Mark down Thursday, July 28th as a very special day to be at Kensington Oval to celebrate the 80th birthday of the world’s greatest ever all-round cricketer, The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers.
There will be a Twenty20 match starting at 6:30 p.m., featuring former top international players. Just take a look at the advertisement in the local print media with catchy slogans such as “Sir Garry 80 not out, Cricket, Culture and Calypso”.
The message is clear. Be there!
As Barbados’ only living National Hero and for his wonderful cricketing exploits, Sir Garfield deserves the fullest support. The match is one of the events in the ‘Sir Garry: 80 not out Season of Celebration, July 3rd to 31st.
In 93 Test matches, the former West Indies captain scored 8032 runs including 26 centuries and 30 half-centuries at an average of 57.78 and took 235 wickets at 34.03 runs apiece. He also held 109 catches.
Describing him as “a cricketing genius”, Cricinfo notes that Sobers “excelled at all aspects of the game, and few would argue his claim as the finest all-round player in modern cricket”.
“His exceptional Test batting average tells little about the manner in which he made the runs, his elegant yet powerful style marked by all the shots, but memorably his off-side play. As a batsman he was great, as a bowler, merely superb, but would have made the West Indies side as a bowler alone. He was remarkably versatile with the ball, bowling two styles of spin – left-arm orthodox and wrist spin, but was also a fine fast-medium opening bowler. His catching close to the wicket may have been equalled but never surpassed, and he was a brilliant fielder anywhere.”
A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Sir Garfield. Now, I share some of his thoughts.
HOLDER: What was it like to carry the tag of the world’s greatest ever all-round cricketer?
SOBERS: It never really bothered me in anyway because as a youngster playing cricket I always wanted to bat, bowl, field. I always wanted to do everything. I just couldn’t stay on a cricket field and not do something else. I just couldn’t go as a batsman, bowler or even a fielder. I even kept wicket in trials at YMPC. I stopped keeping wicket because there was a little off-spinner bowling and this batsman played forward and I thought he had the ball covered but it came through between bat and pad, hit the top of the off stump and the ball hit me on my lip and I said I done with that. After that I said no more wicket-keeping for me. So I gave up wicket-keeping but I always wanted to be in the game.
I went into the game wanting to do everything and my whole policy of the game was to play for my country and to do the best I can for my country. I never bothered about looking at averages, about how many runs I made or how many wickets I took. I just wanted to be on the occasion when the team was in trouble to be able to bat well enough to pull them out of trouble or go and get a wicket or to take a catch close to the wicket or something like that. But that was my whole idea about playing for the West Indies. The team came first and I came second. So runs didn’t matter unless there was an occasion where I had to make the runs and take wickets when they wanted them. And any catches that went close if I could make something into a catch I tried to do that.
And I developed the skills very well but I wasn’t looking for any glory, glamour or knighthoods or national hero. I am grateful for all of them and I am thankful to those who thought that I had the ability to give them these things. I am very grateful for that but I didn’t really start out playing my cricket looking for those kinds of accolades. All I wanted to do was to play for my country, play for Barbados, for Police, because every time I came home I played for Police the same way as I played Test cricket or for Barbados. I always played the game similarly.
I never, ever tried to go out and not try to do my best. It didn’t matter what game I was playing in. In a Sunday game I would go out and try to get a fifty and then I would probably get out because that was giving the people who paid to come through the turnstiles a chance to get something back for their money. We had to respect them. We were like performers. We were like on stage and they were the people who paid to watch us and I always believed that we should entertain them. That’s the way I played cricket and that’s the way I reckoned the game should be played. You don’t want to lose, you want to win but also you must be able to entertain because those are the people who practically paid your salaries when you became a professional.
HOLDER: What is your take on T20 cricket?
SOBERS: You need T20. You need it all over the world because it brings people through the gates.
A lot of people like the different dressing and sixes and fours. It is a fast moving game. To me it’s sheer entertainment. It gets a little better as it has gone on because bowlers are trying to learn how to bowl against the big-hitters so therefore it is becoming a little bit more technical. But it is entertainment.
Even the 50-over is a good form of cricket. At least ten overs you can keep a player quiet but in a Twenty20, if you have two or three good bowlers in that team, you know they are going to have to bowl at least five. So what you can easily do the good bowler that comes on he is not going to bowl all four overs either because they are going to reserve him. So you just take your time with him and when the other bowlers come on, the makeshift bowlers, you then take your chances with them.
So it’s not the same like when you are playing 50 overs where one bowler can bowl ten overs and it’s not like playing a Test match where a bowler can bowl 40 or 50 overs.
Therefore because a fellow makes all these runs in T20 or even 50 overs, it doesn’t mean that he is going to do it in Test cricket because they are not going to get the variety of bowlers. So it’s a different game completely but you need it. Even in the Caribbean we need it because our grounds lately have not been anywhere near the standards of crowds for many, many years.
HOLDER: Do you fear for the future of Test cricket, or do you believe that despite the advent of T20 that Test cricket will always be played?
SOBERS: In my estimation, I believe Test cricket will always be the utmost. I don’t think whatever kind of cricket you play there would be anything better than Test cricket. I would hate to see that one day there is no more Test cricket.
HOLDER: Who would rate as the greatest fast bowler and spinner you encountered?
SOBERS: We had some good ones on our side. I played against Wes (Hall) and Charlie (Griffith) on the odd occasion.
Of the players I played against in Tests, I reckoned Freddie Truman (of England) was one of the best. Denis Lillee (of Australia) was a great bowler but I only played one series against him. But I played a lot of cricket against Fred and I always used to tell people how great he was. He was a tearaway fast bowler when I first played against him in 1954. As a matter of fact he got me ducking from a ball that never got up. And I remember that I never ducked from a ball after that.
The beauty about fast bowlers of his calibre and Wes Hall, Michael Holding and all the great West Indian fast bowlers is that they had a heart, a big heart and that they would bowl under any conditions. You give them the flattest of wickets and they would run up and bowl. And Fred was like that all the time. A flat wicket, a batsman’s paradise and he still kept coming at you.
I would say that Freddie was one of the best I played against. Brian Statham was very good too. Statham was pretty accurate so you knew when you got in where the ball was going to come.
HOLDER: And what about great spinners?
SOBERS: Oh, (Subhash) Gupte. When it came to leg-spinners, Gupte. Gupte was far the best spinner I’ve played against. Bishan Bedi was a very, very good left-arm spin bowler and Jim Laker and Lance Gibbs as off-spinners.
Well I played a lot against Lance when I played for Barbados. He was a great spin bowler.
But Gupte was definitely the best because Gupte had two ‘googlies’. I don’t know of any other spinner who bowled two ‘googlies’. He used to bowl one high up and one from a kind of round armish thing. And he was very accurate.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com