With the Cricket World Cup approaching, NZME sports writer Andrew Alderson opens up about the grief he experienced bowling to one of the greatest batsmen of all time at a previous tournament.

As a cricket tragic, it's not every day you stand at the top of your bowling mark, look down the pitch and see Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards taking guard.

On April 6, 2007, at about 2.30pm, that daunting prospect faced me.

Anyone who watched The Master Blaster bat for the West Indies from 1974 to 1991 would know that however well you bowled, there was a decent chance of getting marmalised.

Advertisement
Sir Viv Richards wonders how far away the ball will land. Photo / Andrew Alderson
Sir Viv Richards wonders how far away the ball will land. Photo / Andrew Alderson

If the ball was outside off stump, a left foot would be planted down the pitch as a pivot to either ping you over midwicket or through extra cover. You might stand a better chance pitching on the stumps, but if Richards drove straight it would be wise for the bowler to wear a helmet. Pitch it anywhere on his legs and you'd better have a return address stencilled on the ball, prior to delivery.

The downside to those strategies was that we were playing on sand — Antigua's Runaway Bay to be precise — during that year's Cricket World Cup. Richards was playing for the Antigua All-Stars. I was playing for ... The Media Rabble.

You would not need to be a Mastermind contestant to guess who the hundreds in the crowd were rooting for.

Richards wasn't wearing the customary cloth cap of his playing days. Instead he opted for a straw hat. A beetroot team-issue T-shirt and camouflage shorts completed the ensemble, not that he could ever go incognito on his home island where the national cricket stadium is named in his honour.

I donned our side's Kermit-green T-shirt and swimming trunks, in preparation for doing my fair share of retrieval.

Richards played up to the adoring crowd as the theatre unfolded. He swaggered down the "pitch" to dab at some sand, as was his batting custom. I couldn't gauge whether he withered me with a stare from behind his shades; my imagination suggested this was so.

My anxiety levels were redlining. I wasn't exactly pawing the ground in anticipation of bringing the ball through like Epsom salts under his nostrils. The lunch of jerk chicken and beer sat awkwardly. I hankered for some brown trousers.

There's a memorable moment in our family photo album — captured by my loyal wife — when I bowled the first of my off-spinners or "petals" as one former Grafton teammate referred to them. Every other camera is pointed in the opposite direction.

I was familiar with such elite clubs. Few can claim to have been hit over the four-lane motorway flyover at the western end of Auckland's Victoria Park. The stroke cleared the bridge without so much as a parp of horn or screech of brakes. The split-second audio vacuum afterwards was soon filled by an eruption of applause from both XIs for the opposing batsman.

This, more than anything else, prepared me for a Richards onslaught. The words of James Bond creator Ian Fleming flashed through my mind: "Worry is the dividend paid to disaster before it is due."

I was right to worry — Sir Viv did not disappoint on my personal disaster front.

The first ball: A full toss on his legs. Whack. A dog was paddled into the surf to collect it.

Someone yelled "Taxi!"

The second ball: A full toss on his legs. Kapow. The furry missile splashed in front of some swimmers minding their own business about a kilometre down the beach. The third ball: A full toss on his legs. Boom. My initial impression was that this one was headed to Puerto Rico. Somewhere in its flight path gravity took hold. A chap dived from a boat moored offshore. There was a relay throw, via the boat and various swimmers, to return the ball.

To paraphrase cricket's first icon, William Gilbert Grace, the crowd had come to watch Richards bat, not me bowl. I consoled myself that all viable entertainment parameters had been met.

It was time to stem the run flow. I waltzed into my action and pitched on a good length so the delivery would skid on, in the forlorn hope of an lbw. The ball stopped, dead in the sand, about a foot short of Richards, who patted it back to an ironic cheer.

Andrew Alderson tries his luck during during the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Photo / Andrew Alderson
Andrew Alderson tries his luck during during the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Photo / Andrew Alderson

"Over," the umpire called. Seldom have I been more grateful for cricketing mercy.

"I took my hat and put it on a head that had turned the shade of Richards' shirt.