By Zaheer E. Clarke
Originally published March 1, 2015 (The Jamaica Observer)
Republished March 2, 2015
TALL yet agile, casual yet graceful, special yet modest … a few words used to describe a cricketing genius and National Hero from the island of Barbados.
However, some of his most memorable feats occurred across the Caribbean Sea on the island of Jamaica, the land of wood and water.
Garfield St Aubrun Sobers, aka Garry Sobers, is often described as “the greatest cricketer or all-rounder of all time”. Though known for his all-round feats with the ball, bat and in the field, in reality, he was probably the greatest batsman of all-time or of the modern era (post-World War II).
Sobers was never a consistently great bowler, even though he produced some gem bowling spells. He was so gifted and a master of all trades that he could bowl any variety of spin, medium pace or fast bowling. He was always a great fielder, some have called him “the Jonty Rhodes of his era”, but I’m too biased to judge. However, when it comes to wielding a willow, not many have even come close to Sir Garry.
It was little over a week ago, February 20 that marked the day, 41 years ago, in 1974 that Sobers stood in an exclusive club of one. He was the first batsman to score 8,000 runs in Test cricket.
He happened to bring up the feat on the same ground, Sabina Park, where he plundered a world record best 365 not out, a mark that stood for 36 years. On that day, March 1, 1958, the jubilant spectators were beside themselves. They invaded the field, trampled the pitch, and acclaimed Sir Garry ‘King of the World’. No West Indian batsman faced a ball for the rest of the day. The pitch was partially ruined. The curators took the final 55 minutes of that day and the rest day that followed, trying to bring the pitch back to some semblance for cricket. So was the elation and jubilation of the Jamaican spectators in attendance that Saturday who witnessed the premier art of batsmanship.
By contrast, when Sobers scored his 8,000th Test run at Sabina Park, some 15 years, 11 months and 20 days later, there was no jubilation, no invasion of the pitch, no acclaim of ‘King of the World’ even though he was. They had come to expect it. A few West Indian and world greats all shared the same hallowed ground and rarefied air as Sir Garfield that day. The likes of Lawrence Rowe, Roy Fredericks, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Bob Willis, Tony Greig and Geoff Boycott are just a few who witnessed that 8,000th run. Yet none mentioned the feat, no drinks were shared at the end of the day’s play in honour of the run, the fans didn’t go berserk when he crossed that milestone: the first to 8,000. They were for the most part, unaware.
Since that day, 27 other batsmen have joined Sobers in the 8,000 Test run club. West Indians such as Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and other world greats that can be recognised by single name: Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Ponting, Miandad, Dravid, Kallis, Sangakkara, just to name a few.
Forty-one years later though, the 8,000-run club has seen its membership swell exponentially, yet only three players have come remotely close to Sir Garry, by the numbers. They are Sangakkara, Lara and Tendulkar: all batsmen who have played significant years in the run-laden era of the 2000s and 2010s. The next best is the “Little Master” from India, Sunil Gavaskar: Oh how special he was.
However, there has never been a finer cricketer, a more adventurous captain, a more worthy teammate or respectful opponent as Garry Sobers. Sobers was always welcomed into any dressing room he walked into, whether it was his opponents’ or his own team. He would share drinks, a laugh, titbits about the game he loved, his soul and even stories of his family.
West Indian Charlie Davis once said: “The problem with Garry was that he was too modest. He didn’t know how special he was. He expected us to bat like him and catch like him. He thought all of us were like him. He would come in and say, ‘I will get a 150, Kanhai you give me a 100, Charlie you give me a 75’. That was it. That was the plan. No self-doubt.”
Charlie Davis also shared another famous story to journalist Sriram Veera about one of his West Indian teammates who asked if ‘he (Sobers) bats like this all the time?’, after Sobers raced from 29 to 132 in 30 minutes after a bowler hit Basil Butcher in the chest with a bouncer. Charlie replied, “He is Garry Sobers, you know. What he can do, we can’t even think of doing.”
Former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, who has seen batsmen older than my grandfather to the modern behemoths such as Lara and Tendulkar, said it best: “Sobers was a genius. Forget all the other things. Forget what he can do as a bowler or as a fieldsman or as a captain. Sobers is the best batsman I’ve ever seen”.
Another Australian and one of the most feared bowlers of all time, Dennis Lillee said: “the man (Sobers) could do anything. He is the greatest. When other people throw in other people’s names I just go pfft … give me Sobers”.
So today as I reflect on those days at Sabina Park, and I see him through my mind with that elegant back lift, that expansive follow-through, the dexterity in playing the same ball to the boundary with four or five different shots, the fans jumping in celebration, and the smile that soothe his most vile opponent, of a certainty, Garry Sobers is greatest batsman I’ve never seen and the 8,000-run club will forever be “the Garry Sobers Club”.
© Zaheer Clarke
From the Sunday Edition of the Jamaica Observer (Published Sunday, March 1, 2015)