On September 5, 1973, Garry Sobers played his only One-Day International (ODI) and was sadly dismissed for a duck, before conceding defeat with the ball in the final over. For the world’s greatest all-rounder, it was a forgettable outing, one that he labels ‘regret’ in his cricketing career. Karthik Parimal revisits the fixture at Headingley.
If asked to pick a few cricketers from the bygone era who would have thrived in limited-overs cricket had they an opportunity to play a lot of it, Garry Sobers’s name would have featured unanimously in all the lists. The world’s greatest all-rounder at the time was so entertaining as a batsman, bowler and fielder that despite playing only the longest format of the game for a significant part of his career, there was no doubt in people’s mind the world over that the southpaw was cut out for One-Day cricket or, more recently, Twenty20. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
The only dig
On this day in 1973, Sobers played his only overs-limit game, a 55-over One-Day International (ODI) against England at Headingley, but the stage failed to bring to fore his dexterity in Tests that had awed many. It was West Indies’ first ODI and hence very few in the squad could nonchalantly adapt to the change. Nonetheless, Sobers’s only outing was forgettable: after facing five balls, he edged the sixth behind to wicketkeeper Bob Taylor off Chris Old and was dismissed for nought.
West Indies could muster just 181 and although they had England on ropes for a brief part of the game, Bob Willis and Derek Underwood steered them across the line, scoring the winning runs off Sobers’s final over. “The second ball was hit straight back over the bowler for two; the next steered to third man for two more and England were home,” noted Wisden. Sobers accounted for the wicket of Old, poetic justice perhaps, but it was to be the only scalp he would show for in the format. He was absent from the second ODI of that series, played at The Oval — a fixture the West Indies won by eight wickets riding on Roy Frederick’s heroics — owing to fatigue from the long tour.
The rise of the one-day game coincided with the fag end of Sobers’s career. He was selected to play in the first World Cup, eventually bagged by the West Indies in 1975, but was soon sidelined with a slight groin strain. In his autobiography, Sobers confesses that he could have carried on despite that niggle, but refrained from bargaining with the powers that be after the commotion that ensued when he toured Australia not a hundred per cent fit, a few months before the tournament. Rohan Kanhai was named Sobers’s replacement and the former played a sturdy role, standing up to the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to take his side home in the final.
As Sobers assertively states, his game was based on attack whether as a batsman, bowler or captain. The fact that he looked to extract a result from even the most insipid matches — his declaration at Port of Spain springs immediately to mind — provides ample evidence. He played the game so that everyone could enjoy it; not just the players on the field but the spectators as well. “That’s why so many fans turn up to watch one-day cricket — they know they will see attractive cricket,” he further stresses. While that statement emphasises his love for the sport and the attached entertainment, it also underlines one of his deep regrets, that of never having the opportunity to play a lot of one-day cricket.
Would Sobers have had fun playing the abridged format, especially when it’s sans the rigours of Test cricket? “I’m certain that I would have enjoyed playing one-day cricket and I don’t think I would have changed my game. After all, I played in the same way whether it was league, county or Test cricket. I have always tried to play in an attractive manner,” he aptly writes in Garry Sobers: My autobiography.
Watching Sobers rip apart bowling attacks in coloured clothing would have been a sight to savour. Sadly, for the man who amassed 8,032 Test runs, hit six sixes in one over for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan, registered an unbeaten 365 — the highest score at the time in international cricket, one-day cricket’s development was a tad bit late. All the more unfortunate was his dismissal for a duck in the only match of that type. While the English were certainly pleased to see his back, many fans that travelled thousands of miles to watch the maestro bat were, understandably, dejected. The fact that he chose to skip the second ODI only rubbed salt to their wounds.
West Indies 181 in 54 overs (Rohan Kanhai 55; Derek Underwood 3 for 30, Chris Old 3 for 43) lost to England 182 for 9 in 54.3 overs (Mike Denness 66; Vanburn Holder 2 for 34) by 1 wicket.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)