Garry Sobers was always a big hitter - famously hitting six sixes in a single over
A real freak of nature
Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week Paul Radley looks at cricket's Sir Garfield Sobers.
When Vasbert Drakes, a Barbados and West Indies all-rounder, arrived in the Emirates to coach the national team last year, his players were immediately in awe. They had seen him on television. They knew that the cricketer leaping backwards to take the incredible World Cup catch that features on ESPN's Sports Centre preamble was him. Most of them could probably quote his statistics as well. They were inspired. He had travelled halfway around the world to give them a hero up close.
It had been different for the man himself. When Drakes was growing up all he had to do was "walk downtown" and there were all his idols - some of whom were among the greatest to have played the game. "Barbados is 166sq miles, and we have produced more Test cricketers per capita than any other place on earth," said Drakes. "Cricket was always in the blood. I was fortunate to live in Barbados, a place which produces so many icons as cricketers.
"It was our favourite pastime - and still is. It didn't take much for me to motivate myself to want to become a Malcolm Marshall or Joel Garner, a Wes Hall, Charlie Griffiths or Wayne Daniel. "Cricket was always in the air. You can just walk downtown and see Sir Garry Sobers, and that really inspired you to play at the highest level." In the form of Sobers, Bridgetown produced the best cricketer ever - at least in the eyes of Sir Donald Bradman, an Australian who had a fair claim to the title himself.
Testimonies to that effect have been so profuse, it is difficult to argue a case against. Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian batting legend, regarded him as "the complete cricketer". Sir Clive Lloyd, who was among the successors to Sobers as the West Indies captain, was in little doubt, either. "He was the best thing on two legs, the best thing since sliced bread, you were in awe of him" he said. Gavaskar's idea of Sobers being "complete" is what marked him out as one of the best.
With a Test average of 57 with the bat - and his runs were scored with a panache that has rarely been matched - he could have made a World XI in that discipline alone He could also bowl left-arm fast, swing, orthodox, and Chinamen. As the Guardian cricket writer Lawrence Booth put it, Sobers was "a master of all trades and a jack of none". That was in reference to his cricket ability, but his natural gifts extended far beyond the boundary. He also played golf, football and basketball for Barbados.
Many regarded him as a freak of nature, not entirely without foundation when you consider he was born with an extra finger on both hands. They were removed shortly afterwards. He was raised by a widow in a modest shack in post-colonial Barbados. Fame came early: he made his first-class debut for the island at 16 and played his first Test a year later. At 21 he hit 365 against the touring Pakistan at Kingston, Jamaica.
It was his maiden Test century and lasted as a world record for 36 years. It seems harsh to even suggest a player with such a broad catalogue of feats could be defined by one specific achievement. If there was one, it would be his six sixes in an over for his county side, Nottinghamshire, against Glamorgan in Swansea. The 40th anniversary of the deed was celebrated comprehensively last year. "The subject is never left alone," Malcolm Nash, the unfortunate bowler on the receiving end, said.
"I have given talks about it several times a year for 40 years. "The captain asked me if I fancied having a go at bowling some slow-left armers. Sobers came along and quickly ended my slow-bowling career. "It was a pretty short experiment." His career was not entirely blemish free. The craze for burning effigies of players, umpires or administrators who fall from favour, which has been taken up with such frenzy on the sub-continent in recent years, is not an Asian phenomenon.
When Sobers, full of self-belief and will to entertain, overdid the generosity and all but gift-wrapped a Test for England in 1968, he was the target for the manikin- maulers. It was a minor blip. Four years later at the age of 35, Sobers settled a few old scores with a sublime innings of 254 for the Rest of the World against Australia in Melbourne. "At last I had proven to Victorians I could bat a bit," he said later. As if there was any doubt about it. Cast your vote and enter a draw for a weekly Dh500 adidas voucher and a dream trip with Etihad Holidays. If you think Sobersis the all-time best, text G47 to 2337. Texts cost Dh5 and voting will end at midnight on Thursday March 12.