A portrait to embody the defiance of Viv Richards’ Liberation Cricket

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In The Times of London’s series analysing a cricketing moment in time, Marc Aspland presents this picture of the greatest batsman of his generation and Mike Atherton offers his analysis

Here, looking at Marc Aspland’s photograph of Brendan Kelly’s stunning painting of Viv Richards, we are two artists removed from the greatest batsman of his generation. Despite that distance, of paint brush and lens, Richards’ presence and power and spirit is obvious. No cricketer has been better served by his portrait artist than Richards has been by Kelly.

The painting sits in the Lord’s pavilion, usually on the staircase to the visitors’ dressing room, and it is the last thing that the players see before entering the Long Room and then onto the field of play — an inspiring image if ever there was one. Kelly’s portrait, painted fifteen years or so after Richard’s retirement, captures the essence of the cricketer and the man.

Not all portraits in the Lord’s pavilion have so successfully evoked their subject. Don Bradman, the greatest run-getter of them all, looks like a bank clerk; Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev are painted in whites but with casual black shoes, making them look like cricketers out for a Sunday afternoon knockabout, rather than the great players they were. The less said about Michael Vaughan’s portrait the better.

These quibbles apart, the collection at Lord’s is an impressive one, consisting of more than 3000 works of art, all cricket-related and gathered over a period stretching from the mid-19th century.

Among the most well-known paintings are “A Cricket Match at Mary-le-Bone Fields”, one of the earliest depictions of the game dating from 1740, and “Captain of the Eleven”, Philip Hermogenes Calderon’s portrait of a young Victorian boy defending his stumps in 1882.

Recently, touched by the moment, MCC announced it would undertake a review of its whole collection. There are two paintings in it of Ben Aislabie, one of the first secretaries of the club, who owned slaves in the Caribbean and who was compensated by the government after the abolition of slavery. The Club has announced it will remove these works from public view.

Richards is someone who believed cricket was more than a game

Coming from Antigua, an island with a brutal colonial past, Richards would no doubt approve. There has been, perhaps, no more political cricketer in my lifetime, no-one who walked onto the field with a greater sense of purpose and pride or feeling that he was batting for others. During his career, he turned down considerable amounts of money to tour South Africa during apartheid. He outlined his philosophy that cricket was more than a game in the foreword to the aptly-named collection of essays Liberation Cricket.

In it, he wrote: “In the West Indies, our cricketers have had to struggle against all kinds of injustices. Colonisation and the racism it bred, were not easily uprooted from the region. In my own way, I would like to think that I carried my bat for the liberation of African and other oppressed people everywhere.”

This defiance comes through clearly in Kelly’s painting. The canvas is over six feet square in size and the subject stares out defiantly at the viewer, as he might once have stared out the bowler, always helmetless of course. The artist recalled his method in creating the likeness: “Viv is defined by the power with which he wielded his bat. I wanted to find a way to paint his portrait that evoked that, hence the massive scale, the directness of the pose and the explosion of paint . . . I used techniques whereby I could slam and whip paint all over the canvas.” To Kelly’s relief, Richards loved the result when he finally saw it in person in 2017.

I don’t think there has been a more impressive captain of West Indies since Richards than Jason Holder, the Barbadian who was made captain of the region at the ridiculously young age of 23, and who has brought his team over for the first series of the summer. Holder carries himself differently, with a quiet dignity and determination, but there is no mistaking his leadership qualities. He is a very impressive man. He is also the number one ranked all-rounder in the world today.

Marc Aspland, Chief Sports Photographer

As I entered the doors at the rear of the Pavilion at Lord’s and after climbing a short grand staircase which leads to the Long Room, I vividly recall being stopped in my tracks.

Being a photographer I have always had an appreciation of art and of paintings and, adorning the wall on the left, is a huge portrait of Viv Richards. It is one of those paintings which demands your attention and time and rather like the eyes of Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, Viv’s eyes follow your every move.

The painting by Brendan is warm, welcoming and I think rather intimate, perhaps even melancholy. The work seems rather spontaneous but the likeness is truly amazing and you can imagine Viv sitting quite relaxed in Antigua in a bright room with the light bouncing of the pastel-coloured walls. I wish I could even take a photograph as good as this painting!

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