Peter Roebuck on Gary Sobers One of a kind, only Garry Sobers was a genius of inspired orthodoxy; he was a cricketer’s cricketer. People enjoyed playing against him, as one might have enjoyed playing tennis against Rod Lever or fighting Muhammad Ali (ignoring the painful result of this particular foray). Garry Sobers combined flawless technique and gentle manners. He was the master of that talented, explosive West Indies team of the mid-1960s.
Rohan Kanhai could be inspired; Seymour Nurse could be elegant; Conrad Hunte sometimes solid, sometimes brilliant; Basil Butcher could be super off the backfoot; Clive Lloyd could plunder; Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith could explode. But Gary Sobers, like Frank Worrell, whom he so much admired, appeared graceful, lithe, and reliable. Less spectacular than some and less of a wizard than others, Sobers was the bastion of the team.
Whatever company he kept, Sobers was the man you had to dismiss. Possibly that is one reason he batted at six for the West Indies. There was always Sobers to come, a reassuring thought for some of the more volatile men higher in the order, and a depressing one for the bowlers. Sobers batted as he bowled, with fluency and in a very straight manner. He seemed to lean on the ball with arms and wrists extending, flashing the ball to the boundary without apparent effort.
Most memorably, that graceful cut behind point and the off-drive on the up, which sizzled through covers already standing 10 yards deeper than usual, I gather from C. L. R. James’ writing that these strokes were referred to in Barbados as ‘not a man move’ shots. With Sobers, the ball either went straight to the fielder or ‘not a man move’. There’ really would have been no point. I well recall Sobers’ fluent grace.
Not that he did not often simply stand up and belt the ball with fierce power, for, as Learie Constantine advised Donald Bradman: ‘Sobers hits the ball as consistently hard as anyone I’ve ever seen’. It is just that one remembers his lazy elegance rather than his vicious hitting. Sobers rarely displayed the mean, destructive power of Clive Lloyd or Viv Richards at their best. When this formidable pair is in demon possession, like a heavy-weight champion destroying an opponent like Joe Frazier “steamed up”, and demolishing a challenger,
Sir Gary Sobers scored just as quickly, hitting the ball every bit as hard as Lloyd or Richards, yet never appeared to be “steamed up’. His batting resembled golf rather than prizefighting. He strolled to the crease; he never hurried between the wickets; he rarely darted out to spinners; he often smiled, chatting to Alan Knott even in Test matches.
Once in a while, Gary Sobers was overtaken by an angry and demoralizing mood. His most famous Innings was also his most furious. The astonishing 254 for a World XI against Australia at Melbourne in 1972 stands, along with Stan McCabe’s 232 at Nottingham in 1938, as examples of inspired, destructive batting. Something must have possessed Sobers that day—some setback in his personal life. He batted with the fury of an avenging angel—hell has no fury, we soon understood—with Sobers roused. Bowlers may be thankful that Sobers’ genius at the crease usually found expression in mere domination of the attack; the days when he took batting into apparently impossible realms were, inevitably, rare.
His most memorable assault, apart from that 254, was the 132 he made against Richie Benaud, Australia, in the famous tied match at Brisbane in 1961. Riled by suggestions that he could not play Richie Benaud leg-spin, Sobers tore into a talented Australian attack, scoring his century in even time in a convincing assertion of his mastery. Sir Gary’s bowling, too, stands in memory for its languid rhythm and its late, effortless movement.
For several years, Sobers was the most lethal new ball bowler in the world. His wicked in-dip trapped many batsmen in front of their stumps before their eyes were in. The run-up was panther-like in its grace, with the right arm pointing high towards the skies and the pivot of the shoulders, which brought a surprising and encouraged swing.
Contests between Gary Sobers and Geoffrey Boycott especially lively as Sobers sought a break in that stern defense. Geoff Boycott, a straight bat, resists the “snake”, a battle of wits between skilled opponents, without a hint of intimidation or malpractice. Each appreciated the other’s ability, and each knew the other’s purpose.
Peter Roebuck on Gary Sobers (excerpt from Sportstar, July 27, 1985)