In a recent poll conducted by BBC, West Indies legend Vivian Richards was voted as English county cricket’s greatest overseas player. Pitted against 16 others – including icons like Kumar Sangakkara, Richard Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall, Clive Lloyd and Allan Donald – Richards bagged a staggering 43% of the votes to win the poll by a landslide.
The former Windies captain had a stellar career for Somerset. In a span of 13 years, he hit 58 centuries in his 14,698 first-class and 7,349 one-day runs for the team.
Richards’ association with England began at an early age. While playing for Leeward Islands in Antigua as a 22-year-old, the right-hander was spotted by Somerset vice chairman Len Creed, who was mighty impressed by what he saw and decided to recruit the youngster.
Creed signed a contract with Richards and asked him to head to England to play first-class cricket. Before moving to Taunton and making his debut for Somerset in 1974, the hard-hitting batsman spent a year playing league cricket for Landsdown CC in Bath and finished the season with the highest batting average.
During his time in Bath, Richards also worked at Landsdown CC as the assistant groundsman to keep himself afloat financially. Once he made it to Somerset’s senior team, he simply didn’t look back.
But while his journey with the County side is indeed memorable, what is, perhaps, not known by many is that Richards’ first trip to England wasn’t to play professional cricket.
A fascinating documentary on YouTube, written and narrated by Darcus Howe and shared by cricket footage archiver Rob Moody, aka Robelinda, shows Richards’ early days in West Indies and how he made his way to England.
“Richards was simply superb. He could’ve batted with his right hand tied behind, he didn’t need it at all,” Somerset scout Creed says in the documentary.
A few years before he was spotted by Creed, Richards was sent to England for training for six months thanks to the help of locals in Antigua. Such was his popularity that some of the locals took it upon themselves to help him hone his talent and provide him with an importunity to train in England. Richards would later return to reward his well-wishers handsomely.
Richards had started making a name for himself with his cricketing skill when he was just a young boy. He learnt how to play the game at the Antigua Grammar School and scored his first century at the age of 14. He learnt his art, just like the other West Indies greats, on dirt tracks and without any proper equipment.
After impressing one and all in school and club cricket, Richards made his first-class debut for Leeward Islands as a 19-year-old. He went on to make a truckload of runs in the next three years before he was noticed by Creed.
Richards soon made his way to England again, this time as a professional cricketer, and never looked back. He made his Test debut in 1974 and went on to break records for West Indies and Somerset in a glittering career.
While he has received respect and accolades from anyone and everyone interested in the game, Richards may never forget the helping hand offered by those locals in Antigua who sent him to England right at the start of his career.
“I have never in my life seen a player give me as much joy as Vivian Richards. I don’t think I’ve seen a greater player than him,” says Creed.
Watch the brilliant documentary from 1987 on Richards, which has plenty of rare footage of his batting in the West Indies and England, and several interviews of those who were a part of his remarkable journey: