Tony Becca | Sir Garry comes of age
In 1953 when I sat on the grounds at Sabina Park looking first at Polly Umrigar, then Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott, and later at Pankaj Roy and Vijay Manjrekar scoring centuries, I never believed, or knew, what a lasting effect it would have on me.
Today, 64 years later, and after seeing the likes of Jeffrey Stollmeyer, J.K. Holt Jr, Peter May, Len Hutton, Neil Harvey, Colin McDonald, Tom Graveney, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, David Gower, Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, V.V. S. Laxman, Greg Chappell, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Marin Crowe and Shivnarine Chanderpaul batting in all their glory, I now understand their effect on me.
Cricket, it has long been said, is a batsman's game, and the more I see it, even in spite of the excitement of the fast bowlers and their sheering pace and flying bouncers, and the spin bowlers and their puzzling spin, the more I believe it, and the more I understand why batting has a special effect on me.
I will never forget the leg glance of a Stollmeyer, the flowing, elegant strokes of a Worrell, the wristy cuts of one like Weekes, the smooth grace of a Graveney, the polish of a May, the cover-drive of a Harvey, the oriental magic of men like Majid, Abbas, Gavaskar, and Laxman, and, of course, the classical strokes of Rowe, and the Caribbean flamboyance of a Kanhai, a Richards, and a Lara.
Statistics are great, and those who live by statistics, those responsible for creating statistics are just as great.
Those whose presence are commanding, however, those whose every move is elegant and graceful, and those who breathe class in every way, those who seem born to play the game are, to me, the ones who remain riveted in my memory.
Between February 26 and March 4, 1958, the batsman who left an indelible mark on my young mind was the tall left-hander Garry Sobers batting with his collars up.
In 1953, at the tender age of 17, he made his debut appearance at Sabina Park as a left-arm spin bowler, and, since then, he had developed his batting to such a degree that he was considered an all-rounder, or as a batsman good enough to bat at number three on the West Indies team.
FIRST TEST CENTURY
When he walked out to bat at 87 for one on that day, February 27, Sobers' best score was 80. He had never reached a century in Test matches.
Little did we know, all that was to end, and end very soon at that.
Chasing Pakistan's first innings of 328 and batting with Conrad Hunte, who had made 260 run out, Sobers scored 365 not out while batting for 10 hours and 14 minutes and stroking 38 boundaries to all parts of Sabina Park. In doing so, he shared in a world-record partnership off 446 runs in a huge 790 for three declared.
It was an innings out of the top drawer, it was three hours and three minutes less than Hutton's previous record score of 364 scored in 1938. It was five hours 56 minutes less than the time Hanif took to score his 337 earlier in the series. It was an innings filled with confident and glittering strokes, an innings which was halted only because of the invasion of the excited crowd, an innings which seems destined to last forever.
And the world welcomed him, and his grand performance.
In two days of cricket, Sobers had gone from a left-arm orthodox spin bowler to the holder of the game's highest individual score. From a batsman who, in 24 innings, had passed 50 only on six occasions, to a batsman who suddenly stood atop the world as the holder of the world record.
When I remember the state of the pitch, although at the time it meant very little to me, and when I recall the injury to Mahmood Husain and to Nasim-ul-Ghani, which left the attack short on quality, it was not the best innings that I had ever seen.
To be played by one so young, however, to be played by a bowler who had become a batsman, to go straight to the top so quickly, to parade such splendid stroke-play, such batsmanship, and to score so rapidly, and to bat for such a long time, struck me as something out of the ordinary.
His subsequent innings, such as his 132 at Brisbane in 1960 in probably the greatest Test match of all, his 163 not out at Lord's in 1966 to rescue the West Indies after they were forced to follow-on and were just nine runs ahead in their second innings, and his 113 not out at Sabina Park in 1968 when the West Indies were forced to follow-on and left to bat on a devil of a pitch, as great as they were, seemed as mere footprints.
That is why, despite the words of historians and writers like Neville Cardus, A. A. Thompson, and Robertson Glasgow and what they had to say about batsmen like Victor Trumper, Don Bradman, Walter Hammond, and George Headley, and with due respect to the modern giants like Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, and Sachin Tendulkar, for me the greatest of them all is Garry Sobers, the left-arm orthodox spin bowler, who, over time, became a great batsman, a brilliant close-to-the-wicket fielder, a fast left-arm bowler good enough to open the West Indies bowling despite the presence of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, and a confusing wrist spinner.
In spite of his other talents, his five special gifts as a cricketer, he was, to me, and to many across the world, one of a kind as a batsman, and especially as a left-hander.