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Garfield Sobers, born July 28, 1936, was simply the greatest all-round cricketer ever witnessed in the history of game. He was a freak of nature, who was the best of batsmen, most versatile of bowlers and the supreme acrobat among fieldsmen. Arunabha Sengupta lists 12 little-known facts about this amazing man.
Superlatives tripped liberally from tongues and pen of even the most prosaic and conservative chroniclers of the game, especially during the two decades when Garry Sobers reigned supreme. His giant shadow stretched across every department of the game, his mastery lending sparkle to every specialisation ever eked out of cricket, bar wicket-keeping. During the high noon of his dominance all those Jacks of all Trades, who had paraded themselves as all-rounders, took in the dimensions of his genius and scurried to find a new meaning of their lives and their cricket.
Here are a dozen unique facts about the great man.
1. Garry Sobers was born with six fingers in each hand. The first extra finger fell off before he was 10, jerked out with a piece of cat gut wrapped around the base and hauled off with a sharp tug. He played his first serious cricket match with 11 digits. The remaining additional finger was severed with the help of a sharp knife when Sobers was 14.
2. Denis Atkinson recommended Sobers to Captain Wilfred Farmer, the local inspector of police, advocating his inclusion in the Police Cricket Club. Sobers was barely into his teens at that time and to make the inclusion legitimate, he was asked to play the bugle for the police band.
3. When he went for trials at Barbados, Sobers stood in the covers in his shorts and picked up the ferocious drives of Clyde Walcott with supreme ease, something no fielder in the island could dream of doing.
4. Sobers was just 16 and still playing in his shorts when he was chosen as a last minute replacement against the touring Indians of 1952-53 – his First-Class debut. The Sobers family could not afford flannels for the young man to play his first match. The Barbados cricket Association presented Sobers with his first cricket outfit.
5. Sobers turned out for his island against Len Hutton’s Englishmen in 1953-54. Fred Trueman bowled him a bouncer and as he ducked, his bat jerked up, hitting him on the forehead. According to his autobiography, that was the last time Sobers ducked to a bouncer.
6. Sobers was engaged in a match of street cricket with his friends when a cable from the West Indies Board arrived requesting him to join the team for the Fourth Test against England at Trinidad.
7. From 1961 to 1968, in 33 Tests, Sobers scored 3106 runs at 63.38 with nine hundreds and captured 125 wickets at 27.93
8. Sobers was engaged to Indian actress Anju Mahendru before tying the knot with the Australian girl Pru Kirby.
9. In late 1970 Sobers partnered Ali Bacher in a double wicket tournament in Rhodesia and was paid £600 for two days. He also had lunch with Ian Smith, the Rhodesian premier and described Smith as a great man to talk to. This led to all sorts of complications. The leader of the neighbouring Gambian nation raised objections. Forbes Burnham, the Marxist Prime Minister of Guyana, announced Sobers would not be welcome in his country unless he apologised. Dr. Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad, also voiced concerns once Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared that she would not allow the Indian team travel for the forthcoming tour unless the matter was sorted out.
Errol Barrow, the Prime Minister of Sobers’ native Barbados, was in America and cut short his trip because of the furore. Finally, after discussions with the all-rounder, Barrow drafted a letter to the Guyana Board of Control for Sobers to sign. This apology was publicised in the papers and broadcast across the islands, and finally brought an end to two months of front page news. See Garry Sobers’ career in photos here
10. In 1967, Sobers authored Bonaventure and the Flashing Blade, a children’s novel in which computer analysis helps a university cricket team become unbeatable.
11. Sobers was also a scratch golfer during his playing days and remained so after his retirement. Throughout his career he was an enthusiastic and incorrigible punter on horses and a major patron of the casinos.
12. Lord’s 1973. Sobers, 31 not out at the end of the day, was approached by Clive Lloyd for a night out. They visited some Guyanese friends in London, and then spent time with former off-spinner Reg Scarlett in a nightclub. The drinking, interspersed with dancing, went on till it was four o’clock in the morning and the sun was starting to peep through the other end of the sky.
“I have so much liquor in my head that if I go home to the hotel and go to bed, I am not going to wake up,” Sobers confessed to Scarlett. So, as the most obvious alternative, they went to Clarendon Court for some more drinks. And after a shower, Sobers padded up and walked out to resume his innings.
He played and missed the first five balls of the first over bowled by Bob Willis. And then the sixth struck the middle of the bat. And they continued to find the middle till he was 132, when he had to retire because of a desperate need to go to the toilet.In the pavilion, he had his medicine — two glasses of port and brandy mixed together in a potent combination. And he went back to the crease to finish unbeaten on 150. At that time Sobers was past his 37th birthday
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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