Early Bird: Sobers sightings; a grateful graduate seeks to give the great Sir Garry his due

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March 2022. The Apex Second Test in Barbados. Garfield St Aubrun Sobers sat, as he has long sat, beside his queen atop the Kensington pavilion, monarch of all he surveyed.

But frail-, fragile-, feeble-looking even. I felt for him. I feared for him.

Photo: West Indies legend and arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, Sir Garfield Sobers.

Through my mind flashed an image of him from his heyday. Joey Carew’s Trinidad and Tobago had knocked Barbados over for a paltry score in a Shell Shield game at the Queen’s Park Oval.

Far ahead of the rest of his team, he strode out to the middle. In two twos, he had set the field and was waiting, visibly impatient, at the end of his run-up for Bryan Davis to be ready.

With a spring in his step, he sprinted to the wicket, the flexible left arm leading the lithe and limber body. At the popping crease, he uncoiled his cobra-like self. With Davis’ bat still on the way to the top of his backswing, the ball hurtled past the stumps. As it thudded into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, there was an audible gasp from the large partisan crowd. The message was clear: champions may fail but they never surrender.

KFC Munch Pack

Hard to reconcile that image with the one on the screen.

I was hoping Bobby wouldn’t ask. He did. Immediately.

Photo: Legendary West Indies batsman Sir Garry Sobers in action.
(Copyright UK Guardian)

“G’morning. Did you see Sobers on TV?”

His sombre tone told me straightaway. He had reacted in similar fashion.

“I did,” I replied. “I don’t want to talk about it if you don’t mind.”

He gave me a look that said, ‘I understand’. But he said nothing. We walked almost all the way from Casselton to Eddie Hart Savannah lost in our own thoughts…

I was 15 and in secondary school when I first saw Gary Sobers in full flight against Australia in 1965. He made a half-century, during which he once rocked back onto his left foot and drove a Peter Philpott googly up towards the pavilion clock. Literally! Off the backfoot!

How does a 15-year-old forget that? How does an already cricket-crazy schoolboy not fall in love with such talent?

Photo: West Indies icon Sir Garry Sobers.
(Copyright PA)

How does a teenager who had already caught the calypso contagion dare disagree with the Mighty Sparrow? How does he not wholeheartedly agree with the lyrical genius who dubbed the white-clothed genius, ‘the greatest cricketer on Earth or Mars’?

I had seen Sobers in the flesh before. But I had deliberately forgotten January 1960. He made a three-ball duck.

The other two images of that game I have deleted are of Umpire Eric Lee Kow’s finger giving San Juan’s Charran Singh out run out. And of my brother smothering a 10-year-old, still-in-primary-school me beneath him as a shower of bottles rained down on the field immediately thereafter.

And without effort, I have wiped the slate clean of England 1957. That was a fateful, frustration-filled time when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine failed to reproduce the fabulous successes of 1950 and whip almighty England again.

And when Sobers survived the fatal car crash that killed Collie Smith. And perhaps released the genius.

Photo: West Indies legend Sir Garry Sobers (left) drives through the offside while England captain Colin Cowdrey (right) looks on in the slips.

Indelible the memory of the end of February 1958. From 20 not out to 228 not out to 365 over three days. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones but such was the unbridled joy in my household, you’d think the Soberses lived there!

There’s the 1960 Tied Test in Brisbane. A brilliant first innings 132 in under three hours against a rampant Alan Davidson, who bowled him all over the shop in the second innings.

Then two Tests later, that splendid innings in Sydney. He scored 168 out of a team total of 339. Mr Sundries made 11 so that’s over 50% of the runs that came off the bat!

At the time, I had seen both those 1960-61 innings in my mind’s eye only. But they permanently replaced the ones from the Oval at the start of the same year when he was gone after just three balls!

A boy only at heart now, I have two more abiding, contrasting, post-playing-career images.

The ARG, April 1994.

Photo: West Indies icon Sir Garry Sobers (left) celebrates with his successor Brian Lara after Lara broke his world record for the highest Test score by amassing 375 against England in Antigua on 16 April 1994.
(via Belfast Telegraph)

That long, long embrace of the Prince. Selflessness and sincerity personified. Steal my record, will you? I love you for it, son. Nobody but nobody deserves it more.

Sri Lanka, October 2015.

“I have never made a run for me,” he is saying, “I have always played for the West Indies teams, and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did.

“[…] I don’t think we have that kind of person today. […] I don’t think we have that kind of person in West Indies anymore who is quite prepared to play and to give everything to their country.”

And then, with the world watching, the tears flow…

Sobers sui generis…

Photo: West Indies cricket legend Sir Garfield Sobers rings the bell at Lord’s in London.

As we are just about to step off the Moosai paved track to cross over into the EHS proper, Bobby finds his tongue again.

“You think Sir Garry reads Wired868?” he asks, out of nowhere.

“I dunno, Why?”

“If you feel that strongly about it, maybe you should share it.”

There, Bobby.



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About Early Bird

Early Bird
Columns that say that, after Covid has done its worst, we’re grateful to be still here and be able to get out of bed early to heed the poet’s Carpe diem injunction and, savouring all the day’s blessings, mine those banal, random, ordinary, routine, unspectacular, run-of-the-mill, early-morning thoughts and conversations we often engage in.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the memories of the great man! I am with you in sharing the pleasure of seeing his exceptional talents on those and several other occasions. Truly a great entertainer and a most affable and approachable person, still going strong despite looking a bit frail. He is living a very full life. Best wishes to the greatest, Sir Garfield StAuburn Sobers!!

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