As part of celebrations to mark the 80th birthday of the world’s greatest ever all-round cricketer, The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers, on Thursday, July 28th, there will be a Twenty20 match at Kensington Oval. It starts at 6:30 p.m. and features former leading international players.
Sir Garfield, a former Barbados and West Indies captain, played 93 Test matches. He 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.
Last week, this column presented extracts of an interview with Sobers a few years ago. It is again a pleasure to share some of his background and thoughts on the game.
HOLDER: When did you start playing competitive local cricket?
SOBERS: I started playing cricket in Barbados in 1951-52 and that was when I went up to play at Penny Hole, which is now known as Gemswick, in St. Philip.
I did very well in the ‘country’ cricket and I came back and they had the Country versus the BCA, and I was selected to play for the Country team. I did very well in that match and then I was selected to play in the trials. There was a squad of about 26 and I was very fortunate to get into it.
In those days the game was far different where you had a BCL XI playing against a BCA XI. I don’t follow the local cricket as much as I used to but that was a very good thing because it had shown up a lot of players because over the years, looking back as far as then and even before then, a lot of the Barbados players came from the BCL – Everton Weekes, Clairmonte Depeiza, Conrad Hunte, myself, Seymour Nurse, Charlie Griffith. You could go on and on. I am sure there were many more.
It gave a good insight as to what the League was because the League was very strong. But it was over the old policy that we had in Barbados for so many years where if you were a coloured fellow and you didn’t go to Harrison College or Combermere, you couldn’t get into Empire or Spartan.
And therefore I was very fortunate when I got into Police. And Everton played for the Army and we apparently did so well through the League that people (clubs) like Police and those recognised the talent and this was done through Denis Atkinson, whom I used to bowl at during those early days when I was about 11 or 12 years of age.
I used to go up on the pasture and Denis used to send for me nearly every evening when I got home from school to come and bowl at him. And I used to go up there and bowl at him and he recommended me to Captain (Wilfred) Farmer (Commissioner of Police) and that is how I got into Police because I didn’t go to Harrison College or Combermere, so in those days I couldn’t get into Spartan or Empire.
So I had to find another way out and luckily for me the way was found through the Police Boys’ Club because I tried to get into the band and that didn’t work out as I would have like, and therefore the suggestion was that I was a member of the Police Boys’ Club, if it was possible to have a youngster from the Police Boys’ Club playing for Police.
And I think the BCA knew it was, so they said yes and that’s how I got in.
Cricket in those days was phenomenal. Club cricket back in the 1950s when I started playing and even before, because before I started playing I used to watch and score at the Wanderers ground. I used to watch all of the teams and I was very fortunate because the scoreboard had a kind of platform, which I used to stand on and when Spartan and Wanderers or Empire or Pickwick played there were big crowds.
I had an opportunity to see the game and to watch players like Everton (Weekes), Frank (Worrell), Clyde (Walcott), George Carew and all of those players that were playing for the West Indies. Also Denis Atkinson, Roy Marshall and Norman Marshall.
I learned my game that way. Cricket was of a very, very high standard in those days. Barbados teams in those days certainly would have been superior to a West Indies team in the last ten, 12 years because Barbados had so many good players and as years went on, playing for Police and then I went to England with the West Indies team in 1957 and went back and played in the Leagues in England from 1958 until 1968 because I went to Notts (Nottinghamshire) in 1968.
Cricket was blooming. We had players in those days like Donald Weekes. Donald Weekes would walk into any West Indies team now. Even my brother Gerald, Wil Clarke, Bossie Barker and the Daniel boys. I mean the cricketers that we had in those days were superior to what we have now. Some of the laws were different. The conditions that we played under in those days were far different to what we have now.
During the 1960s and 70s and later on they started to have covers but in those days there were no covers. We played on wet wickets. I think you learn a lot by playing on wet wickets. You learn how to watch the ball a lot more and watch it on to the bat, especially when the ball was turning you had to keep a very close eye on it.
If you had to play Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall, Carl Mullins and Bossie Barker, Hughley Barker and all of those fellows on wet wickets, you were in for a hiding to nothing. You had to really know what you were looking for. You had to be a player who understood what the wickets were playing like to be able to bat because the ball used to rise from a very short length under you. The ball used to get up from a good length and you had to learn how to play it. There was no escaping if you wanted to play proper cricket.
Today a lot of those things have changed. A lot of wickets are covered in Barbados these days and you have the helmet, the chest pads, arm guards and so many other different things, which didn’t take place in those days.
In those days a fellow could bowl you six bouncers in an over and the field was set according to what you were bowling. It wasn’t set to the rules. Today a lot of things are done by rules. You can only bowl so many bouncers an over, you can only have two men behind square and if you bowl a ball above a batsman’s waist, a full toss, it’s called a no-ball.
We went through all of those things but we didn’t have helmets or arm pads. Today it has definitely changed tremendously. Today it’s a batsman game because the fast bowlers have gone back. In those days you had fellows who used to drag through the crease and their front foot used to land probably about two or three feet in front of the batting crease.
So it meant that by the time they delivered off the front foot they were actually on top of you and obviously the law of averages would tell you that the closer you are to a person the quicker the ball is going to travel. So it is going to get to you a lot quicker and you are going to be able to bowl better bouncers.We went through all of that. We played a lot of cricket under those conditions and in the last few years things have changed so dramatically.
I had never really come to Kensington as a young boy because as a youngster I always enjoyed playing my cricket and I was not going to leave playing my cricket to go anywhere. So I used to listen and play all the time.
I came to Kensington when I played in the trials and then when I came back from India in 1953 I remember coming here to watch the Test match but I can’t remember watching any other cricket at Kensington before then.
I listened to cricket on Rediffusion and I had always enjoyed playing. I just wanted to be involved in whatever I was doing. Cricket, football, whatever.
So I didn’t come to Kensington a lot and then when I came to Kensington I started to play here regularly. The facilities here were nothing to compare with what they are today. The outfield, you couldn’t slide and dive and do what fielders are doing today. You would come up with all the skin off your knees or elbows or something like it. In those early days the wickets weren’t covered either so you were playing on what we called ‘sticky dogs’. We learned and learned the hard way but Kensington was a place that you always looked forward to because that is where Test cricket was played. Although you had a chance to play on the ground when you played for your team, like I played for Police and in trials, it was still a different atmosphere when you came to the Test match.
In those days they had a schoolboy stand and a lot of people used to watch cricket. Cricket was very big. There were a lot of fans who used to sit in the stands and shout across while you were playing. You had King Dyall. I remember “Bright Eye” Sealy who used to sit in the Kensington Stand and heckle you. Kensington was always alive when cricket was being played.
Today if you don’t have England and Australia playing in the West Indies you hardly get any crowds. And there were so many good players around.
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