Defining an Era

Vivian Richards was, is, a proud and unusually gifted man, defiant and mentally impregnable. Like the team with which he dominated the world between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, he was the best of the best of the best.

And the late Runako Morton, another Leeward Islander, with all his wasteful indiscipline and squandered talent, could equally be seen to represent all that has gone wrong with the Caribbean game.

I never bowled to Richards (thank God) and I've never met him, so it's impossible for me to match the sublimely recalled memories of Mike Selvey and The Old Batsman, but, throughout my cricketing childhood and adolescence and young manhood, he was always there.

When he made 291 at an implausibly brown and parched Oval in August 1976, I was ten years old. When, on the same ground, greener this time, he chipped a catch to Hugh Morris to bring his Test career to a close in 1991, I was twenty-five. I wasn't present on either occasion but I can remember exactly where I was and how I felt.

In between those times I was there for some of his greatest innings. The 138 not out in the 1979 World Cup final, concluded by flicking Mike Hendrick into the old Mound Stand with all the ease of a man on an Antiguan beach lifting a small child's best ball into the sea, or the unbeaten century against Surrey in the Benson and Hedges Final in 1981 when Sylvester Clarke became the first bowler we'd ever seen to truly, even slightly, hurry him. Later there was the decimation of England at Old Trafford and the time he took Warwickshire for 322 in the day at Taunton.

Even though I could always see how extraordinary Richards was, I was always just a little ambivalent about him. My elder brother idolised him but I had a preference for players who were just a little smoother and more technically measured. Greg Chappell, Old Trafford, 1977, Gavaskar, The Oval, 1979. They were my batsmen, but Richards was always there.

For people who were around then, Richards defines a world cricket era. You hardly need to think about the shots or the runs, just the rhythmic swagger of his walk to the wicket, and, as Selvey says, the signature, unnecessary tapping of the pitch which was usually the prelude to carnage.

Of course Runako Morton was no Richards, but, to have your five minutes of fame as part of the dying West Indies team of the 2000s, you didn't need to be. In 2007 he came to England and showed something of what he could do. He could have done more, but, like many a West Indies player of his era he came and went like a thief in the night, with few people noticing he had gone, their only memories his frequent brushes with authority.

This week Morton lost his life at the age of thirty-three and Richards celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Test players die young from time to time - since the turn of this century Trevor Madondo, Ben Hollioake, Manjural Islam and Morton - and old cricketers reach sixty all the time.

This conjunction, though, has deeper resonances with the past.

Richards will never really be old, and the West Indies will never really be great again.

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