Viv Richards sits on top of a stand at the Rishton club ground

Viv Richards: a cut above the rest

© PA Photos

Futuristic in stats and strokes

He last played an ODI more than 20 years ago, but his numbers remain jaw-dropping even by modern standards of batting

S Rajesh |

It's impossible to bring up the topic of great ODI players and not have Viv Richards mentioned as one of the first names. Even in today's age of big bats, small boundaries and ridiculously audacious strokeplay, Richards' numbers stand out: an average of 47 and a strike rate of 90.20 from 187 matches. Thirty-nine batsmen have scored more ODI runs than him, but hardly any have done it with as much flair. Certainly none of his contemporaries did as much as Richards in this format.

The pundits who saw him in his pomp say that numbers don't do justice to the way he batted, but one look at his stats tells you just how phenomenal he was. When he finished his ODI career - on May 27, 1991 - he was the second-highest run getter in the format: only Desmond Haynes had scored more (6779) but at a strike rate of 64.20, 28% slower than Richards' 90.20. Of the top ten run scorers at that point, only two others had a strike rate of more than 75: Dean Jones (76.25) and Allan Lamb (75.56). Of the five quickest 100-plus scores made till then, three belonged to Richards. His 11 centuries in ODIs were made at a strike rate of more than 80, with seven of those innings being faster than a run a ball. His slowest 100-plus score - against India in the 1983 World Cup - came at a strike rate of 81.50, and was still faster than 24% of all 100-plus scores made till then.

Richards' greatness in the 50-over format mainly lies in the extent to which he was ahead of everyone who played in his era. The table below illustrates that, and shows that when his numbers are adjusted for the period he played in, he is greater than all batsmen across all eras. Richards averaged 47 and scored at a strike rate of 90 in a period in which top-order batsmen (those batting in the top seven) averaged 29.38 and scored at a strike rate of 65.96. Multiplying the average by the runs per ball, the average batting index during that period was 19.38, but Richards' was 42.39. His index was thus more than twice as much as that of the average top-order batsman in his era.

The closest anyone has come to that ratio is South Africa's AB de Villiers, who averages 52.90 at a strike rate of 98.64 after an incredible last few years. His average and strike rate are both higher than Richards' in absolute terms, but when taken in the context of the era he is playing in, they are still slightly below Richards' numbers. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are next on the list, with Sachin Tendulkar in sixth place and Adam Gilchrist tenth.

Best ODI batsmen (Min 6000 runs)
Batsman ODIs Ave, SR Ave*SR/100 Overall ave, SR Ov ave*SR/100 Ratio
 Viv Richards  187  47.00, 90.20  42.39  29.38, 65.96  19.38  2.19
 AB de Villiers  184  52.90, 98.64  52.18  32.23, 79.12  25.5  2.05
 MS Dhoni  258  52.14, 88.95  46.38  32.21, 79.06  25.47  1.82
 Virat Kohli  154  52.02, 89.92  46.78  32.57, 80.27  26.14  1.79
 Michael Bevan  232  53.58, 74.16  39.73  31.04, 72.63  22.54  1.76
 Sachin Tendulkar  463  44.83, 86.23  38.66  31.10, 73.93  22.99  1.68
 Dean Jones  164  44.61, 72.56  32.37  29.65, 66.56  19.74  1.64
 Matthew Hayden  148*  45.32, 80.82  36.63  31.30, 74.98  23.47  1.56
 Virender Sehwag  251  35.05, 104.33  36.57  31.32, 75.77  23.73  1.54
 Adam Gilchrist  287  35.89, 96.94  34.79  31.03, 74.09  22.99  1.51

Overall numbers are stats for top seven batsmen during the period in which the player played
*Excludes his first 13 ODIs, since there was almost a six-year gap in his career after that

One of the key attributes of Richards' greatness as an ODI batsman was that he scored against all opposition in various conditions. He averaged 51 against Australia, 58 against England, 47 against India, and 54 against New Zealand; in Australia he averaged 45, in England 64, and in India 42. The only team against which his numbers dropped a notch was Pakistan: in 39 innings against them, his highest score was 83 and his average 30.82. Pakistan were the only opposition against whom he played more than one innings and didn't score a century. Against all other teams, his stats are outstanding.

Richards was also spectacular in the biggest ODI tournament, the World Cup. He played four of them, and averaged more than 65 in three - in 1979, 1983 and 1987. In the 1975 tournament he scored only 38 in four innings, but contributed with his electric fielding, effecting three run-outs in the final. In 1979 he scored an unbeaten 138 in the final, and he also scored a century each in 1983 and 1987. Among batsmen who have scored at least 1000 World Cup runs, Richards' tournament average of 63.31 remains the highest.

Richards scored centuries in three of the four World Cups he played

Richards scored centuries in three of the four World Cups he played © Getty Images

Best World Cup averages (Min 1000 runs)
Player Inns Runs Average SR 100 50
 Viv Richards  21  1013  63.31  85.05  3  5
 AB de Villiers  20  1043  57.94  115.63  4  4
 Sachin Tendulkar  44  2278  56.95  88.98  6  15
 Herschelle Gibbs  23  1067  56.15  87.38  2  8
 Sourav Ganguly  21  1006  55.88  77.50  4  3
 Kumar Sangakkara  33  1363  54.52  86.32  4  7
 Tillakaratne Dilshan  23  1008  53.05  92.47  3  4
 Mark Waugh  22  1004  52.84  83.73  4  4

In 187 matches, Richards the Man-of-the-Match awards 31 times, another indicator of the impact he had. His rate of one such prize every 6.03 games is the best among players who have won at least 25 MoM awards; the next best is Tendulkar's rate of one award every 7.47 matches.

Five of Richards' MoM awards came in the 23 World Cup matches he played, a rate of one every 4.6 games, which is better than his overall career rate. Only Glenn McGrath (six in 39) and Tendulkar (nine in 45) have won more such awards in World Cup matches. (Click here for the full list.)

Add all these aspects - how far ahead he was of his contemporaries, his consistency against opponents and conditions, and his penchant for big matches - and it's hard to look beyond Richards when selecting the best ODI player of all time.

Best rate for MoM awards (Min 25 awards)
Player Mat MoM awards Mat/ award
 Viv Richards  187  31  6.03
 Sachin Tendulkar  463  62  7.47
 Saeed Anwar  247  28  8.82
 Nathan Astle  223  25  8.92
 Sanath Jayasuriya  445  48  9.27
 Desmond Haynes  238  25  9.52
 Brian Lara  299  30  9.97

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats





  • POSTED BY Raj on | March 12, 2015, 21:39 GMT

    Say what you have to say guys, but there is only one 'King' and we all know who that is - no matter what. Remember - in the 18000 + runs how many of them are championship WINNING knocks? No one feared Sachin - but IVA Richards was feared by many bowlers and teams - which is a fact! I have been following cricket since 1970 and I have seen them all. No disrespect to Sachin but lets not do injustice to his name by doing unfair comparisons with Sir Viv.

  • POSTED BY Loyed on | March 11, 2015, 15:00 GMT

    This article doesn't make any sense. King Viv has scored only 6000 odd runs in the one day format with just 11 centuries. Sachin got his 11 centuries when he was 24 yrs old, yes 24 yrs old!!! They simply cannot be compared! While King Viv was the greatest in his era Sachin is definitely the greatest in the modern era. You can check with Don Bradman! Sachin maintained his strike rate of 86 for 24 yrs and 18,000 odd runs. Viv didn't play long enough to be compared with Sachin. Longevity is not meant for everyone. It requires sacrifice, hard hours in the gym to be injury free, hunger, passion to play any sport at the highest level. This is exactly the reason Lara is not mentioned in the top 5. While he had the ability to destroy any attack he didn't play long enough to get those runs

  • POSTED BY Sarosh Ur Rahman on | March 11, 2015, 6:51 GMT

    Lol at those people saying tendulkar is better. Cumon guys how can you say that viv richards played at the time when there were big boundaries and bowlers were also dangerous he didn't even used the helmet and ODIs weren't played that much as today And whereas tendulkar played at the time when boundaries became shorter there was more protection and ODI was played regularly and there were fielding restrictions. And they aren't saying that tendulkar isn't a good cricketer

  • POSTED BY Sriram S on | March 11, 2015, 5:21 GMT

    One thing to keep in mind - Richards never played against the best bowling attack of his time - the same WI team. This is where I feel players like Kapil Dev and Tendulkar are better. Kapil bowled against the best batting teams (India was not the best those days). And Kapil bowled a lot in India where pitches are not supportive of fast bowling.

    Having said that, Viv still is the best for me. For his sheer confidence and aggressive attitude. He was definitely a more complete player than others

  • POSTED BY Greg on | March 11, 2015, 3:53 GMT

    This article doesn't even touch on his bowling. For a great many of his ODI games he was the 5th bowler and bowled out 10 overs. He took 118 wickets at 35.8 at economy rate of 4.49. He has been retrospectively ranked the number 1 or 2 ODI all-rounder in the world for much of his career. Then there was his fielding - top class in slips or covers. His cover fielding won WI the 1975 world cup final.

  • POSTED BY Harvey on | March 11, 2015, 1:58 GMT

    It really is a shame that the great West Indies era is over. I loved seeing Viv, Des, Gordon, Curtly and co lining up. It was such an iconic era and I am happy to have seen it. I hope to see it again but the Windies bowling factory just seems to have run out of steam.

  • POSTED BY sanjay on | March 11, 2015, 1:52 GMT

    tendulkar at his peak was 1.5 times king VIV. tendulkar averages 45 over more than twice games of richards. At his pomp anybody who has seen the range of tendulkars strokes were outright ridiculous. he combined both viv and gavaskar. VIV was the more aggressor. But tendulkar had to curb his instinct to milk the singles as the indian teams collapse was one notice away after his wicket.

    Mr VIRAT KOHLI is determined to rewrite all the books. With the new conditions and equipment. this dude will over take them all. Devillers would be around. it is virat who wants to rule the world. he is on target for 65 centuries and 25 thousand runs at this rate. he can start playing left hand in india these days as playing on these flat pitches offer him no challenge( england swing is his only downfall but not so much in one dayers. He has a century there too). so watch out for my ruthless, ambitious mr virat kohli.

  • POSTED BY Nadeem on | March 11, 2015, 1:27 GMT

    Same reason you believe that Don Bradman is best test cricketer is the same reason you believe that Viv is best ODI cricketer. There is no value to longevity of some one's career like Tendulkar spent 22 years playing ODI cricket and scored 3 times more runs and playing 3 times more matches do not count because some old players of 80's say Viv was best. How come you are comparing 6000 runs with 18000 runs and making 6000 runs better than 18000 runs. What is the math here that a person who has 48 average with 6000 runs is better than a person with 18000 runs and 44 avg. That math is called math of biased who just do not see the service of a man for 24 years and just make some body best on the basis of short stats. No doubt Viv was great ODI player but he was not better than Tendulkar and Wasim.

  • POSTED BY Karthik on | March 10, 2015, 23:44 GMT

    I was 10 years old when I first saw this gentlemen play ... was amazed with pomp in whacking bowlers while chewing his gum and his majestic personality on the field (batting or fielding). I still remember the first test in 1984 in england - he flicked a good ball yorker length on the middle for a six (think Pringle was the bowler) - amazing is the word. He was one person who got the adrenalin up when he was at the crease - you knew tempo was up... in tune to Calypso beat.

  • POSTED BY Dave on | March 10, 2015, 20:10 GMT

    I had the pleasure of seeing VR several times, including County cricket, and no-one ever came even close to him and the aura around the man. I've no idea of the crowd stats for his appearances but I'm sure he must have put several thousands on the gate every time he played. A once-in-a-lifetime superstar the likes of which we may well never see again.

  • POSTED BY asad on | March 10, 2015, 17:19 GMT

    He was an amazing batsman & I'm proud as a Pakistani that although he may have dominated other teams, he couldn't quite dominate Pakistan. One thing I find strange about him is that he actually has a significantly lower home average than his away average.

  • POSTED BY GV on | March 10, 2015, 12:43 GMT

    Also, please see if you can post World Cup stats of for players against teams that were either knockout-qualifiers in any past world cup or test playing teams. Things will look a whole lot different.

  • POSTED BY GV on | March 10, 2015, 12:41 GMT

    Rajesh, you are comparing De Villiers at his peak with Viv at the end? At his peak, Viv was averaging 55 in One-Days. It receded to around 52 for some time and then falle sharply in a short period at the end. If you measure at the end of the 1988-89 season you will gat a fair comparison.

  • POSTED BY Joe on | March 10, 2015, 8:04 GMT

    A good choice. It had to be someone who won at least one World Cup. Sir Viv won two. He and, to a slightly lesser extent, Dean Jones, were way ahead of their time.