Warwickshire bowling coach Alan Richardson’s long playing career included many good days. In 2012, ‘Richo’ was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, having taken 73 Championship wickets to keep Worcestershire in the First Division. With seam bowling of considerable skill and no little pace, underpinned by sturdy work and team ethics, Richardson led by example.
Opponents knew that when ‘Richo’ was bowling, batting would not be easy. He was a formidable opponent. With the ball, that is.
He was turning down singles and we got through to the close and as we walked off we got abuse from a member for turning down runs!Alan Richardson
Yet one of the most memorable days of his career, a feat that few people lucky enough to witness are likely to ever forget for the sheer joy and unexpectedness of it, was delivered with the bat.
Just before the close of the opening day of their championship match against Hampshire at Edgbaston in May 2002, the Bears lost their ninth wicket. At 258 for nine, Richardson walked out to join Nick Knight who had opened and was well past 100.
The No.11 appeared unlikely to detain Hampshire long. His career-best with the bat was 17 while that season his scores were 0, 1, 5 not out, 5, 1 not out and two did-not-bats. (“I felt good during those did not bats,” reflected Richardson. “It was always when I was at my best.”)
Could the tail-ender help Knight eke out a few more runs? Perhaps take the innings into the second day? Yes, he could. Emphatically.
Warwickshire’s innings did indeed end on the second day – on the stroke of tea when Richardson perished, stumped Pothas bowled White, for 91. By then he had helped Knight (who batted through the innings for 255) to add 214, the fifth-highest tenth-wicket stand in Championship history and the eighth-highest in all cricket.
It was an innings which came – spontaneously, magically and, for all but the Hampshire team, wonderfully – out of nowhere.
It shocked everyone. And no-one more than A.Richardson esq. “We had about half an hour to stumps when I went in,” he said. “Knighty had batted beautifully so it was a case of trying to get through the day. He was turning down singles and we got through to the close and as we walked off we got abuse from a member for turning down runs!
“Next morning I got to the ground early and Simon Hollyhead, the fitness and conditioning coach, came to the indoor school and fed the bowling machine for half an hour. That meant that, within my very limited ability, my hands and feet got going and I could actually see the ball.
“The decision was shall we take every run on offer or should Knighty farm the strike again? In the end it was an off-the-cuff decision. As we walked out Knighty said ‘Sod it, let’s just take what we can.’
“Dimitri Mascarenhas had a niggle and didn’t bowl and that certainly helped. They were well off the pace, to be fair. Alan Mullally bowled well but a very young Chris Tremlett was off the pace.
“They were quite blasé to start with, probably thinking he’ll miss a straight one soon. Then they got a bit frustrated as I plodded along and sent a lot down to third man. I played and missed a lot at Mullally and got a lot of stick from him, but the wicket flattened out.
I’d never been in the 90s in any form of cricket so it was completely new territory and I just thought I needed to get through as quickly as I could – two shots could do it.Alan Richardson
“It was probably 40 minutes in when I thought ‘actually this isn’t going too bad.’ Nothing was flying round my head and Shaun Udal was a very good off-spinner but the ball wasn’t turning a great deal. All Knighty kept saying was ‘don’t try to cut the off-spinner.’ Apart from that we were just having a laugh between overs. It was very chilled out which was perfect because I used to put a lot of pressure on myself as a player so if anyone else put any on me it could get difficult. Knighty was very laid back.”
Having eclipsed his career-best 17, on went Richo further into unchartered territory. The 30s, 40s – then a maiden half-century.
“When I got to 50 my first thought was ‘what do I do?’” he recalls. “I very sheepishly acknowledged the lads in the pavilion. Tony Frost still had his keeping pads on because he’d put them on at start of play ready to go.
“My gloves were really sweaty so I wanted to change them but that seemed like a batters’ thing to do, so I carried on with sweaty gloves.
“I was dropped twice in the 60s and that was the only time Knighty gave me a bit of stick and said ‘Come on, don’t throw it away.’
“I’d never been in the 90s in any form of cricket so it was completely new territory and I just thought I needed to get through as quickly as I could – two shots could do it. Giles White was bowling some very friendly leg-spin so I tried to slog-sweep and missed and dragged my foot out.
“I made the wrong choice. I should have kept on playing the way I had all innings. If I had ever got to the 90s again I’d have done it differently – but the issue never arose!
“I don’t think Knighty was too upset I got out in the end. He batted brilliantly and deserved all the praise. And he got a ‘not out’ which improved his average …”
When it comes to ‘not outs,’ mind you, the statistics suggest Richardson was, in fact, far from a rabbit himself. On no fewer than 83 occasions in first-class cricket he went into bat only to return to the pavilion unbeaten.
I always found batting incredibly challenging. I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t embrace it and if I had my time again I would work a lot harder at it.Alan Richardson
Batting was invariably a battle though so what was the secret on that particular day? Well, Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff had a hand in it. “Belly had just started in and around the England team and had got a bat off Andrew Flintoff who thought it was too heavy,” Richardson said. “He gave it to me so we put Boundary Sports (who were my sponsors) stickers on it and I used Flintoff’s bat.
“It is a nice day to look back on. I remember next morning struggling with the ball because my forearms were so tight. That’s when I decided I didn’t want to be an all-rounder!
“I always found batting incredibly challenging. I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t embrace it and if I had my time again I would work a lot harder at it. It was nice occasionally not to be a complete bunny and later on I got a couple of 30s and 40s but really I was a typical No.11.”
So would Alan Richardson the bowler (569 first-class wickets at 26.37 apiece) have fancied bowling at Alan Richardson the batsman (1,176 runs at an average of 10.59)? “Massively,” he said. “I’d have been absolutely gutted if I’d got double figures. I know I’d have had a third man and no mid-on. It used to make me laugh when I went into bat and there’d be a mid-on. I thought how the hell am I getting the ball to mid on?”
For one magical day in May 2002, however, Alan Richardson wielded his bat like a wand. And among all his bowling feats, Richardson has one place nailed down among the batting records, long-term.
This article first appeared in Backspin magazine.
Warwickshire vs Hampshire
The Bears take on Hampshire Sunday July 10 – Wednesday July 13 at Edgbaston. Tickets are £15 on the gate and Under 16s come FREE to every home County Championship match and Royal London One-Day Cup home group game.