Of the many ways Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards has changed the game of cricket, his 56-ball century in the fourth innings of a Test vs England in 1986 – which would be the record for the fastest Test century for the next 31 years – is one of the foremost examples.
On April 15 in 1986, the ‘Master Blaster’, who was then also the captain of the West Indies side, put a hapless English bowling attack to the sword. The knock came in the fourth innings of the Test, as West Indies sought to pile on a second-innings lead on the fourth day in search of a win.
The sequence of Viv’s scoring shots in the innings: 3,6,1,2,6,1,4,1,2,1,1,1,4,1,2,1,1,2,2,1,1,1,1,1,6(53 in 35 balls),2,4,4,4,1,1,2,6,6,4,6,1,2,2,1,4(103 in 56 balls),6,1.
“If there was any element of doubt in his innings, it was whether he would hit a four or a six,” wrote Sycld Berry of the innings.
Richards remained unbeaten on 110 runs off 58 balls as West Indies declared soon after the century. His innings had included seven fours and seven sixes and was played at a strike rate of 189.65. Richards’ whirlwind knock gave the Windies a lead of 410 runs. England succumbed on the last day of the match, losing the match by 240 runs. Richards, unsurprisingly, was named the Player of the Match.
John Emburey, one of the unfortunate bowlers from the English side on that day, recounted that knock 20 years later: “The English dressing room looked shell-shocked after play had ended for the day. Of course, there were a few smiling faces as well: the ones who did not have to bowl. It was probably the biggest carnage I had seen in such a short space of time in any first-class game.”
His bowling figures before Viv had read 9-0-14-1. After the mayhem, he ended with 14-0-83-1.
— ICC (@ICC) April 15, 2019
Wisden reported about the innings: “What made it unforgettable for the 5,000 or so lucky enough to see it was that England’s sole aim was to make run-scoring as difficult as possible to delay a declaration. Ian Botham and (John) Emburey never had fewer than six men on the boundary and sometimes nine, yet whatever length or line they bowled, Richards had a stroke for it.”
Berry says the most poignant moment about the innings was how Viv Richards walked to the pavilion afterwards, pausing to drink in the crowds chanting the name of their local hero.
“It was Caesar returning to Rome after his greatest triumph. Richards had put Antigua on the map. He brought Test cricket to the island in 1981 – an island of 80,000 inhabitants…The fastest hundred, on his own home ground, was the moment of his fulfillment,” he wrote.
Brendon McCullum broke the record for the fastest Test century in 2016, reaching the mark in 54 balls. “If there was going to be an individual who you would’ve liked to have surpassed whatever you would’ve achieved in life, certainly it would be you. You’re one of those individuals who help to put bums on seats,” Richards had told McCullum in a video message then.