Mining script

Saluting Sir Garry Sobers—Postscript: Did WI give the legend its due merits?

“Did I entertain?”

Garry St Aubrun Sobers never asked his fans this question. The answer would undoubtedly have been a categorical, unanimous and unreserved yes. These three words actually came from the mouth of Brian Charles Lara at the end of a brilliant 18-year career.

Pictured: West Indies legend Sir Garry Sobers.
(Copyright UK Guardian)

Sobers, a West Indian sports personality like no other, served the West Indies for two more years than his illustrious southpaw successor.

His cricketing skills were enormous, his serve long, his on-field contribution to West Indies cricket immense. Much like Lara, he traveled the world of West Indian cricket like a colossus for a decade and a half. Both racked up impressive numbers and littered the landscape with records along the way.

And yet, after his retirement, this faithful servant of the Caribbean game waited in vain for the call to serve the region in another capacity.

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For many, the reason remains a major mystery.

No way to have anything to do with the overly generous declaration of 1968 in Trinidad that handed Cowdrey’s side an undeserved 1-0 series win, right? Didn’t Clive Lloyd, who served in various capacities after his retirement, also declare and lose against India in 1976, also at Queen’s Park Oval?

Or could the answer be found in chapter 19 of Sir Garry’s eponymous autobiography, titled “Out of Africa”?

The worst period of my cricketing life came in 1970, written sober, when I accepted an invitation to play in a two-way competition in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then called. I stayed there for 36 hours but it caused massive repercussions which threatened my reputation and international cricketing career.

Pictured: West Indies cricketer great Garry Sobers (left) is knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

In the short term, there were no serious consequences to this arguably misguided act. A willing surrogate wrote an apology – it was readily accepted by powerful people who said they were most offended.

Their number included Michael Manley from Jamaica and Forbes Burnham from Guyana, big cricket fans.

Long-term? Who knows…

The mystery, it seems, lives on.

Perhaps there is a hidden clue in the next chapter of the same text, entitled “Strictly Personal”. I quote here a single paragraph. Does this tell us why the WICBC and its iterations have never seen fit to involve the Sobers in any aspect of West Indies cricket?

I confess that I was a law unto myself, but everything I’ve done, I’ve done for the West Indies. If I had to bowl all day for them, I would and I did. West Indies cricket has done a lot for me and the only way to give something back was to give my best, not for me but for the team.

It was my way of showing my gratitude. I knew that if I performed it would benefit me too, but the West Indies were always first and I was second.. (emphasis on mine)

He played, he said, “to the best of my abilities. Not for me but for the team. And he fails to mention it but in doing so he also memorably managed to lift a few young players above themselves.

Two examples. The second round of the Lord’s Test in July 1966. Sobers is in his second round as captain. David Holford, his cousin who left us at the end of May, is on his first series, his second Essay.

Pictured: Former West Indies all-rounder David Holford (right) and his illustrious cousin Garry Sobers leave the pitch at Lord’s, during the Test battle against England.
(PA images under copyright)

When the pair reunite, the West Indies are on the brink at 95 to 5.

Eventually the skipper is able to declare at 365 for 5. Sobers is 163 points at good. Holford, 26, has 105 unbeaten streaks to his credit.

Lord’s, August 1973. Bernard Julien, 23, from Trinidad and Tobago, bats with his right hand and plays speed and rotation with his left arm. He was widely touted as the next Sobers. For all his generation, there was no greater compliment to be paid to a West Indian cricketer.

So, in only his third try, he heads for the counter to join his skipper. The score is 373 for 6.

When they are finally separated, the scoreboard shows 604, which is finally enough for a West Indian victory in 226 innings. Sobers’ contribution is 150 from 227 balls, Julien’s is 121 from 171 balls.

Pictured: Rebel West Indies XI player Bernard Julien in Durban during their tour of South Africa in February 1983, despite international sports being banned due to apartheid. Rebellious tourists have been banned for life from playing cricket for violating an international sports boycott imposed on South Africa.
(Copyright Adrian Murrell/Getty Images)

It has been many years since the Holford/Julien generation, inspired directly by the sight of Sir Garry in action, came off the stage. For their successors, the inspiration must have come from stories of his rich career.

Like a number of other West Indies legends, Sir Garry has always been kept at bay. For him, active service after retirement was limited to a stint with Sri Lanka in view of the 1983 World Cup. No Caribbean rights. No West Indies service.

A man with the ideal qualifications to be an excellent single selector has never been asked to serve WICBC. Or the WICB. Or CWI.

Not so much as a guest speaker.

Pictured: West Indies cricketing legend Sir Garfield Sobers rings the bell at Lord’s in London.

The statue which adorns the surroundings of Kensington Oval and the stand in his name are “gifts” from the Barbados Cricket Association. Of the Council of the West Indies? A trophy bearing his name which will be disputed between Sri Lanka and the West Indies from 2015.

Full stop. Unless I’m seriously mistaken. Perhaps he received a generous pension from CWI. Or from WIPA. But if so, it’s an extremely well-kept secret.

Reporting on the send-off arranged for Shane Warne at the MCG in March this year, the TelegraphOliver Brown’s sports editor observes:

Warne, named one of Widens five players of the 20th century though he played long in the 21st, has been immortalized in bronze at the MCG since 2011. But now his name will live on in the eponymous stand unveiled here too.

Pictured: Farewell, Shane Warne.

“The position of the people,” McGuire said. “The Shane Warne stand forever.” It gives proper permanence to a sports personality unlike any other.

A bronze statue? An eponymous stand? A cricket pitch? So far, CWI and their predecessors have not given Sir Garry their due. Now, having just celebrated the occasion of his 86th birthday, the authorities have to make amends for that.

Appropriately, therefore, the last word goes to a calypsonian.

“We have to know how to bridge the gap,” Explainer sang plaintively in 1982, never looking beyond his own country, “because there are people who put us on the map…”

Pictured: The incomparable Sir Garry Sobers.

Misquoting him, I say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, WI should know, WI shouldn’t treat our heroes like that.”

It is high time I found a way to “give proper permanence” to a “Caribbean sports personality unlike any other”.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the first part of Earl Best’s tribute to cricket’s one and only “six tool player”, Sir Garry Sobers.

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