Peter Roebuck on Gary Sobers. One of a kind, only Garry Sobers was a genius of inspired orthodoxy; he was a cricketer’s cricket. People enjoyed playing against him, as one might have enjoyed playing tennis against Rod Laver, or fighting Muhammad Ali (ignoring the painful result of this particular foray). Garry Sobers combined flawless technique and gentle manners. He was the master in that talented, explosive West Indies team of the mid 1960’s.
Rohan Kanhai could be inspired, Seymour Nurse elegant, Conrad Hunte sometimes solid, sometimes brilliant, Basil Butcher super off the back foot, Clive Lloyd could plunder, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith explode. But Gary Sobers, like Frank Worrell whom he so much admired, appeared graceful, lithe and reliable. Less spectacular than some, 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 very straight. He seemed to lean on the ball with arms and wrists extending, to flash 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 a demon possesses them, like a heavy-weight champion destroying an opponent like Joe Frazier, ‘steamed up’, and demolishing a challenger.
Sir Gary Sobers scored just as quickly, hit the ball every bit as hard as Lloyd or Richards, yet never appeared to be ‘steamed up’. His batting resembled golf rather than prize fighting. 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. Astonishing: Just once in a while, though, Sobers was overtaken by an angry demoralizing mood. His most famous Innings was also his most furious.
That astonishing 254 for a World XI Against Australia at Melbourne in 1972 stands, with Stan McCabe’s 232 at Nottingham in 1938, as examples of inspired, destructive batting. Something must have possessed Sobers that day, some set-back in his personal life. He batted with the fury of an avenging angel—hell hath 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 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, 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 surprising encouraged swing.
Contests between Gary Sobers and Geoffrey Boycott especially lively as Sobers sought after a break in that stern defense. Geoff Boycott, straight bat resisting the ‘snake’, a battle of wits between skilled opponents without a hint of intimidate or malpractice. Each appreciated the other’s ability each knew the other’s purpose.
Peter Roebuck on Gary Sobers (excerpt from Sportstar July 27, 1985)