By Lloyd Jodah
Sir Gary Sobers, one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen turned 73 on July 28th last, and it made me reflect on the world's greatest all-rounder and when the West Indies were the new champions.
Cricket, and sports in general, is more than merely a game. It is an expression of culture, a definition of manliness, and a physical activity that acts as a substitute for men's aggressive desires. Cricket has been something we can share with our sons. (The fact that we are not doing that in the US is another story).
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 levels of cricket. Sobers also looked cool doing it with his inimitable upturned collar and loping stride, which made you think of a tiger.
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, often with another all-time great he's forever linked with, Rohan Kanhai. 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 also 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 two varieties of left-arm spin. In between, his acrobatics at the forward short leg position was 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 squad 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, et al did it with such 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.