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Inchmore’s loins, King Viv and Kohli

Wisden India logo Wisden India 20-05-2016
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Unless you’re a cricket tragic, you probably wouldn’t have heard of John Inchmore. I certainly hadn’t before May 19, 1984. That day, at New Road, West Indies began a tour that has since gone down in the annals as the first Blackwash. 

This being in the days before satellite TV, I had never watched West Indies play. Apart from the six – Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall – featured on the cricket cards you could collect at Texaco service stations, I wouldn’t even have recognised them.

Unless you’re a cricket tragic, you probably wouldn’t have heard of John Inchmore. I certainly hadn’t before May 19, 1984. That day, at New Road, West Indies began a tour that has since gone down in the annals as the first Blackwash. This being in the days before satellite TV, I had never watched West Indies play. Apart from the six – Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall – featured on the cricket cards you could collect at Texaco service stations, I wouldn’t even have recognised them.

On that opening day in Worcester, they made 349 for 6. Greenidge, who would make a Sehwag-like double-hundred at Lord’s later in the summer – a generation before anyone had heard of Najafgarh’s finest – led the way with 138. It wasn’t on television, but the BBC’s late and lamented Ceefax service told you that Richards made just 12. Caught and bowled by Inchmore, by then a veteran of 11 county seasons.

It was an unremarkable match. In response to West Indies’ 412 for 9 declared, Worcestershire finished on 124 for 1. Garner, Holding and Courtney Walsh went wicketless, with Eldine Baptiste taking the one to fall as the county side withstood 35 overs of pace.

Thanks to Harry Pearson, however, that nondescript game is now part of cricket literature. It found its way into Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket, which won the 2011 MCC Cricket Book of the Year. “Some time shortly after lunch Gordon Greenidge smacked a half-volley from Richard Illingworth that sailed right over my head,” wrote Pearson. “With my cider-heightened faculties it seemed I could discern rich harmonies in the whirring noise the ball made as I followed its flight, pick out every stitch on its intriguingly gnarly seam and see a reflection of my loved ones in the polished leather John Inchmore had been rubbing on his loins all morning.”

But this isn’t about New Road. It’s about what followed. Somerset, who had Martin Crowe as their overseas player, were crushed by an innings, as were Glamorgan. In their 55-over warm-up for the Texaco Trophy, West Indies brushed Lancashire aside at Aigburth. Greenidge set the tone with 186, against a line-up that included Paul Allott, Neal Radford and Mike Watkinson – all of whom would go on to represent England.

Richards made 170 against Glamorgan, a team he would represent in the autumn of his career. It was his last hit before the opening ODI at Old Trafford. There, he arrived at the crease with the scoreboard showing 11 for 2. That became 102 for 7 and then 166 for 9. In the final 14 overs, West Indies added 106. His share was 93. He finished on 189 not out, from 170 balls. There were 21 fours, and of the five sixes, one sailed out of the ground at the Warwick Road end.

“A magnificent innings by Richards, which he himself considered to be one of the best he had ever played, dwarfed all else,” said the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. “Almost single-handed, he won the match for West Indies after they had been in deep trouble…He batted with daring and immense power.”

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As I read those words, I was watching Virat Kohli compile his fourth century of the ongoing IPL season. Compile is too bland a word to describe his batting though. It has the same full-bloodedness that characterized Richards in his prime. In a recent interview, I had asked Ravi Shastri if Kohli reminded him of any of his contemporaries. The name he summoned up was Richards.

“I saw an innings he played against us when he made a brilliant hundred in the fourth innings [Delhi, 1987] to win the game,” he said. “Similar mindset. ‘I am not bothered about the pitch, I am not bothered about the total I am chasing, I want to get one run more.’”

For years, we thought that Sachin Tendulkar would inherit the Richards mantle. Tendulkar could also pillage attacks, and play incandescent strokes. But he never quite had the swagger that Richards carried with him. He was more Clark Kent, who became Superman when you put a bat in his hand. Kohli, like Richards, has that alpha-male presence. And it’s no act. If 2016 has shown anything, it’s that the belief he has in his own ability is almost as frightening as the range of shots he’s unable to unveil every innings.

Like Richards, Kohli will always give the bowlers a chance, so eager is he to impose himself on the game. Unlike Richards, who played a lot of country cricket in his youth, Kohli hasn’t had much time to work on his game in the most testing batting conditions. But such is his willpower that you can almost imagine what will happen when India next tour England.

Both men have also defied conventional wisdom. When Richards was growing up, Lawrence ‘Yagga’ Rowe was seen as the future batting legend. As Kohli made his way through the ranks, it was Rohit Sharma’s talent that most raved about. Rowe retired with perfectly decent numbers, but the middle and ending didn’t come close to matching the century-filled start. Rohit has had his moments, especially in white-ball cricket, but few outside his immediate circle would even dare to suggest that he’s at Kohli’s level.

It’s also about the impact they have on people. The Richards’ strut to the wicket would make the hairs stand on end. As for Kohli, this is the reaction he evoked from our ball-by-ball commentator – an otherwise calm young man – on Wednesday (May 18) night. “What’s going on here? I mean… how can Kohli be this good? How can anyone be this good? Down the track, converts it into a half-volley and squeezes it between point and short third man for four more. Into the 90s. Yes, into the 90s in a 15-over game!”

You cannot manufacture such feelings. Just ask Inchmore, who probably dined out for years because of the day he took down the King.

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