Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has described the performance of National Hero Sir Garfield Sobers against England in 1966 as an assertion of the dominance of Barbados and validation to the island’s claim to Independence.
In 1966, Sobers captained the West Indies to a 3-1 victory against England in a five-match Test series played on English soil. It was the West Indies third Test series victory against England in England. At that stage in his career, Sobers was regarded as the greatest cricketer in the world, a maestro with the bat and the ball.
If any doubts lingered in anyone’s mind that Sobers was not the real McCoy on the cricket field prior to the series, at the end of it he would have firmly established he was the “greatest Earth or Mars” as the Mighty Sparrow had proclaimed him to be in a calypso earlier that year.
In the five-Tests series, Sobers scored 722 runs at an average of 103.14, took 20 wickets at 27.25 and held ten catches. Never before had a cricketer been so dominant in a Test series with the bat, ball and in the field.
The sociological importance of Sobers’ performance is not often the subject of public discussion. During the Test series which was played between June and August, another National Hero the Errol Barrow the then Premier of Barbados was in England negotiating Independence for the island.
In a tribute to Sir Garry on a radio programme on Tuesday, Arthur drew attention to the sociological impact of the legendary cricketer’s performance against what at that time was the island’s colonial master and its quest to become an independent nation.
“While others were in London negotiating our Independence, Garfield Sobers was in England asserting the domination of Barbados and validating our claims to Independence by his performance on the cricket field, and if there were any doubts that we as the world’s smallest independent country could make it, the symbolic and substantive performance of Garfield Sobers provided the proof when we needed validation that we could truly be a glorious independent country,” Arthur said.
The former prime minister explained that it was on that basic the Cabinet of Barbados under his leadership decided to honour Sir Garry in 1998 by making him a National Hero.
“He occupied a special place at that moment when there could have been doubts. Sir Garry validated our claims to self-determination by his exploits on the cricket field because he more than anyone else dominated England in England, in a way that was just as significant as the 1950 historic victory there,” Arthur added.
Arthur jokingly told his radio audience that he needed to complain that his generation did not live out their ambitions.
“It would have been my ambition were it open to me to be a West Indies cricketer, rather than be a prime minister but Sir Garry and his generation did not leave openings available to us,” Arthur said.
He mentioned that during his heyday Sir Garry returned to Barbados and played in the Barbados Cricket Association competition.
“I would like to see a return to the days when the world’s greatest cricketers do not think it is beneath them to play in a match against a school team to show the schoolboys of today’s world what it is like to bowl against the greatest in the history of the game, and that is what is missing or was missing in West Indies cricket. I hope it is coming back the commitment to West Indies cricket and cricket in general and that is what Sir Garry represented,” Arthur said.
Arthur revealed that he like most boys of his era listened to cricket on the radio and scored many runs made by Sir Garry in their exercise books. This sentiment was shared by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves , who also paid homage to Sir Garry.
“I can recall two innings by him that united my village. There were two radios in the village, my father had one and we played in 1960 against England led by Peter May in the West Indies. Sir Garry scored 226 at Kensington and Sir Frank Worrell 197 not out, the whole village was at a standstill as we listened to the radio I scored. The other time was when he scored 132 in the first Test against Australia at Brisbane,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said those of his generation in St Vincent and even some who were younger held Sir Garry in high regard and loved him very much.
“In fact, that love was manifested by the Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as far as I am aware Garfield Sobers is the only person who has been made a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines by an Act of Parliament,” Gonsalves said.
In his reply, Sir Garry said he was very grateful to hear so many magnificent and glowing comments about him and how he played cricket.
He stated that one of the things instilled in him from childhood was that as a member of a team he played for the team and not for himself.
Sir Gary said after he started to play at the national and international level his country and team came first.
“I felt this way growing up and I still feel this way today. So my performances were strictly because the team came first, I had to make sure that they were in the best position before I could do anything, and then the spectators those who paid to come through the gates were also to be entertained because this was what they paid for and that is why I played cricket in the manner I did,” Sir Garry said.