Garry Sobers: 10 anecdotes about the greatest all-rounder the world has seen

Garry Sobers, born on July 28, 1936, is arguably the greatest cricketer the world has seen. In 93 Tests, he scored 8032 runs at an average of 57.78 with 26 tons — one of them being the then record of 365 not out. Sobers also scalped 235 victims with his wide variety of left-armers. Nishad Pai Vaidya reads through the book ‘Sobers: Twenty Years at the Top’ and picks 10 anecdotes about the great West Indian cricketer. 

1.  Early days and father’s loss

Sobers was born in Barbados and named ‘Garfield St Auburn.’ “Most Barbadians have unusual names, and I was no exception,” he said. He was supposedly given the two names after a few relatives settled in the United States of America. Sobers was one of five siblings and he lost his father when he was a young boy. His father was in the merchant navy and killed when his ship was attacked by the Germans during World War II.

2.  Joining the Police Band

As a teenager, Sobers’ talent was recognised in local cricket in Barbados. He got his first break at a more senior level through a police inspector named Captain Wilfrid Farmer. Eager to get the young boy into the police team, he enrolled Sobers into the band. “I had never played an instrument in my life but accepted the offer as first-team cricket was the next step up,” Sobers said. Even when an injury prevented him from attending the band’s practice, much to the chagrin of the bandmaster, Captain Farmer helped him out. Sobers was now put into the Police Boys Club, which kept him eligible for their senior cricket team.

3.  The neighbourhood celebrates selection

When Sobers was picked for his Test debut in 1954, his whole neighbourhood was elated. A message had been sent to his residence by the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) secretary Ben Hoyos and the word then got around that the young man was in the West Indies side. “In those days the Sobers family had no telephone, which is why Ben [Hoyos] had to send a message. Soon the whole neighbourhood got to know and everyone was terribly excited,” Sobers recalled. In the process of making his Test debut, he travelled in his first flight and left the shores of Barbados for the very first time.

4.  Keith Miller’s words of advice

Keith Miller was a legendary all-rounder from Australia. When they toured the Caribbean in 1955, the experienced Miller had a great influence on the young and impressionable Sobers. Miller had warned Sobers about many things one has to deal with in a cricketing career and it was a great education for the youngster. When the tour was over, he presented his ‘White Toe’ bat to the young Sobers.

5.  Len Hutton’s message after Sobers scores triple hundred

A 21-year-old Sobers made history in 1958 as he smashed 365 not out against Pakistan at Kingston. That beat Len Hutton’s 364 to record the highest score in Test cricket. Hanif Mohammad, the Pakistan opener, had scored his triple earlier in the same series and was the bowler off whom Sobers had got the record-breaking run. Once he got the record, a swarm of fans entered the Sabina Park to celebrate with their hero. The West Indies declared immediately, but almost an hour of play was lost as the Pakistan skipper Abdul Hafeez Kardar made the umpires aware of a few problems on the pitch after the crowd interruption. Len Hutton, the previous record-holder, got in touch with Sobers and wished him an even more successful time ahead. “From that moment on, I was instantly recognised throughout the Caribbean and the cricket world. It did not alter my bank balance. There were no bonuses in those days, just the 150 EC Dollars match fee I remember,” Sobers wrote.

6.  Collie Smith’s death and its effect

In 1959, Sobers was involved in a car accident with fellow West Indies player Collie Smith and Tom Dewdney. While Sobers — he was driving the vehicle — and Dewdney did not have any major injuries, Smith succumbed a few days after the incident. It was a big blow for Sobers, for whom Smith was an elder-brother like figure. Sobers said that it was the sorrow then pushed him to drink more then he used to. “I drank heavily, I had the capacity to down a lot of liquor without it having harmful effects on me,” Sobers said.

7.  Scoring runs in between bouts of sleep

During a tour game against Western Australia in 1968, Sobers had a night out and reported to the ground sleepless. He was slotted at No. 6 that day and decided to catch up on some sleep in the dressing room. He also padded up so that he could wake up and go out as soon as he is required. A few wickets fell quickly and one of Sobers’ teammates told him to go. “Chap named [Sam] Gannon has been taking a few wickets,” he told Sobers. The legendary all-rounder said, “Who is he? Never heard of him.” He walked out to bat and smashed 132 against a quality attack comprising the likes of Tony Lock and Graham McKenzie to name a few. “When I was out, I returned to the dressing room to continue my sleep,” Sobers recalled.

8.  Rohan Kanhai’s cure

In 1973, Sobers had another night out before a day’s play in the Lord’s Test. A sleepless Sobers walked out to bat and admitted that he was initially sedate as he couldn’t see the ball clearly. One he got his eye in, he churned his 26th Test ton. He had to retire hurt for some time as he felt some pain in his stomach. Rohan Kanhai was the West Indies skipper in that series, but he continued to address Sobers as ‘captain.’ Once he got to know of Sobers’ predicament, he told the 12th man, “Bring the captain a brandy and port to settle his stomach.” As soon as Sobers finished that, Kanhai said, “Bring the captain another brandy and port.” Kanhai knew that brandy and port usually worked with Sobers. A wicket fell and Kanhai asked Sobers to resume his innings. The declaration came when Sobers got his 150.

9.  Sir Don Bradman’s words of encouragement

Sobers was a part of Frank Worrell’s side to Australia in 1960-61. On that tour, he had a tough time initially but was comforted by Sir Don Bradman, who told him, “Don’t you worry, son. You’ll get them at the right time.” The first Test was in Brisbane and Bradman then told Sobers, “I hope you’re not going to disappoint me this time.” Sobers went on to score a ton and Bradman exclaimed, “Congratulations! You didn’t disappoint.” That game is now more remembered for Test cricket’s  historic first-ever tie.

10.  Ajit Wadekar and the controversial toss

India were leading the series 1-0 in the West Indies in 1971 as the two teams moved into the fifth Test at Trinidad. In those days, only the captains walked out for the toss. Sobers claims in his book that he had won the toss and told the Indian skipper Ajit Wadekar that he wanted to consult his team before making the decision. “Once inside the dressing room, I was amazed to hear a loudspeaker announcement saying that India had won the toss and would bat,” Sobers recalled. He did not want to contest it but confronted the Indian captain. “I asked Wadekar about it later, and he failed to reply,” Sobers said.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)