Interviews with The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers will always be treasured.
And when Barbadians celebrated National Heroes Day on Wednesday, it provided yet another opportunity to highlight some of the wonderful achievements of the island’s only living national hero, who is now aged 84.
Regarded as the world’s greatest ever all-rounder, Sir Garfield, a former Barbados and West Indies captain, played 93 Test matches. A left-hander, 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, bowling either left-arm fast-medium, or two styles of spin – orthodox and wrist. He also held 109 catches.
In 383 first-class matches, Sobers amassed 28314 runs with 86 centuries and 121 half-centuries, at an average of 54.87. He took 1043 wickets (ave: 27.74) and held 407 catches.
I have been privileged to interview Sir Garfield on several occasions. It is a pleasure to share a couple extracts with the focus on assessing outstanding bowlers.
HOLDER: Do you agree with those who suggest that for West Indies to return to the glory days of the late 1970s, the 1980s and early ‘90s they should consistently play four fast bowlers again?
SOBERS: Well, the West Indies played their fast bowlers because they were good and it was a new trend to cricket. In the early days you had two fast bowlers, a medium-pacer and two spinners. You had fast bowlers but when those West Indian bowlers came on the scene they were not just fast. They were express. And they all had different deliveries and bounce.
You take for instance Joel Garner who used to come from something like 11 to 12 feet in the air. And then you had Michael Holding, who they called Whispering Death. He used to pass you so smoothly you didn’t even hear when he passed you. Then you had Colin Croft who used to come from an angle and angle it into you. You also had Andy Roberts who was great and could disguise it.
And as you went on you had Malcolm Marshall, who they say was the best and Curtly Ambrose who bowled it on one spot just short of a length and kept you in trouble. There was also Courtney Walsh.
I remember when Malcolm first started he came to me one day and he said he couldn’t bowl the outswinger. And I said to him you would never be able to bowl a proper outswinger because you run too straight. I said you have to come in from an angle so that you can get your left side in and you get swing from the body action, and so when you get there you are side on and then when you bowl the ball you would get the outswinger. Then he started to bowl the outswinger and became one of the best fast bowlers the world has ever seen because they all tell you it doesn’t matter where or when or how. People tell you in England, Australia, India, Pakistan, wherever he played, Malcolm Marshall was one of the best.
And I mean we didn’t have bests. We had greats. We had Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner. Croft might have probably been the weakest but he was still very good. We had class bowlers and I don’t think we could get to those class bowlers again. So if we are trying to look for that kind of team with those kinds of bowlers with penetration we are very foolish.
We have to start looking for bowlers who can use their brains and people who can recognise weaknesses in batsmen and where they have to bowl the ball. Those kinds of things have to be taught and you have to learn how to get batsmen out, not just how to tie them down but what you have to do to make them make mistakes and that kind of thing.
On good wickets you have to learn how to bowl a good line, try and be able to vary the ball, a little bit of flight here, a little one drifting and that kind of thing. And we don’t have many of those around in the world today. We certainly don’t have many of them in Barbados or the West Indies at the present moment. We have some reasonably good fast bowlers but they need to think and understand the game and work out a batsman. You must be able to find his weaknesses and his strengths and see where they can bowl the ball and what line.
HOLDER: Who would rate as the greatest fast bowler and spinner you encountered?
SOBERS: Of the players I played against in Tests, I reckoned Freddie Truman was one of the best. Dennis Lillee 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 really a great bowler. 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. But I played a lot against him in England and 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 and you keep saying to yourself what is he seeing in this wicket? He kept coming at you all the time, and that is the kind of bowler I like.
Fred used to move the ball and he had good length. He was pretty quick when he first started and very accurate. You always had a tough time against him especially in England in those days on the green tops. Well you don’t see them these days.
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. Freddie was erratic when he first started.
Alan Davidson was another good bowler but I don’t think Alan had the same heart because I knew at times that Richie (Benaud) had to urge him on when the wicket became flat. Alan would either pull a muscle or something would go wrong and Richie had to say ‘come on Alan, come on’ but he was also a very, very good bowler.
John Snow was another good one. These are all the fast bowlers I played against apart from our West Indian fast bowlers.
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. (Tony) Lock was a little bit dodgy and I think he knew it himself and in the long run he was sorted out because I remember playing against him when he played for Western Australia and I played for South Australia and I remember sitting down in his home one day because he had a bar with photographs and that kind of thing.
He invited me to his home and we were talking about cricket and he said ‘Garry boy, if I am bowling now I don’t know what I used to do before (Sobers has a chuckle)’. They tried to straighten him out in Australia and they did because he started to bowl and was still bowling well but he was a little bit dodgy.
But Gupte was definitely the best because Gupte had two ‘googlies’. I don’t know any other spinner who bowled two ‘googlies’. He used to bowl one high up and one from a kind of round arm. 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 over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email: [email protected]