With its origins dating all the way back to the 16th century, cricket is a sport that has evolved greatly over the years.
From changes in its laws to adopting entirely new formats, the game has always been in a constant state of flux. While cricket’s lawmakers and custodians have played their part in evolving the sport with time, there have also been several players along the way who have created their own impact.
These players have helped change the manner in which the game is approached and their legacy is permanently etched in stone. Whether it be introducing a completely new shot with the bat or bringing a fundamental shift in the game, these players are cricket’s greatest innovators.
As we look back on some of these visionaries of the game, one name that cannot be missed is that of Sir Viv Richards.
The limited-overs game has undergone rapid evolution over the past decade or two and it is no secret that run-scoring has become significantly easier. Flatter batting conditions, powerplay restrictions and two new-balls have all contributed towards making ODI cricket more high scoring than before.
With totals of over 300 now becoming the norm, the 50-over cricket of today has undergone a sea of change to that seen in the 1970s and 1980s. That was an era where 60-over innings were still prevalent, and a batting strike-rate over 65 was considered to be an excellent one. Viv Richards, however, was in a league of his own with the West Indies batting great dominating bowling attacks in a fashion never seen before his time.
The fact that his ODI batting strike-rate of more than 90 would be considered phenomenal even in the modern era tells you all you need to know about the devastating impact the Antiguan created every time he arrived at the crease.
Mixing the Caribbean swagger with equal parts of arrogance, Richards induced a terror in bowlers they had never previously experienced. It was fast bowlers who usually intimidated batsmen with their aggression and menacing stare downs after a hostile delivery.
Not with Richards, though, with the Antiguan reversing the roles without the overt use of any aggression.
The image of Richards sauntering in to bat from the pavilion with the customary chewing gum in his mouth was enough to demoralise any bowler. With a demeanour almost bordering on nonchalance, a helmet-less Richards carried an air of insouciance that served as an ominous prelude for what was to come next.
Once the customary guard had been taken, the bat would finally come down and unleash a wave of destruction that would turn the complexion of the innings within a matter of minutes.
Nearly 7,000 ODI runs with the help of 11 tons and 45 fifties resulted from Richards’ bat in just 187 innings, and numbers barely do any justice to the commanding persona he brought out on a cricket pitch.
Hitting across the line
Richards’ autobiography is aptly titled ‘Hitting across the Line’, for that is exactly what he pioneered in before he retired. For traditionalists and orthodox cricket coaches, Richards’ batting style would almost be viewed with contempt for the manner in which it went against everything textbook.
A towering figure with powerful shoulders, the right-hander was a master of the conventional, as well as the unconventional. While hitting across the line was considered to be almost taboo, Richards absolutely mastered that difficult art.
For this special trait, the legendary batsman credits his upbringing on the unprepared pitches of Antigua which would lend deliveries with an unpredictable bounce. Planting his front-foot outside the off-stump, Richards could manoeuvre ball to all parts of the ground with an array of varied strokes.
While he could play those thunderous cover drives and rasping cut shots, Richard’s mastery lay in his ability to drag deliveries pitched outside off to over mid-wicket or mid-on.
Whether it be through the flick of a wrist or the use of a forceful pull or hook shot, the Windies man could pierce any field set on the on-side. It was this rare ability to hit across the line that separated Richards from the other contemporaries of his era.
The fact that he could play a pull shot while batting on the front-foot only added to his genius on the on-side.
When it comes to picking the all-time ODI XI, Richards is the first name that springs to the minds of most with the aura of his effortless genius transcending all eras. His fearless and domineering style would arguably be even more effective in the ongoing era where batting records continue to fall by the wayside.
The great man was an innovative entertainer in the purest terms and far ahead of his time. Hence, it is a shame that the T20 format was introduced long after he had retired from cricket.
In the current era, playing across the line has become much more common with the likes of Virat Kohli and Joe Root being one of the foremost exponents of the art.
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