His aggression is not only about confrontation. He has been able to deliver as well. To have the talk and the walk, I admire that big time.” – Vivian Richards on Virat Kohli. © Wisden India

With an average of 47 and a strike-rate of 90.20 – at a time when 75 was considered speedy – across a 187-game career, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards was the Bradman of the one-day game. He won two World Cups (1975 and ’79) and it could be argued that Kapil Dev’s remarkable catch to dismiss him at Lord’s on June 25, 1983 was the butterfly-wing flutter that set in motion the sequence of events that culminated in the Indian Premier League becoming the game’s biggest carnival.

Richards worked with Delhi Daredevils in an advisory capacity in 2013, and has been a mentor with the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League for two seasons. The pace at which the game has changed in the Twenty20 age has shocked many, and made other nostalgic, but Richards is not one of them. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he told Wisden India from Mumbai. “I’m very happy to see the interest in the game, even if it’s the shortened version.

“Just to see families go to a game, and have a great night out is fantastic. I may belong to another generation, but I’m still very much in touch and quite flexible when it comes to new developments.”

To borrow from, and distort, Paul Simon, these are the days of miracle and wonder, and also of switch hits, paddle scoops and back-of-the-hand slower balls. But for Richards, improvisation has always been the name of the game.  

“In my opinion, one of the best exponents of the slower delivery was Franklyn Stephenson,” he said, name-checking the Bajan allrounder whose international prospects were ruined primarily by his decision to be part of a rebel tour to apartheid-era South Africa. “He was the first. Garth le Roux [the South African legend who also played for Sussex] had it too. These were guys I played with. You see it more today, on a regular basis, but it’s not new.”

© Getty Images

“In my opinion, one of the best exponents of the slower delivery was Franklyn Stephenson.” © Getty Images

He cited AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Chris Gayle as the batsmen he enjoys watching most, while also mentioning an IPL star who will not be part of the 2017 highlights reel. “One of my favourites is an allrounder, who we won’t have in the IPL this year,” he said. “I love Andre Russell’s dynamism.”

Richards is also a big admirer of Kohli, who has just been named Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World for 2016. He has spoken in the past of how much the Indian captain reminded him of himself.  “I think India are seriously blessed,” said Richards. “I didn’t have the opportunity to play against Sachin [Tendulkar] or Virat, but I did against the little master, Sunny Gavaskar. To me, it’s a trail of Indian batsmanship, which I have witnessed in my lifetime.

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“Sunny was very special. Sachin followed. And now you have Virat, who is a little more aggressive with his style. He has been criticised for that in some quarters, but one must remember to move with the times. His aggression is not only about confrontation. He has been able to deliver as well. To have the talk and the walk, I admire that big time.”

For Richards, the biggest ordeal in his early years in the maroon cap was the Indian spin threat, especially the unorthodox legspin of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Now, in the days of shortened boundaries and bats like battleaxes, he admires the way the best slow bowlers in the game have managed to stay relevant. As recently as earlier this week, Pakistan’s Shadab Khan, a teenage leg-spinning prodigy, sent West Indies tumbling to a 3-1 defeat in a T20I series.

“There was a time when folks said that spinners didn’t have a role to play at this level [Twenty20],” said Richards. “But now spinners, both orthodox and unorthodox, are playing a huge role in helping their teams to victory.”

As for him and the team he was part of, the IPL would have been right up their street. “It would have been phenomenal,” he said with a laugh. “There were some great players in that team. Gordon Greenidge would have enjoyed this format. I know I would have. Clive Lloyd was another.

“These guys would have made it in whatever environment. Even though they belong to yesteryear, they would have fitted in quite well with the Big Bashes and the IPLs.”

Anyone that watched Richards’s 189-run evisceration of England at Old Trafford [1984] or Greenidge’s hammering of the boundary boards during a 242-ball 214 in the Lord’s Test that same summer would find it hard to argue with that.