By Lloyd Jodah
Cricket, and sports in general, is more than merely a game. It is an expression of culture, a definition of manliness, a physical activity that acts as a substitute for men’s aggressive desires. Instead of fighting we play games and let the testosterone flow. Cricket has been something we can share with our sons. (The fact that we are not doing that in the USA is one reason the game is at least 10 years behind where it should be).
We admire our sports heroes because they are the men we would have liked to be (at least on the playing fields). In the 60’s you could have wanted to be Gary Sobers whether you were a Batsman, Fast bowler, Spinner or Fielder, because he did it all exceptionally well, at the highest level of cricket. Sobers also looked cool doing it with his inimitable upturned collar and loping stride, which made you think of a tiger.
Because cricket involves so much skill we often overlook the athleticism of the game, but is there a more athletic and fearsome sight in sports than a fast bowler like Shoiab Aktar, Wes Hall, Jeff Thomson, Waqar Younis, Imran Khan, Brett Lee, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding charging in to bowl to a batsman ? What about slip catches? Or how much does it take for a batsman to keep executing his skills successfully to score a hundred or two, running up and down? A lot of cricket is recreational, but cricketers have been among the world’s top athletes, and Gary Sobers was definitely one of the Greatest Athletes ever, right up there with Muhammed Ali, Bruce Lee and Michael Jordan.
You can look up his statistics here I’ll tell you that as a batsman he is one of the Greatest ever, playing many amazing innings for the West Indies. True often after another alltime great he’s forever linked with, Rohan Kanhai had destroyed the bowlers. As a boy at the venerable Bourda Cricket Ground in Georgetown Guyana, I watched with my Dad as Kanhai and Sobers dissected the field with power, grace and beauty to score 150 and 152 respectively.
Batting is a science, and done by men like Sobers it is also art. I learned that art existed not only on a stage, or in a museum, but on the green fields of cricket. Unlike a dancer’s movement, here art was functional, executing a skill whilst being opposed by others trying to stop you from performing. Gary Sobers was an artist.
After batting for hours Sir Gary could then open the bowling with pace and swing. Later with the old ball he would return with 2 varieties of left-arm spin. In between, his acrobatics at the forward shortleg position were something to behold, (the most dangerous fielding position in all sports especially in those days before helmets). Michael Jordan-like in his athleticism Sobers made catches. In the outfield he was among the best ever.
More than a sports Team the West Indies Team of the 1960’s was a socio-political statement, and seemed representative of the struggles of small countries throwing off the shackles of colonialism. Kanhai, Sobers, Hunte, Hall, Worrell, Walcott, Weekes, Griffith, Solomon, Butcher et al did it with a dignity, panache, flair and joy. “Calypso Cricket” indeed. Sure George Headley and Learie Constantine had given glimpses decades before of a West Indian brand of cricket but Sobers and Kanhai came to epitomize it.
To use the words of Rod Stewart from his song “When we were the new boys”
“And on these green fields we played for pride
No quarter given, no compromise
This was our moment, this was our space
This was a jewel of a time to have graced”
In the 1960’s the people of the West Indies were beginning to step into the waters of Independence,with an anxious and uncertain future, but the West Indies Cricket Team was already confidently sailing the high seas, unofficial World Champions in 1965 with Gary Sobers at the helm.
Happy Birthday Greatest!
Lloyd Jodah is President of American College Cricket