Eastbourne is set to play host to the greatest all-round cricketer that has ever lived.
Few would argue the claim, although you’d hardly know it on speaking to the great man.
Sir Garry Sobers is modest, from humble beginnings and is quick to play down his reputation ahead of his much anticipated appearance at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre.
“When I started playing I wasn’t looking for anything like that,” Sobers Says.
“I just wanted to play for the West Indies and the way it happened is just one of those things.
“I’ve always just played for the team, greatness isn’t something I ever looked for, it’s something which is achieved through your own performances.
“If you’re playing for a team and you need 20 runs you should go out and do it. If your team needs 300 hundred runs you should go and get a part of it.
“You shouldn’t score runs or play well for yourself, the game is far bigger than that.” While Sobers, now 78 years old, might protest, his personal career highlights are difficult to ignore .
It all started on the beaches of the tiny island of Barbados, with bats fashioned from palm fronds and balls made out of tar. Barbados has produced countless cricketers who outgrew the beach, from Gordon Greenidge to Malcolm Marshall, but Sobers would go on to eclipse them all, carving out a reputation as a cricketing genius, excelling at all aspects of the game. He finished with an exceptional batting average and was renowned for his elegant yet powerful style, making his first class debut for Barbados at the age of just 16.
Originally he was deployed predominantly as a bowler and was unique in his versatility, bowling two types of spin - left-arm orthodox and wrist spin. His batting talent would become quickly apparent as well, and after being moved up the order, Sobers set the record for an individual batsman with 365 runs against Pakistan in 1958, a record that stood until compatriot Brian Lara scored 375 in 1994.
He takes very little joy when reminded of his triumphs, though, and Sobers’ modesty is perhaps best highlighted when asked about the moment he is questioned about more than any other.
In 1971 he became the first batsman to hit six consecutive sixes against Australia’s unfortunate Malcolm Nash. “Not this again,” Sobers laughs.
“Everyone always wants to know about the six sixes , it’s the bane of my life.
“Everywhere I go it’s the first thing people know me for but hitting six sixes is not cricket, it is not good cricket anyway. “People want to show me the video all the time but nobody ever shows me a lovely cover drive that splits the field and goes for four.
“It’s farcical and it’s the wrong message to be giving to youngsters.”
I’m sorry I asked, Sobers is a cricketing purist after all. As somebody who was meticulous in his approach to batting, bowling and, not to mention fielding, he says people have become fixated on big-hitting since the introduction of 20/20 cricket and they have lost touch with the traditions of the game. He’s unequivocal in his assessment.
“I don’t think 20/20 is cricket, it’s entertainment,” he adds.
“It has it’s good elements, for example, it’s helped fielding and running between the wickets tremendously but apart from that it’s sheer entertainment.”
Perhaps he feels this has been to the detriment of cricket in his beloved West Indies. The day’s of the great Test sides that Sobers’ was part of and the all-conquering team of the 1970s and 80s captained by the legendary Clive Lloyd are a distant memory as Caribbean cricket has endured a steady decline since the emergence of the shorter format of the game. Lucrative pay packets are tempting players abroad to competitions such as the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash in Australia, but Sobers is hopeful they can return to former glories.
“There is enough talent for us to rise again for sure,” he beams enthusiastically.
“But to know what the players are thinking is difficult. With so much money in the 20/20 where does one’s loyalty lie? I just don’t know.
“It then becomes difficult for players to adapt as it’s a completely different mentality, a whole different outlook and a whole different approach.”
An evening with Sir Garfield Sobers will be at the Congress Theatre on Sunday August 17. To book tickets call 01323 412000 . www.champions-speakers.com
fULL NAME: SIR GARFIELD ST AUBRUN SOBERS
Born: Bridgetown, Barbados; 28 July 1936
Played 93 tests for west indies
Scored 8032 TEST runs at an average of 57.78 .
Took 235 wickets at an average of 34.03
Ranked second in wisden’s cricketers of the century