Richie Richardson will forever be synonymous with his maroon sun hat, a true symbol of defiance against fast bowling.
For the most part of the Eighties, the hat was Richardson’s preferred headgear. Even at a time when most of the batters switched to head-protecting equipment, saving themselves the wrath of rapid pace, Richardson insisted on the hat, first white-coloured and then maroon.
It was one of the many colours of the mighty West Indies of that time – you just couldn’t mess with them.
All that seemingly changed one fine day in 1995, when Richardson came out to bat with a helmet on. It was an astonishing sight for all those who watched, for he had played nearly 80 Tests without ditching the hat. It came at the Kensington Oval, against an Australia young pace attack consisting of Glenn McGrath, Paul Reiffel, and Brendon Julian.
Until that day, Richardson’s resistance to helmets had been clear. They made him uncomfortable. In his own words, it was “like trying to fight against someone without a room to manoeuvre – it made me vulnerable”.
It hadn’t always worked out well – in 1985, an Asantha de Mel bouncer pinged into his jaw and made him spit out teeth and blood. And yet, it took a decade for the helmet to finally make its way to his head.
It happened towards the end of Day 1 of the St Johns Test, after Australia had been folded for 214. Opening the batting with Stuart Williams, skipper Richardson walked out with a helmet on, and ended the day unbeaten on 0. It is said that the home crowd booed him as he made his way to the middle. The following day, he fell to Julian for a 108-ball 37.
It’s hard to say what prompted the sudden switch, but it’s no secret that Richardson had endured a difficult time leading up to the tour. He’d spent considerable time away from the game, after his mother had passed away, and his son had been injured in a car crash. Made captain in 1992/93, Richardson had played just four Tests in 1994 and hadn’t looked quite the same since his return. He was opening the batting in Tests after a year.
Coincidentally, it turned out to be the first true signs of West Indies’ infamous decline. They lost the series, their first defeat since 1979/80. Later that year, Richardson played his final Test.
The power shifted, and Australia charted their own period of dominance over the next decade and a half.