Transcript: Couch Talk with Barry Richards

Couch Talk 171 (Play)

Guest: Barry Richards

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former South African and Hampshire batting legend Barry Richards. He talks about “Sundial in the shade” a new biography written by his former Hampshire teammate Andrew Murtagh, his disappointment at his curtailed Test career, playing alongside Graeme Pollock and Viv Richards, playing “round the clock”, and the modern batsman that reminded him of his own self, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Barry!

Barry Richards (BR)– Thank you very much, indeed!

SJ– It is an absolute pleasure and honour having you on the show!

You published your autobiography in 1978 – The Barry Richards Story, and now in the recent book, your biography written by your Hampshire teammate, Andrew Murtagh – Sundial in the Shade is out. What were you trying to accomplish with this book? Since70s and 80s, you had some fresh grounds with the World Series Cricket and others.

BR– I will give you some background with it. i had no intension with writing the book. It is a bucket list for Andrew. He played cricket with me in the early ‘70s, and he realised he wasn’t going to make it and so, he went and taught for 30 years. His actual passion was to write books, because he had an English degree. So, when he finished teaching, he said he was going to write books and see if he could have a book published. He wrote one about the Mr. Chips of the school he was at, Holborn college, that got published. Then, he wrote a book about Tom Graveney, that also got published. He was looking for a third book. He looked me up and asked me if I would mind being the subject of his third book. I said no, that is fine with me. It is more fulfilling his bucket list, I had no intention of doing the book. That is how it came about. It was an unusual story. It wasn’t something I initiated at all.

SJ– The first book, in 1978, there was Barry in the middle of your cricketing career, life. Now, it is nearly 37 years hence. How do you compare those two books?

BR– One was written with a heart of frustration remembering that I was playing a lot of cricket at that time with players like Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts and Viv Richards and (Mike) Gatting in county cricket and I couldn’t play Test cricket. There was a certain amount of frustration, I think there was a lot of anger that came out in that book. Whereas, this book is a bit mellow, after time for reflection. It is easy to say that I am a bit happy with my life. i am in a good space and I thought I will help Andrew out. That was what it was. I should have given the first book an year or two and been more mature about it. But that was 35 years ago.

SJ– That book starts with the political climate of that time, with the Apartheid put in place and this book starts with your childhood. The preface is you playing in the nets in Hampshire, you facing Andy Roberts…

BR– Yes, I think Andy wanted to do it from go to woe, so to speak. I was just the subject, as I said. I left it to him for the content, how he wanted to write it in his own style. I read the book and made sure that the content was right, but the way he went about it was purely up to him.

SJ– Let’s talk about some of the subject material covered in the book. First of all, you had a very strict father.

BR– I think in those days, that is how parents were. It is very different from today where you are given opportunities. He was very, relatively, poor. So, there wasn’t a lot of money around. It was a case of fending for yourself from a very early age. When I was 21, he said ‘Welcome to the world!’, gave me a pen and said “You are on your own now.” I don’t think that happens too much today.

SJ– How much of that shaped you as a young man, as a cricketer, and later as a parent?

BR– I don’t think it wasn’t the best way to go about it. The other thing is, I was the only child and I was what they call the “latch key kid”, the keys were left at home. My mom and dad both worked and when I came home the key was under the mat. I had to amuse myself until they got home. It was very much learning to cope up on your own, which I don’t think is a good role model for a family environment. That means because you are always on your own, you are used to doing things on your own. For my role model point of view as being a parent, having a relatively big family, it is not an excuse; it is just a different way of doing it for me. It was the only way I knew at that time.

SJ– You have made abundantly clear in the previous book, and in this book also that the way your international cricket career ended for South Africa – and you were very disappointed with it – because of the political climate of the time. But, however, as you said, reflecting on things, do you think whatever has happened in South Africa since is for the betterment of the society on the whole?

BR– Democratic society is always going to be better when everyone has got a voice. Those concern me a little bit about the education system about the country and a few people enriching themselves at the expense of the poor. That is always a concern. But, I guess that happens in a lot for countries, not just South Africa. You always have stars in your eyes about democracy, there isn’t another alternative. But democracy doesn’t always work in the best interest of everybody. And that applies to a lot of countries, not just South Africa.

SJ– So, when you look back at it, the fact that you were able to play only 4 Tests, is there a reconciliation thinking like, things didn’t happen for you for things beyond your control but as a whole you are OK with what has happened for your country?

BR– Yes, absolutely. I have talked to a lot of people, lots of poor people, I have been to India, to Bangladesh, and here in South Africa. There are many poor people who have a much harder life that I have ever had. I have been blessed with the life that I have had. To put the cricketing things in perspective, nothing is worse than losing my son – that is what I call a tragedy. Losing your cricket career – it happens, it happens to other people who might have done it through injury or other means and lost careers. But, losing a son just puts everything into perspective.

SJ– To finish up on the topic of Apartheid and those times – not many people are aware of this but you and your good friend, all-rounder Mike Procter, were instrumental in raising a protest in South Africa against the Apartheid policies in 1971. Could you, because we don’t really hear about it, talk a bit about this?

BR– That is a sad thing, I don’t think we have been embraced. You can understand it, the people that were oppressed in those times felt that the other people in that time had a huge advantage. And we, the people who were playing County cricket at the time realised we had to make some sort of stand. It was huge at that time because the government used to rule with an iron fist at that time. That protest was a huge one. That night, there was supposed to be a sort of garden party for both teams and that was immediately cancelled. That was at the Minister of Sports’ house. There was a big hoo-ha at that time, but I don’t think many people know about it post-Mandela getting out. It has been swept under the carpet a bit. The initiation was through Peter Pollock and Mike Procter. All the teams that were participating, all the 22 players that were participating at that time agreed to make the stand, which was massive at that time.

SJ– Let’s move on to cricketing aspects of the book, in your life. the book begins with you facing Andy Roberts at the Hampshire nets. Which was the fastest spell of bowling that you ever faced?

BR– When the guy is 22 yards away and bowling at nearly 100 (mph) there are a lot of guys and you cant tell who is the fastest. (Dennis) Lillee was quick, (Jeff) Thompson was quick, Andy Roberts was quic. Sylvester Clarke was quick, Wayne Daniels was quick on his day, Mike Procter was quick on his day. You have half a second to make up your mind. Whether one is bowling at 98 or 97 or 96 mph over 22 yards, there is not a lot of difference. You can’t really tell what was the fastest that you played. They were all magnificent bowlers in their day, who were difficult to overcome.

SJ– How much of spin bowling did you face in your career? A lot of them played in county cricket from all over the world, including Bishen Singh Bedi for Northants. How was that – facing spin?

BR– Don’t forget that in the early part of my career, they had uncovered wickets. You only cover the ends where the bowlers delivered from. You had 5m cover at each end and the middle of the wicket was left to the elements. If you had rain during the day, you could play on three different pitches in a day. I don’t think the cricketers today would even count this, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. you could play a little bit before lunch, it would rain over lunch or just after and then you would play a little bit before tea – you could have three different rain delays during a day and you could be playing on three completely different pitches. Playing someone like (Derek) Underwood on a wet wicket, a 20 was a good score.

SJ– You mentioned how you could see the seaming, the rotation of the seam, which was the seam was moving and tell where the ball was going and how that was the thing against the fast bowlers; and your theory against the spinners was – “Don’t let the ball bounce.”

BR– I always felt that using your feet gave you an advantage. A lot of bowlers would rely on length to entice a batsman just plodding forward, he would settle to a length. If you can use a feet both back and forward for that matter – it is not just not letting the ball bounce, it is also about going deep in the crease and get it past point. If you can use the crease to your advantage and make it a lot harder for the bowler to get settled into a rhythm and to be able to bowl on a six pence, as they say… If you are dictating the length of the bowler, then can’t dictate to you, you have a much better chance of succeeding and scoring a lot of runs. Once you score runs, he loses his confidence. That was the theory behind it.

SJ– You must have faced Bishen Bedi in county cricket and he was considered the finest left arm spinner of the game. Could you talk a bit about your encounters with him?

BR– He was a beautiful bowler. The most prominent one was when we were one a really dusty wicket, it was spinning a lot. we needed a 100 and a few – 110 or so – to win. I ended up batting for quite a long time to him and got just about 50 not out to get us over the line. It was like 6 or 7 wickets down at that time, that was one of the most difficult time because the ball was spinning and jumping and you had to pay some real attention to stay in. even though the knock was not a big one and it took a long time, it was a challenging one.

SJ– In the book at various times you mention how you got bored with cricket, unless the challenge you facing you was substantial, in terms of players or the occasion. Was it primarily because the ultimate motivation of playing for your country, playing Test cricket was shut on you? Was that the main reason?

BR– Absolutely. There were a lot of times you had to entertain yourself. There was a game which in my mind didn’t feel like it contained a professional attitude. It was more of South African coming up, because we were mostly amateur cricketers. We had to entertain ourselves because the fact is that there was nothing to be gained by that game. You won’t get a Test cap. All you could do was get another 100. I suppose, in the end it did cost me – I got 80 hundreds. For every fifty Graeme Hick got, he got a hundred. Mine is absolutely double that, I have got twice as many, in terms of hundreds. I could have got hundred hundreds, there is no doubt about that. That is probably a bit of a regret when I look back – that I couldn’t get hundred hundreds. But there are a lot of things in life that are a lot worse than that.

SJ– in terms of entertaining yourself on the field, you mentioned the game of nominations that Denis Gamsy would ask you to play. Of course, the first time I heard about you, I heard about the legend of the round the clock that you used to do. Could you talk about both?

BR– We used to have trial games for Natal, A side vs B side, mix them up. i was pretty much guaranteed a place. so, I would entertain myself doing those things playing club cricket. Quite often, Dennis would do that because he would think that was the best way to motivate me otherwise I would have just hit it straight up in the air and got out. He would try and motivate me that way. Mostly, it was in club game and trail games.

SJ– You were considered one of the absolute batting geniuses. You stood very still till the last possible moment. You were called “No.2” in Adelaide, obviously.

BR– It was by a friend of mine, who I saw in the Lord’s Test, funny enough.

SJ– Sir Don, he thought that Sachin Tendulkar reminded him of himself, going by his batting style, etc. was there any other batsman in your time or since that has reminded you of your way of playing?

BR– I am trying to think… There is probably guys like VVS Laxman – I don’t think he did enough, he was out of the side for his fielding, but he was an elegant type of player. That is the sort of player who reminded me (of myself). I don’t think South Africans play a lot with their wrist, it is mostly Indians, and other Asian countries. The only South African who does it is Hashim Amla, who does it with a flick of wrists. A lot of Asian players from Pakistan or India or Sri Lanka do that. Australians are very strong on the leg side – they have a very strong grip with the top hand and hit. When you think of Greg Chappell, it is just magnificent. We have more off-side players. Jacques Kallis hits beautifully through the off side. i used to play mainly through the off-side. Mike Procter, who has 50 first class centuries, which people forget sometimes, was a beautiful off-side player. It just seems that there are certain methods in certain countries. Alan Lamb, for example and Robin Smith were very strong through the off side. It just seems to be a trait in each country, that they have a certain area int eh field or a certain kind of shot that they specialise in.

SJ– Would Virender Sehwag be one too? He is very predominantly off-side, and in the book too you mention how you move to the leg side when people started attacking you into the body.

BR– They had more fielders in the leg side then. When I started playing One Day Internationals, there was no restriction on the number of people in the leg side. You could have 8 on the leg side, if you wanted to. There was no restriction on wides either. Underwood would bowl two feet down the leg side and that wouldn’t be called a wide. In the early days, they were learning with the rules and what happened was to counteract that you had to do things differently. That was the reason for doing that. The rules have changed now. You might not have to do quite as much as you did then. You have the help of the rules and umpires to call that, but before you didn’t and so you had to manufacture.

SJ– There is a passage in the book, from the only Test series you played – at home against Australia in 1970, when you were batting with Graeme Pollock, one of the greatest batsman of all time. And, you got out after a hundred, and he went on to make a double hundred. Later on, during World Series of Cricket, you are playing alongside Viv Richards, another great all-time batsman. In the first case, you were the younger partner, and in the second case you were a senior partner. Can you talk about the two partnerships?

BR– Graeme’s one, it just evolved. He came in when Ali [Bacher] got out just at lunch time. Bill Lawry was very annoyed about the toss, and was very intent on me not getting a hundred before lunch. He bowled three overs in about 18-20 minute. In those days there was no ‘overs in a day’, it was just time. Then, Graeme came in afterwards. I, in the end, just hit the ball up in the air and got out. I was trying to do stupid things. i got to where I wanted to be. Graeme was a wonderful player. He was one of those who really liked to dominate for long periods of time. Once I dominated, I would lose interest. He could dominate for a long time, he went and dominated their attack.

With Viv, that was in Perth but not at WACA because we weren’t allowed to play on the major cricket surfaces. Gordon and I had a good opening partnership and it was just one of those things when you were just playing normally, play as you would in any situation. I enjoyed both partnerships in different ways. As you said, I was much older when I batted with Viv. He was then the kingpin; he was probably the no.1 batsman of that time. I was 34 then, just about to go over the hill. I really enjoyed the experience, I wish I had been able to do it more.

SJ– There is a question from listener Aashish, about you being selected on the Dream Team selected by both Sir Don Bradman and umpire Dickie Bird. Your thoughts?

BR– Obviously it is a great honour. That goes some way to making up for the fact that you didn’t play a lot of Test cricket. In the realms of Test cricket the people talk, especially the younger people, they look at records and stats and of course you don’t figure. When people are talking about batsman of the past, they look at the stats first of all. It is very seldom that you get a mention. But it is nice that your peers who played the game, people that are revered in the game to have chosen you even though you had played so few Tests matches is fantastic for me and it compensates in some way for the fact that I didn’t play 100 Test matches like Gordon Greenidge, with whom I opened a lot.

SJ– You just talked about being acknowledged about your peers, even though the statistic book doesn’t look favourably at you. However, off the field, in South Africa, the Cricket South Africa have pretty much ignored you, as if there was no cricket that existed in South Africa before 1990. There were 245 players who played Test matches for South Africa, but they are not acknowledged at all.

BR– They don’t even get a number….

SJ– Very rarely they get any mention. There is a Graeme Pollock stand in Port Elizabeth. That is disappointing because the players of your time were prisoners of the circumstances and you had to carry the burden of the ignominy of the Apartheid policy of the government. How do you suggest that Cricket South Africa address this indifference to the 245 Test cricketers?

BR– It would be nice to acknowledge that you are in the Hall of Fame. One of them said that there were a lot of players who could have been Barry Richards, but there are not a lot of players that I have seen who could have been Graeme Pollock. To be acknowledged by people across the people, as in the Hall of Fame, is an acknowledgement of world cricket, not just South African cricket, that you are someone who added to the value of the game. Maybe Graeme Pollock is not financially well off, the huge TV revenue that they get now, they could easily make him an ambassador for South Africa and give him a small retainer each month which will help him enormously. I am in a slightly different situation. Mike Procter is someone who is not well off either.

I was quite lucky in my early days, I did some investment. I would be struggling as well because I would not have made much money out of cricket, but I made money out of investments so I can survive. Whereas, those fellows, those guys, you don’t need to have many, but just about half a dozen of them, for $1000 for each of them. It would make no difference to the coffers of the South African cricket board, and they would go a long way towards cementing and saying “We acknowledge you guys. That thing was wrong.” You have acknowledged that it was wrong.” Let’s make sure that they get a small retainer each month to be ambassadors for South African cricket. The thing that disappoints me, it is not the numbers, but what disappoints me is that they try to have all those records expunged from the books. They went and lobbied the MCC to have the fact that we played expunged from the records. The MCC said “Listen, we cant’ pretend that it did not happen. Sorry, we can’t do that.” They lobbied for two years to get that done, but they couldn’t. That is disappointing, the revenge. There comes a time when you say “Lets get on with it, let’s talk cricket. Let’s forget what the past says.”

Another thing that disappointed me was that at Kingsmead, they formed a club called the Kingsmead Mynahs Club, you can see on the website. That was formed to get me back after I had a great season in Australia to get me back to play for Natal. That still exists today. They wanted to name a room after me, with my name on the door, which wouldn’t be on television, which wouldn’t face the ground, but the authorities at the ground at Natal Cricket said, “If you do that we will throw you off the ground because we have got the head lease from the council.” They would physically say “We will shut you down.”, and you can’t do that. And yet they have a Basil D’Oliveira room which I don’t have any problem with except that Basil never played in Natal, he played all his game at Cape Town and at Worcester. Those are the kind of things that are sometimes a problem.

SJ– Finally, Barry, you had to do with a lot of disappointment, unfulfilled potential in your professional life and sadness in your personal life. How do you reckon your life has gone on?

BR– I live in a nice part of the world in South Africa. My passion is now golf, I now play golf with a lot of friends here. I have nothing to be sad about except for my son, that obviously is massive. That dwarfs anything that has happened to me in my career. There are obviously going to be people who said you are unlucky to have done this, but my life is a good one. I look around and some of the property that I see, I can never complain. There is only one tragedy in my life, it is my son. Not playing Test cricket is not a tragedy, it is a disappointment. Losing your son is tragedy.

SJ– On that note, Barry. Thank you so much for being on the show. It was an absolutely pleasure talking to you!

BR– Thanks Subash, no problem at all! Good luck in the future!

SJ– Thanks, cheers!

BR– Cheers!


Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman