The Rt Excellent Sir Garfield St. A Sobers
By Dale S. Brown
September 6, 2021
The influence of Frank Worrell
In the summer of 1958, Garfield Sobers signed to play for Radcliffe in the Central Lancaster League. Frank Worrell, the first Black cricketer to be appointed West Indies cricket captain for a series, was a father figure, mentor and friend,who advised Sobers that while playing for Radcliffe, he should expand his bowling skills by exploring left arm swing bowling. Sobers went a step further by also becoming an exponent of left arm wrist spin bowling to add to his normal finger spin deliveries.
So, during the Worrell led West Indies five match tour of Australia during the 1960-61 cricket season, Worrell confidently announced that Sobers would be given a heavier bowling workload. He reasoned that he could play an extra batsman in the team by utilizing Sobers in this manner. Many experts, including the influential writer , CLR James, were troubled by Worrell’s plans for the acknowledged best batsman in the world. How would this affect his batting?
Australia won the series 2-1. The 1st Test at Brisbane ended in a historic first ever tied Test match. Thanks to the two captains, Worrell and Benaud, for their enterprising captaincy, the Series is rated as one of the most exciting and attractively played in the history of Test cricket.
Sobers contributed 430 runs (average 43) to finish behind Rohan Kanhai’s 503 and Franz Alexander’s 484. Sobers also scored 2 centuries, took 15 wickets, bettered by Wes Hall’s 21 and Lance Gibbs’ 19. He also led the team with 12 catches, most of them simply astounding.
Remarkable display of Stamina
In the 5th Test match, when Australia batted in their first inning, Worrell introduced Sobers into the attack half an hour before tea on Saturday and had him operating unchanged until close of play. After the rest day on Sunday Sobers opened the bowling with the new ball on Monday and bowled throughout the morning session plus an additional hour after lunch. He had bowled slow, then opened with the new ball and then slow again as the situation demanded. His marathon spell lasted for 41 eight ball overs. This is equivalent to 54.4 six ball overs! He took 5 wickets for 120 runs in the inning.
The West Indies then defeated the touring Indians 5-0. Garfield Sobers scored 424 runs at an average of 70.67 (2 centuries) to finish second to Kanhai’s 495 runs. He also took 23 wickets, a total bested by only Hall (27) and Gibbs (24). Once again, he took the most catches (11) for the West Indies in the series.
Frank Worrell then led the team on a tour to England in 1963 where they won the series 3-1. Sobers was hampered by a finger injury which affected his batting, but he still managed to score 322 runs (1 century – average 40.25) with Kanhai, Conrad Hunte and Basil Butcher finishing ahead of him. He took 20 wickets to finish 3rd in the bowling behind Charlie Griffith 32 and Lance Gibbs 26 wickets. He again took the most catches with 8.
Captaincy: Australia 1964-65
Frank Worrell retired after the tour to England and strongly recommended that Sobers succeed him as captain. The free- spirited, 28 yr. old Garfield Sobers did not want to be burdened with the responsibilities of a captain.
Reluctantly, out of respect to Worrell, he accepted the appointment and led the team to a 2-1 series win. He made 352 (average of 39.11) runs without scoring a century to again finish behind Hunte (550), Kanhai (462)and Butcher (405). Sobers’ 12 wickets were topped by Gibbs 18, Hall 16 and Griffith 15. Again, he pouched a team high 8 catches.
Crowning Glory 1966 in England
The next assignment was another tour of England. Garfield Sobers duly led the West Indies to a resounding 3-1 series win. The West Indies were the undisputed, if unofficial champions of Test cricket.
The series featured one personal triumph after another for Sobers. He led the team with 722 runs (average of 103.14) and 3 centuries. He took 20 wickets, a number only surpassed by Gibbs’ 21 and he also led the team in catches with 10.
The “Lion of Cricket” was unleashed on the cricketing world. Sobers now stood unrivalled in the annals of Test cricket history. During the series he became the first West Indian to score 5,000 runs in Tests and the first player in history to complete a 5,000 run and 100 wickets double. No individual had ever shown the virtuosity and general command of the skills he displayed. He was the 5 in 1 cricketer. Namely (1) champion batsman (2) exponent of fast medium left arm swing bowling (3) purveyor of the difficult art of wrist spin bowling including the “china-man” and googly deliveries (4) an accurate and containing orthodox finger spinner and finally (5) an extraordinarily brilliant fielder but especially breathtaking at 2nd slip or backward short leg.
A short 3 Test tour of India during the 1966-67 season was the next series for the Caribbean team. They triumphed 2-0. Sobers was the leading batsman with 342 runs (average 114) He took 14 wickets to support Gibbs’ 18 and held 7 catches to lead the team in that category.
Sobers: The Master of Arts
The West Indies played 28 Tests during this period from 1960-61 to 1966-67 seasons.
Garfield Sobers scored 2592 runs (average 60.27) with 8 centuries to lead the team in both categories. Lance Gibbs with 126 wickets and Wesley Hall with 106 took more wickets than Sobers’ 104. and finally, his 56 catches tripled the amount snared by any other individual (except wicketkeepers)
Numbers in cricket can be accumulated without capturing the imagination of the spectators. However, it is quite the opposite with Sobers. Fans and critics were fascinated and enthralled by the feline grace and agility, the astonishing reflexes and more than anything else, the absence of strain with which he performed his unmatched skills. Sobers dominated Test cricket throughout the world in a manner never witnessed before.
Editor’s Note: Dale Brown is a sports historian and host of SECOND BASE