During an annual match in Bideford, our professional fails again, and our hosts lay a bet that we can never find one who can score a century against them. Determined to win the bet, we have hired the world class batsman, Barry Richards! Now we’ll show them!
Barry Richards arrived at my house on the Thursday evening, and he is angry at recent treatment dished out by the media.
That evening, he tells me about his universally condemned decision to join Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Sunday’s match, in Bideford, will be his last before he leaves England for Kerry Packer, and, he hopes, financial security for life.
This year, 1977, is his benefit year, so, on the Friday, I took him to Sangster’s Sports in Torwood Street, where Mike Braund had agreed to pay him for signing miniature bats. He chatted with each of a long line of schoolboys, and smiled as he signed their bats. Mike was well pleased.
On the Saturday, Westward Television had agreed to donate to his benefit fund in exchange for an interview. I took him to Plymouth, and watched as he made his points in front of the cameras.
“In ten years from now, no-one will dip into their pockets to help pay Barry Richards’s bills. I must pay my own way, like everyone else!”
It seems strange now to look back to days when cricketers were deemed disloyal, for just considering leaving their clubs for the sake of earning more money!
Sunday was the day of our big match, and our players, and their families, boarded the coach for their day out in North Devon.
We stopped for lunch near South Molton, and Barry was proving good company. He was popular with the ladies, the men enjoyed his jokes, and the children were spellbound by his tales of lions and leopards in his native South Africa.
Soon after lunch, the coach pulled in to the picturesque ground at Westward Ho! The families grabbed their deckchairs, while we men headed for the pavilion.
After greeting friends, whom we met just once a year, I told Barry that he would be opening the batting with Trevor Ward. We could rely on Trevor to give him maximum support.
I told them both that, whoever won the toss, politeness dictated that we would be asked to bat first, so they could get their pads on whenever they were ready to do so.
Half an hour later, the rest of us made our way to the changing room, and, there, sat outside the door, was Trevor, with his index finger in front of his mouth. “Shush!” he said “Don’t wake him!” As we entered, we saw Barry Richards stretched out on the kit bag table, fast asleep with pads on, and bat by his side! We gave him a nudge, and he woke up slowly.
“Oh! Right lads, is it time to go?” he asked “Not long now” someone replied.
At 2pm, the umpires walked out, and Trevor, and Barry, followed close behind.
I had imagined that a world class batsman would still feel tense in a situation like this, but not this chap! He smiled and chatted to Trevor, as he offered to take the first ball.
I have seen plenty of fine batting in my time, but never anything like I witnessed in the next half an hour. He hit the first ball straight past the bowler for four, and then proceeded to treat every other bowler with utter disdain.
He stood, with feet wide apart, and played every ball, firm footed, from that fixed position.
Trevor was bowled by Tony Allin, Bideford’s professional spinner, with the score on 91. At that stage, Richards had 68 to his name, all but four in boundaries! Back in the pavilion, the rest of us were stunned into silence as we watched him swat the ball to the ropes.
Graham Ashworth joined him, and the score mounted just as quickly.
With the score on 126, the scoreboard showed that Richards was on 96!
I allowed myself a self-satisfied chuckle and thought: “So! No-one can score a century against Bideford eh? They will be buying me a few drinks tonight!”
Just one more four was needed as Alan Edgcombe ambled in to bowl his 12th over. The ball was short pitched, and Richards got under it and lofted it into the heavens!
It went up and up, and headed for the longest boundary. Phil Alexander was chasing it, but surely it would go for six.
Suddenly, the ball emerged from the clouds, and Phil reached forwards. It stuck in his open hands and he had caught it just a yard inside the rope!
“Oh no!” I thought, “Why didn’t he just settle for another four?”
Although I lost my bet that day, our hosts didn’t have long to boast about it.
Two years later, Chris Edwards from Torquay, scored 103, and Barry Richards’s 96 became just another memory.