The Summer of Barry

Published: 2020
Pages: 48
Author: Sexton, Michael
Publisher: Sexton, Michael
Rating: 4 stars

As well as being the most successful batsman in the history of the game Sir Donald Bradman was a wise old bird, as a couple of quotes that appear in this slim work from Michael Sexton amply demonstrate. On the rear cover a plea to the Australian public prior to the start of the 1970/71 Australian season is repeated; Don’t fail to see this young man bat when he comes here. The very last words are also saved for a Bradman quote, this time a reflection on the decision to withdraw the invitation previously made to South Africa to tour Australia in 1971/72; It was one of the saddest days of my life – it meant the end of Barry Richards’ Test career.

Back in 1970 Richards was 25 and at the peak of his very considerable powers. A deal was done to bring Richards to the Prospect club in Adelaide, one of the terms being that he would be available for South Australia for all of their eight Sheffield Shield matches, and the two they were scheduled to play against the 1970/71 England tourists. Richards duly appeared in all ten fixtures, scoring the small matter of 1,538 runs at a Bradmanesque 109.85. The deal makers succeeded in their aim as well, as South Australia won the Shield.

Fifty years later The Summer of Barry is a celebration of that remarkable summer put together by a fine writer who has, for the purposes of this excellent account, spoken to Richards himself as well as to many of the Australian players who played with and against him during those historic months.

There are, naturally, a few preliminaries on the subject of how Richards’ trip was arranged, and some reflection at the end on what came after it concluded, but the main point of the booklet is an account of those ten matches, interspersed by a page each on the seven Ashes Tests, some photographs and, as the 48 pages come to a close, a few statistics of the season.

Inevitably there are plenty of superlatives to be found in the narrative, but anyone like this reviewer who was fortunate enough to see Richards in his pomp will understand the need for them. There have been more powerful hitters, a few who are more stylish and the occasional faster scorer, but no one since his day has ever matched Richards ascendancy in all three of those attributes.

1970/71 was of course one long glorious season for Richards, but particularly entertaining is the description of the Richards v Boycott encounter in the first game against the tourists. Any account of Richards’s time in Australia must also include a detailed description of the 356 that he scored at the WACA against the far from negligible attack of Dennis Lillee, Garth McKenzie, Tony Lock and Tony Mann. Sexton rightly concentrates on that one and gathers the memories of some of those involved, and I even learnt something I did not previously know, that being that at one point Lock even resorted to bowling underarm in an effort to restrict the flow of runs.

I was also interested in another aspect of Richards’ character that was on show that summer, and more particularly in the final match of the campaign against New South Wales at the Adelaide Oval. Richards himself accepts that in the latter part of his career the absence of the ultimate challenge of Test cricket dulled his desire and consequently his determination, but there can be no questioning the man’s bravery. In that match against the New South Welshmen not only did he bat on in the first innings after breaking a finger but, lower down the order of course, he came in again in the second innings and scored a rapid 32, effectively one handed, before the pain from the break forced him to retire hurt. Courage and loyalty were clearly qualities that he had in spades.

For those of us who are unashamed Richards fans this celebration of one of his great successes is, with its splendid period design, most certainly five star stuff. For those less biased it must nonetheless be well worth four stars and is highly recommended.  The Summer of Barry is available via sportswords.com.au.

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