Garry Sobers as he was popularly known played international cricket representing West Indies for a period of twenty years from 1954 to 74. He was probably the most naturally gifted cricketer ever to have played the game. Coached players play the game by the rules. Players to whom the game comes naturally do it differently and Sir Garry was one of them. Many rate Sir Donald Bradman and our own Sachin Tendulkar among the best who have played cricket but my choice goes to this West Indian from the island of Barbados as the greatest of them all. Do I have reasons to rate him higher than the other two? Yes, many. Sobers was ambidextrous, though he preferred to bowl and bat left handed as it gave him a natural advantage. He scored 360 odd runs in one test match, a record which stood for many years. He bowled leg spin, off spin, medium pace and fast. He could also swing the ball very late. He excelled as a fielder both close in and out field. They said he could also keep wickets! Those who were fortunate to watch him action told that they have never seen the likes of him. He was a five in one all-rounder and enjoyed himself as only a West Indian could.
There are many stories attributed to Sobers. One of them was that he spent a whole night partying and one did not expect him to be on the field next morning. To everyone’s surprise he was there on the field cold sober! West Indian cricketers are exciting to watch. They seem to have the ability to transmit their joy to the viewers. They play their cricket like no others do. Very few of them like to defend. For them the ball is bowled at them to be hit. Hit hey did and in the bargain many times they do get out cheaply. Despite this trait they have produced some all time greats, the latest of them, Brian Lara.
In 1974 the West Indian team visited Bangalore and the present Chinnaswamy stadium was under construction and the stands were made up of Bamboo! I remember one shot vividly. I don’t know who the fast bowler was but the Batsman was Alwn Kallicharan. He went down on his knee and hook pulled the ball out of the stadium. They were like that. They made shots which were not seen before.
Sobers once hit six sixes in an over in a first class match which was done again many years later by our own Ravi Shastri and more by recently by Yuvaraj Singh. Remember that Sobers played his cricket in the pre helmet days!
Sir Garry took to serious golf after he quit cricket. Like many ex cricketers [our own Kapil dev and Roger Binny] he too excelled in the game. Being ambidextrous he played both right and left handed. His handicap during his best days was 1 left handed and 2 right handed!
Sobers is now 75 and lives in his home country and takes active interest in promoting cricket in the West Indies.