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Sir Garfield Sobers

No one has brought Barbados more to the attention of the world’s thinking population than Garfield St. Aubyn Sobers, the greatest all rounder in the history of cricket, and for everyone in the cricket world except Australians (and perhaps even for many of those hero worshippers of Sir Donald Bradman) widely regarded as the greatest cricketer ever.


Garfield Sobers was born in July 28th, 1936, the last but one of seven children.  His father, a merchant seaman, died when young Garfield was six, but family unity was strong, and he was “God-fathered” by another icon of Barbados, the legendary cabinet maker the late Lionel Daniel of Culloden Road. By the age of eight, Gary and his brothers were busy organising local Bay Land cricket with home-made bat, ball and stumps, and arranging village tournaments! They played on the outfield of the Bay Pasture, the early home of Wanderers Cricket Ground, and Gary was in great demand as a very young teenager in the Wanderers nets, bowling fast or slow as required.


The story goes that he was spotted at fourteen by Captain Wilfred Farmer, who recruited him into the Police Band, so that he could play first for the Police Boys Club and then the Police. After two years of club cricket he was chosen for Barbados against India in February 1953 (aged 16) as a spinner, taking seven wickets and bowling forty maiden overs!  In 1954, at 17, he played his first test at Sabina Park, taking four wickets and scoring forty runs, signalling the start of an era - the Sobers era of West Indian World Cricket dominance!


gary-sobers-statue barbadosSir Gary’s extraordinary career has been a celebration of world records.  Numerologists will note that his world test record of 365 runs equals the number of years between the settlement of Barbados in 1627, and the year of his high accolade of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies, celebrating this great monarch of the game. What more evidence do we need that he is indelibly part of the very origins, life and history of Barbados?  But some other numbers… he had the highest aggregate of runs ever in his 93 tests, a record exceeded later only by those playing many more matches, plus 109 catches and 235 wickets, ranking with the greatest specialist bowlers; and then there was his “impossible” feat of six sixes in one over!


The great C.L.R. James wrote: “Sobers is the greatest of living batsmen.” John Arlott, doyen of cricket writers, described him as the finest all round player in the history of cricket, and Caribbean renaissance man, politician, cricket aficionado and craftsman of language, Michael Manley, wrote in his History of West Indies Cricket: “He was so great a player that one must be careful lest he obscure the history of events and the texture of the times… he was destined to shine like some great star alone in the firmament of his own genius.” And in the book One hundred years of organised cricket in Barbados, 1892 to 1992, Sir Carlisle Burton, Ronnie Hughes and Professor Keith Sandiford wrote: “He became the complete bowler. No individual in the history of cricket has been as versatile a bowler as Sobers at his peak.”


Sobers is not only the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen, he is the embodiment of the West Indian dream. And to quote Burton, Hughes and Sandiford again: “He has taken our name to all parts of the world and covered it with glory.” And here at home, he has inspired every youngster who loves the game, from the age of 17 with his classic confident stride to the wicket, upturned collar, and domination of the game, to his more recent, retirement role with schools cricket. He has been a tireless consultant with the Minister of Tourism, associated with hundreds of international school cricket teams, and serving as the model Tourism Ambassador for Barbados. He promotes the International Schools Cricket Tournament (25th Anniversary this year) and the Sir Garfield Sobers Festival of Golf.


Sir Gary lacks the one common characteristic of global superstars and celebrities - conceit. He is modest to a fault, and the nicest, most generous person in the world. I had the honour of presenting him for the bestowing of the honour of National Hero, on that great night of April 28th, 1998, on the lawns of Government Headquarters in Bay Street, before thousands of Barbadians. And the roar of adulation that went up from thousands of voices and the clapping of thousands of hands, when Sir Garfield stepped forward, was other-worldly. I don’t think anything like it has ever been experienced in Barbados, as our greatest living hero was applauded for several minutes.


Actually, he was not just the consummate cricketer, but the consummate sportsman… a footballer and basket-baller in his teens, and a national golfer on retirement from cricket! His great gift, apart from those of uniquely brilliant psychomotor coordination, natural agility and athleticism, impeccable timing, knowledge of the game, unbelievable energy (even after an all-night party) and instinctive anticipation, was perhaps his rare ability to concentrate completely at each moment, while enjoying every moment of his game. And few people are aware of his high threshold for pain, and his ability to ignore the pain and discomfort related to the traumatic arthritis that would have disabled lesser mortals!


As our only living National Hero and Super-Hero, and the most popular and genuinely admired living Barbadian, Sir Gary is a legend in his own lifetime, and fills us all with pride, not just at Independence but every day of the year!


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