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.
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.
Hard to reconcile that image with the one on the screen.
I was hoping Bobby wouldn’t ask. He did. Immediately.
“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?
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.
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.
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…
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.”
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