Thc Cricket Monthly on “The man who could do everything”
I have seen Garry Sobers since he was a 12-year-old boy growing up in Barbados. I had only started playing for West Indies then. Soon after that he joined us in the West Indies dressing room as a 17-year-old youngster. I remember him saying he was more nervous sitting in the dressing room than running around the field because of seeing himself sit next to the name players.
Ian Chappell, former Australia captain A lot of people thought of Sobers as a natural who just played the game and did not think a hell of a lot about what he did. But he was very thoughtful. In fact, once, Mosman, the club in Sydney, was looking for a coach and the president had dinner with him and said, “Garry, we would love to have you as a coach, but you haven’t got the qualifications.” Garry said to him: “What did you think I got my knighthood for?”
Of course I remember Sobers in the field of play as the greatest cricketer who ever lived – batting touched by imagination beyond textbook; bowling full of creativity, fast or swing or slow or chinaman; fielding the quick-silverest of all men close to the wicket. An unmatchable life force, all eyes turning to him in action, the unforgettable privilege of seeing him. But I remember him also as an overflowing fountain of life in the marrow of his being. Seizing the moment, burnishing it in the fire of his youth.
When playing for South Australia, who had never won the Sheffield Shield, there was a player meeting before their final match. How to bowl at so-and-so? “Leave him to me,” came a West Indian voice from the corner. How to play certain bowlers? “No worries, man, I get plenty of runs.” Like any good pro, he obliged with a huge score, the wickets of key upper-order batsmen, oh, and a handful of catches too. “No worries, man. Leave it to me!”
I played against Sobey quite a bit in county cricket. One occasion, where Worcestershire were playing Nottinghamshire, he picked one ball and hit it down the fielder’s throat at deep-backward square leg. When we came together as a group at the fall of his wicket, Basil D’Oliveira said to us, “I’ll bet you when Sobey goes past the guy that caught him on the way to the pavilion he will say, ‘I didn’t see you down there, maan.'” We asked the fielder and he confirmed that was exactly what Sobey said to him. He had such confidence in himself always that he was struggling with the fact that he could get out.
The 1960-61 series had two wonderful captains: Frank Worrell and Richie Benaud, both of whom were prepared to play cricket for cricket’s sake. In that West Indies side were Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, the great Wes Hall and an emerging bloke called Lance Gibbs. But the bloke who stood out above all of them was a fellow called Sobers. Garfield Sobers. The bloke could do just about anything on a cricket field except umpire. He was a complete cricketer, magnificent fielder, bowled all types of bowling, and when in form, he absolutely decimated great bowling attacks. You could not set a field to him because he just had that innate ability to be able to score runs whenever he wanted to.
It is a fresh memory still. Sobey was lurking at backward short-leg when I was facing Intikhab Alam at the MCG against the World XI. Inti was a pretty clever legspinner. He bowled a wrong’un to me. I thought it was a topspinner and it went sharply off the inside edge. In those days you were more likely to find someone at backward short-leg off a spinner than these days. Sobey was right in my hip pocket. It was a sharp chance. He just plucked it with his left hand, a one-handed catch low to the ground.
It was at the MCG in the Australians v World XI game. Dennis Lillee had walked in to bat at No. 11. Garry told me, “Rookie, just go back a couple of steps further. I’m going to show him what fast bowling is all about.” He bowled him a few bouncers in a row and next ball got a wicket. Lillee was running for cover every delivery. When we went back to the dressing room, he told Garry, “I look forward to seeing you out in the middle.” Sobers said he was waiting too. He ended up scoring 254.
South Australia were playing Victoria in February 1964 at the Adelaide Oval. I was talking to Victoria’s wicketkeeper Ray Jordon the day before the match. It was a terribly hot day. We were having a beer. Slug, as we called Jordon, said to me, “Eh, Jar. You know what?” I said, “What?” He said, “Nah, nah. I’m not going to say it.” I challenged him: “You a Victorian or a mouse?” Slug then said, “All right, I think Sobers is overrated.”
I have a story from when I was a child. He was visiting Trinidad and came to our primary school. I must have been seven or eight. Right outside the school was a small park (near the Aranjuez Savannah) and there were nets, and the whole school assembled to watch him, and I was standing there pressed up against the chain-link wire fence and a ball came my way and hit me in the belly. And all I could think was that I had been hit in the belly by Garfield Sobers.
It was November 1963. I was making a return to the state side, South Australia. We went to Victoria and I had got a couple of wickets when Colin Guest came in to bat. After two balls, Garry put up his hand and signalled to me that he had moved just about a metre from the hip of Guest, whom he had observed playing some awkward glances round to the leg side. I bowled a ball the other way and Guest played the same shot, and Garry took the catch virtually off the bat.
He turned up at Nottingham for the first time – 1968. The players hardly saw him till practice the day before the first Gillette Cup match [against Lancashire]. He was captain. It was cold and he came down the steps of the pavilion, wandered over to the nets wrapped tight in a sheepskin coat. He shook hands with everyone, watched for ten minutes, then left.
Garry Sobers and Ajit Wadekar went out to toss the coin in Port-of-Spain in the 1971 [second] Test match. There were no match referees back then. Up went the toss. There was a gentleman by the name of Ken Laughlin who went close to the square and faced the crowd and hit his chest to indicate West Indies had won the toss. He always used to do that, as he was a bit of a personality.
After he had hit six sixes at St Helen’s in Swansea we went into the bar, where Garry was pinned into a corner by the Glamorgan committee members. All of them wanted to talk about the six sixes, but Garry did not want all that. He was not that sort of person. He told us players, “Come on, lads, let us go back to the old tavern.” Garry Sobers was not interested in world records, he was just interested in playing. He did not want to make too much of a fuss about the record. He wanted to keep it simple. That to me is the greatness of the man.
He is such a likeable guy. In 1970, in the first Test at Lord’sbetween Rest of the World and England, he was our captain. He was just so natural. Sobey played out of his skin: he scored 180-odd and took so many wickets [eight]. I knew him from county cricket, but just to see him play like that against the best in the world, as England were then, he was unbelievable. He got wickets with seam, with spin. In the end we won. And the best part came when at the end he just said, “Okay guys, see you at Trent Bridge.” It was like nothing had happened.