the subject takes the opportunity to exorcise some personal demons.
I would heartily recommend the latest addition to Pitch Publishing's fine portfolio. Read it, and like me remember one of the greatest batsmen of the twentieth century. For those who never saw him, enjoy this clip of a sublime one-day century against Lancashire, courtesy of Youtube
Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards, the genius lost to Test cricket is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is currently available on Amazon for £15.90, and also from all good book shops.