On Sir Garfield Sobers’ birthday, the eighty-fifth in the life of a doyen of cricket who, one hopes lives beyond a century, quite like the countless jewels he’s produced with the bat, one can’t help but feel embarrassed having been challenged to dedicate a tribute to a man that no amount of salutation can ever celebrate enough.
And yet, not writing something on Sir Garfield Sobers’ birthday, however incapacitated an ode it may turn out to be, would be about as unceremonious an act as is showing the finger to the crowd in rage that fills stadia with anticipation of seeing great sportsmanship.
Words may never suffice to sufficiently extend ode to a subject of cricket without whom the sport will always seem incomplete, the West Indies cricket would appear soulless and world cricket utterly incapacitated lacking spirit and excellence, the very principles one sets out to achieve in the sport.
Truth be told, so utterly honorable must cricket feel at having seen the dogged left-hander paint its canvass with colours of glory that for times to come, Sir Gary Sobers’ birthday merits celebration as a day where cricket succeeded witnessing the birth of the great man, date - July 28.
Probably not a bad idea after all to look at Sir Gary Sobers’ birthday as a day where every serving West Indian international and cricketing aspirant should vow to do the best with one’s God-given talent and further improve oneself with grit and tenacity.
It’s one thing to be a good cricketer, quite challenging to be a great one, even more so to remain a timeless figure, but something quite extraordinary to be one among the pantheon of greats to which every budding talents wishes to belong.
For the entirety of two decades that Sir Sobers wielded the ball, ran into bowl to outfox batsmen and dived away across green fields, he produced nothing but cricketing gold.
If there’s anything as a yardstick of greatness in the gentleman’s game, then Sir Gary Sobers is that yardstick; the barometer to judge a batsman’s grit and consistency, the benchmark for what it truly means to be an all-rounder, and an adjective of excellence.
It’s something that’s achieved by only a few, though desired by everyone who wields the bat or holds the seam with an aim to make a place for oneself under the sun.
But for as long as he lasted out there, almost twenty spellbinding years (1954-1974), Sir Sobers did to cricket what Michael Jackson did to pop music and Ayrton Senna did to Formula 1.
In producing captivating statistics with both bat and ball - 8032 Test runs (including 26 centuries) and 235 wickets (including 6 fifers) - Sir Garfield Sobers became cricket’s magician; a synonym of greatness and all-round brilliance long before becoming a consistent all-rounder even became a realistic dream for a cricketer.
Those who came before him could never possibly have imagined that a slow-left arm orthodox bowler could also bowl wrist spin as well as medium pace whilst clubbing hapless bowlers to all parts of the ground.
Those who’ve followed him have always been #2 on a list understanding well that there can be only one table-topper where it comes to headlining cricket’s most coveted list: that of being an all-round performer.
In an age where dexterity and versatility are considered standouts for an artist and craftsman and can offer brownie points to a job seeker’s resume, Sir Sobers demonstrated both long before being equipped with both virtues (in abundance) using them to good effect to punish those who challenged his West Indies’ authority.
How did one batsman manage to keep a Test average north of 57 having played 160 innings is about as outlandish in its surprise element as are some of Sobers’ numbers against the staunchest opponents - be it England or Australia.
You don’t only judge a batsman’s caliber basis on how he performs under pressure; you examine his performances against arch-nemesis’. Do you not?
On Sir Gary Sobers’ birthday, it’s important to reflect what he did to Australia in a Test career where in 21 occasions out of 160, he emerged undefeated.
Against an opponent that often posed exasperating challenges through the collective might of Alan Davidson, Richie Benaud, Ray Windwall and Keith Miller (and company), Sir Sobers amassed 1500 of his 8,000 plus runs at a healthy average of 43.
That’s nearly a fifth of his Test runs!
When confronted by an even bigger opponent, an England powered by Fred Trueman, Trevor Bailey, Fred Titmus, and John Snow, just some of the dismissive English forces, Sir Sobers responded with even greater resilience, scoring 3200 of his 8,000 runs against a bolstering attack.
Though what makes Sir Sobers a living legend albeit being a mortal of flesh and blood was how early he strove for glory.
Merely 16 Tests-old when he entered the Third Test against Pakistan, at Kingston, circa 1958, having reached only the fourth year in competitive international cricket, when Sir Sobers rewrote the record books.
Standing in pure stillness as if having witnessed a miracle worker creating unfathomable magic were legends like Hanif Mohammad, Imtiaz Ahmed and Fazal Mahmood when Sir Sobers crafted to perfection 365 runs.
An inning of impeccable concentration and peerless craftsmanship, Sobers struck 38 boundaries and yet remained akin to an indefatigable runner, one who’s covered many a long mile, unbeaten after spending 614 minutes at the crease.
Three and a half decades later, as the great man strolled down the St. John’s Antiguan pitch to embrace Brian Charles Lara, circa 1994, another Caribbean great, who’d broken his record, neither did Sir Sobers sport a smirk nor any iota of regret that his record had been smashed.
He had nothing but pure admiration for another hero of the sport, about whom he knew of himself as being a heroic figure.
In between all these years, Sir Sobers did awe-inspiring stuff in the game where he’s a bastion of excellence, such as the 1968 Bourda heroics against England where in a single Test he followed up an aggressive 152 with an unbeaten 95. That very year, despite appearing in his maiden County stint, for Nottinghamshire, he fancied six-hitting so much that he struck six consecutive blows putting Glamorgan’s Malcolm Nash in the most uncomfortable position ever.
Someone who seemingly didn’t chase records but always desired for constantly contributing to his team’s cause, Sir Sobers was the light that sparkled an entire room, despite being amid bright sources of illumination like Rohan Kanhai, Sir Everton Weekes and Sir Clyde Walcott.
They say true success in the sport is gauged by the impact you leave behind. What could be better than having a signature of permanence in your name? The prestigious Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for cricketer of the year is constituted in the honour of a talent West Indies cricket must be proud of having birthed and world cricket must stay in absolute awe of witnessing.
Never again shall we see another like Sir Sobers, who, at 85 is still going strong akin to his mighty and unsurpassable West Indies team of the great sixties and seventies. May he continue to inspire a team that needs every bit of inspiration to return to the days of former glory even as the idea seems indigestible to a few.