Normality fits Richardson like a glove

A wicketkeeper has milestones in mind at Kingsmead today.
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The Independent Online
Imagine the indignity. Your country has, bar the odd expensive rebel tour, just spent 21 years in numbing isolation. Suddenly, you are allowed back on to the international stage and within months find yourself at the crease within a couple of edged fours of becoming really big box office and beating England to the 1991 World Cup final.

Suddenly, rain intervenes. When it finally stops, you require an absurd 23 runs from one ball. It's enough to make you pack it all in on the spot. "At the time we didn't feel cheated at all," recalls Dave Richardson, South Africa's wicket-keeper who was batting when high farce suddenly overcame common sense that showery night in Sydney.

"I can remember packing my bag afterwards and thinking: Thank goodness that's over. You see we'd only just come back and it was all so new and hectic," he said. Neglecting to mention the small matter of carrying the expectations of a nation whose long overdue stumble towards a just future had just begun.

Richardson, like many South African athletes, has been shaped by his country's isolation. Now 36, and a commercial lawyer, he has had to wait for his moment in the Test arena. "Once you're in at that level though, you quickly improve," said the man whose first Test, against the West Indies in 1991, came at a time when others of his ilk would have been winding down.

Remarkably, however, since South Africa's readmission, Richardson is the only player not to have missed a Test, and barring calamity, he will earn his 25th cap this morning. It is an impressive run, made all the more memorable when you realise that his 96 dismissals (all caught) come at a rate of four per Test, the highest in Test cricket for keepers with 50 or more dismissals to their name.

Should that fail to surprise, given that such an array of high-class pace bowlers ought to provide plenty of edged catches, then the fact that he was outgunned 11 catches to one in the last Test by Jack Russell, should do.

Like many under close public scrutiny, his safe unfussy keeping, while providing insights into the fastidious legal acumen behind the gloves, does not reveal the many hours of hard work he puts in to stay fit and supple. And he admits putting in more now than he did 10 years ago.

The senior member of what is essentially a young side, his dry wit and intelligence are crucial to the dressing-room mix, his coach, Bob Woolmer, thinks. "He's really good for us," Woolmer said before nets yesterday. "He's generally sensible and perceptive, both on and off the field. So when he opens his mouth, people tend to listen."

Like Russell, he is no slouch with the bat either. A year ago, he scored 247 runs at an average of 82 against New Zealand, including a century batting in his usual No 8 spot. It was an unusual achievement, brought quickly to heel when he suffered the humiliation of a king pair in his next Test against Pakistan. But such is the paucity of good keepers here, that even prolonged failure with the bat is unlikely to jeopardise his place.

Given that wicketkeepers are normally inestimably strange, given to enacting odd rituals before going about their work, it is mildly disconcerting to find that Richardson does not even bind his fingers with tape and has no quirks or behavioural tics worthy of the mention.

He does not, he claims, even feel moved to comment about batsmen from behind the stumps. "It's an easy position to be nasty from because there is no way for a batter to be able to get revenge. Anyway it's stupid to see someone behaving out of character, so I don't usually bother. I'm not confrontational. It's why I deal with contracts and not litigation."

But even if Richardson seems to come from an age of gentleman cricketers, surely he must have been moved to comment during Atherton's and Russell's lengthy rearguard at the Wanderers. Seeing the same backsides settle in front of you, hour after hour, it would not be sane not to.

"Well actually I did say one thing," he admitted somewhat sheepishly. "I told them Barnacle Bailey had nothing on them." He's right you know. It's always better to be in character.

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