Sir Garry Sobers: Celebration of a Great
It’s the 40th anniversary today of a very special achievement in the world of sport by one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever witnessed. Sir Garfield ‘Garry’ Sobers was the great West Indies cricketer who at the time, playing for Nottinghamshire, battered the perfect six sixes from a single six-ball over off an unfortunate Glamorgan side. The venue was at the St. Helens cricket ground in Swansea, the hitherto unthinkable feat creating a huge impact in the media of the day.
The recipient of Sobers’ peak performance that day was a hapless Malcolm Nash, a slow left-arm finger-spinner who developed into a fine seam bowler despite the confidence-draining scalping from the great all-rounder in full flight.
The first delivery of the over unceremoniously ended up in the Cricketer’s Inn. There followed an outrageous assault by Garry that sent the ball flying to all parts of the ground and had the paying
customers ducking. The fifth delivery was a legendary near-miss as Glamorgan fielder, Roger Davies actually caught the ball but wound up over the boundary with it in his hands all the same, the umpire signalling yet another six runs. It would have been interesting to know what was going through Malcolm Nash and Garry Sobers’ minds as the former began the run-up for what would become the final delivery of a record breaking over. Sobers made no mistake however and went into history as he clubbed the ball out of the ground with a mighty six into nearby St. Helen’s Avenue. The ball was finally found the next day.
Actually ‘clubbed’ is probably the wrong description of any Sobers stroke. His was a beautifully fluent textbook style full of natural timing. Nevertheless his batting could be brutally effective when he was on song which was much of the time. As indicated by his savaging of poor Malcolm Nash, he could dismantle any attack very quickly when the mood struck him to do so.
We all have favourite sporting heroes from our ‘own’ eras and certainly Sir Garfield Sobers was one of mine. I don’t believe I’m showing bias when I say though that Sobers was the greatest all-rounder cricketer of all time. Aside from his classic left-handed batsmanship his versatility allowed him to bowl in many different styles supremely well. He became most renowned for being a left-arm fast-medium bowler who could move the ball off the seam or swing it dangerously through the air. Throw in a few cutters and a surprisingly fast ball when he would let one slip, he was the complete pace bowler. Previously he had often bowled in a guileful and fluent slow left-arm style and even on occasion in an unorthodox left-handed wrist-spin ‘Chinaman’ style. His fielding was as immense as his prowess with bat and ball. Either prowling the covers with a lithe cat-like style and a wicked return to the stumps or exploiting his phenomenally sharp reflexes and eye in the slips or close-in in other positions. He was even reputed to be a terrific wicketkeeper! I don’t doubt this for a second as Garry was the type of sportsman who was accomplished at every thing he tried as his prowess on the golf course proved.
Garry became ‘Sir Garfield’ when he was feted in the New Years Honours list of 1975 for his services to sport. Richly deserved, he is also rated by Wisden, the bible of the sport, as one of the Five Cricketers of the Century along with Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Shane Warne and fellow West Indies player Sir Vivian Richards. For those who enjoy their statistics the man from Bridgetown, Barbados recorded 8.032 Test runs at an average of 57.78 from 93 games with a top score of 365 not out. He also took 235 Test wickets at an average of 34.03 and rounded this off with 109 catches.
Although hugely impressive, I never feel that a performer like Sir Garry Sobers can adequately be described in figures alone. To watch him in the flesh as I did at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground in Nottingham, either playing for Nottinghamshire or the West Indies was to witness greatness. One was in no doubt about that. He had that aura about him. The all-rounder had a distinctive presence on the pitch, collar normally turned up and all elegance and languid and effortless of movement.
Like all great sportsmen he exhibited lots of time to do what he wanted to do on the field of play. Aided by his wonderful natural ability honed on the streets of Bridgetown as a youngster and a classic eye and reflexes it was simply hard to imagine a better cricketer. I don’t believe there has has been one or perhaps ever will be. The name of Sir Garfield has to be written up with the elite greats in sporting history. He shares that mantle with the likes of Babe Ruth, Mohammed Ali, Wayne Gretzky and Pele – the very highest echelon of supreme performers.
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