Through the summer rains of Monday night came an odd, slight coincidence. The weather had exhausted Ian Ward's not inconsiderable ability to soak up screentime by leaving longer gaps between his words, and Sky reverted to filler shows. The first was a vaguely Shakespearian half hour on Shane Warne - who was Shane: Hamlet, Henry, Falstaff, Iago, Bottom...? - the second a prog about Garry Sobers.
I was too young to have seen Sobers, and for most of my callow youth I harboured an unexpressed and needless resentment of the man simply because no-one ever seemed to shut up about him. I never had to wait long to hear my heroes, Bad Bas Richards, King Viv (then merely heir to the throne of his namesake), the emergent Beefy, Javed, Geoffrey Boycott, compared unfavourably to him.
Sky's film began, annoyingly even after all these years, with Ian Chappell saying something like, 'Don Bradman was the greatest batsman of all time, but Sobers was the greatest cricketer'. Oh yeah? One thing that struck me right away was the amount of colour footage they had. Part of my irrational dislike was probably stirred by the fact that Sobers was almost pre-TV; he'd existed through the black and white images of his six sixes, which was all anyone ever seemed to show of him. Yet here he was, lithe and loose, a technicolour big cat. He did look pretty good, admittedly.
The coincidence was just that I'd been looking at Sobers' record in comparison to Jacques Kallis's and seen that Sobers had played a single one-day international, against England at Leeds in 1973, the eighth such match ever staged.
It was a game that had a kind of novelistic symmetry and irony to it; or at least, you'd have thought twice before inventing its details. The great all-rounder, the man many would say was built for the form and all of its successors, made nought, took a single wicket, and bowled the final over from which the winning runs were scored.
The game wasn't a great one, reflective of the fact that no-one really knew what the format was, or what it might become (in fact the most aware seemed to be the sponsors, Prudential Insurance, who'd got in early). It was a 55-over affair. West Indies batted first and were all out for 181 from 54. Sobers was caught by Bob Taylor from the bowling of Chris Old for a six ball duck.
England had reached 157 for 5 when Sobers bowled Old, returning the favour, completing the circle. They staggered into the final over with four required and the last pair at the crease. Bob Willis was on strike, Sobers to bowl. Willis hit Sobers back over his head for two from the first delivery and squirted the next through third man for the win. Mike Denness was man of the match because, as the Almanack noted, 'he'd batted splendidly for 66 off 41 overs in under two and a half hours'.
And that was it. Sobers began and ended his ODI career on the same day, and finished up with more wickets than runs. Bradman had made nought in his last international innings, and Sobers had followed suit. If Wisden's remarks about Denness weren't enough to suggest the distance between then and now, the stats I found on Kallis and Sobers would do. Sobers' 93 Test matches took 20 years to play. Big Jacques played the same number in ten, and while he was doing so, made 211 ODI appearances. Sobers was a man from another time: it just wasn't mine.
No good at ODIs though, was he, Chappelli...
On Talking and Writing about Cricket
3 weeks ago