Cricket’s greatest all-rounder | Sunday Observer
Sir Garfield Sobers:

Cricket’s greatest all-rounder

16 July, 2023
Sir Garfield Sobers
Sir Garfield Sobers

Sir Garfield Sobers played for the West Indies between 1954 and 1974. He was a true all-rounder, a threat with both bat and ball. But what really sets Sobers apart from the rest is the fact that he was essentially three players rolled into one.

He could bowl both fast-medium and spin, being effective with both. But it was as a spin bowler that Sobers was first picked for the West Indies team. He would go on to take 235 wickets at an average of 34.03.However, he continued to work on his batting, which improved to the extent that he is now remembered as one of the finest batsmen of all time with an average of 57.78.

In his 93 Tests, he scored 8032 runs along with 26 centuries and 30 half-centuries. In 1958, at 21 years and 216 days, Sobers scored his maiden Test century against Pakistan in Kingston and expanded it to 365 not out, breaking the world record Test score of 364 set by England’s Len Hutton in 1938. It stood until it was broken by Brian Lara in 1994.

Sobers batted for 614 minutes and scored 38 fours but, unusually, no sixes. He is the youngest player to break the individual scoring record in Tests, and remains the youngest triple-centurion. He was an excellent fielder as well with 109 catches. Sobers captained the West Indies from 1965 to 1972.It is for these achievements that Sobers is rated as the greatest all-rounder of all time.

Sobers had two sons, Matthew and Daniel, and an adopted daughter, Genevieve.

Style and Technique

Sobers was left-handed as both batsman and bowler. His versatility enabled him to bowl all varieties of left-arm bowling from spin to fast-medium. As a fielder he was usually close to the wicket but he was also a very capable outfielder.Wisden 1969 described the “lightning footwork” of Sobers as he got into position for his stroke.

As a bowler, Sobers began as an orthodox left arm spinner and later developed the ability to bowl left arm wrist spin and googlies. Sobers could also operate as a seamer, sometimes using medium pace, but he was much more effective when he bowled fast. With the new ball, he could make the delivery curve late in flight at high speed.

Though he mostly fielded close to the wicket, Sobers was an exceptional outfielder who was seen on one occasion, when he had fielded the ball on the boundary, to “bend his hand back almost parallel with his arm before flipping the ball a full seventy yards to the wicketkeeper.”

Birth and Early Years

Garfield St Aubrun Sobers was born on July 28, 1936 to Shamont and Thelma Sobers of Walcott Avenue, Bay Land, St. Michael, Bridgetown, Barbados, and was the fifth of six children. At birth he had two extra fingers, one on each hand. Sobers was only five when his father died at sea in January 1942, after his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

From an early age, Sobers demonstrated the ability and enthusiasm to play with great skill almost any sport involving a ball, particularly cricket, football and basketball. He helped Bay Street Boys’ School team to win the primary school Inter-School Cricket championship for three consecutive years. At 13, he was chosen to play for two local cricket teams; the Kent St. Philip club and the Wanderers club.

Sobers played for the Police team in the 1951/52 season, aged 15. In the 1952/53 season, Sobers was invited to the Barbados to play against the Indian touring team at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown. He therefore made his First-Class debut on January 31, 1953, aged 16. Batting at number nine, he scored 7 not out in his only innings but made an immediate impression as a bowler, taking 4/50 and 3/92.

A full year passed before Sobers, now 17, made his second First-Class appearance, again playing against a touring team. He batted at number five against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), scoring 46 and 27; and took two wickets in the match. He had shown enough talent in these two matches to be selected for West Indies.

International Career

Sobers made his Test debut in March 1954, aged 17, against England at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, for the fifth and final Test. Sobers was selected as a bowler, and he made a good impression by taking 4/75 in England’s first innings. Sobers also scored 14 not out and 26 batting at number nine.

Australia toured the West Indies in 1954/55, Sobers regained his place for the Second Test in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Sobers played in the Third Test in Georgetown, Guyana in South America. West Indian captain and opening batsman Jeff Stollmeyer twisted his ankle after treading on a ball ahead of the Fourth Test in Barbados, “triggering huge debate about who should open.”

Eventually, Sobers was chosen to open the innings and scored 43 and 11 and took one wicket. In the Fifth Test in Jamaica, Sobers scored 35 not out and 64.

Sobers went on his first overseas tour in 1956, aged 19, he was part of the West Indian tour of New Zealand. Playing in all four Tests, he totalled 81 runs and two wickets. As a batsman, Sobers needed time to develop at Test level and, in nine Tests as a teenager, he scored only one half century.

Wes Hall and Frank Mason were competing for a single place in the touring party, and Sobers and Everton Weekes decided they “would take on Mason and knock him out of the firing line to try and get our fellow Bajan (countryman) Wes in the team.” The pair attacked Mason, while they defended Hall in a tactic that paid off with Hall selected, despite Sobers believing Mason was the better bowler at the time.

Sobers toured England for their summer in 1957. His performances with the bat throughout the five Test series were classed as mediocre, scoring 320 runs at 32, with three half centuries. On the bowling front, Sobers struggled, taking five wickets at 71. It was in the final Test at The Oval that Sobers gained the attention of critics with defiant batting amid a disappointing team performance.

The condition of the pitch was subject to criticism and described by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack as “a strange sight.” After England had scored 412, the West Indies were easily dismissed for 89 and 86 by the Surrey spinners Jim Laker and Tony Lock, who were playing on their home ground. Batting at number 3, Sobers made 39 and 42.

In its summary of the tour, Wisden said: “Collie Smith, Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Roy Gilchrist (amongst the newcomers) were particularly impressive”; adding that “to Sobers, a tall left-handed all-rounder, fell the distinction of hitting the highest score of the tour: 219 not out against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Sobers undoubtedly was a very fine stroke-player who should go far.”

365 Not Out

Against Pakistan in 1958, Sobers scored his maiden Test century, progressing to 365 not out and establishing a new world record for the highest individual score in an innings. In the process, he became the first batsman in Test history to convert his maiden Test century into a triple century. He made 824 runs with three centuries in the five Tests against Pakistan, and followed this with 557 runs and three more centuries on the West Indies tour of India in 1958/59.

In the home Test series against England in 1959/60, he scored three centuries in five matches, totalling 709 runs.Largely inspired by new West Indies captain Sir Frank Worrell, Sobers had an outstanding 1960/61 series in Australia. He scored a celebrated 132 on the first day of the First Test at Brisbane Cricket Ground, the match which resulted in the first Tied Test.

Wisden confirmed that “some observers considered it the best hundred they had ever seen.” Sobers scored 430 runs in the series, which Australia won 2–1, with two centuries; his fielding was outstanding and he took 12 catches. Sobers took 15 wickets in the 1960–61 series, including a best analysis of 5/120, at an average of 39.20.

Sobers was never a prolific wicket-taker in Test cricket, and his average of three wickets per game in this series typified his whole career. He was more effective when operating as a pace bowler. His best bowling performance was 6/73.

First-Class Cricket

Sobers spent several seasons in English league cricket. He followed the advice of his mentor Frank Worrell and became the professional at Radcliffe Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire League, staying for five seasons from 1958 to 1962. This experience enabled him to hone his skills in varying conditions.

In the 1961/62 Australian season, Sobers and his West Indian colleagues Wes Hall and Rohan Kanhai returned to Australia to take part in the Sheffield Shield. Sobers played for South Australia and topped both the batting and bowling averages, his best being 251, 3/51 and 6/72 against New South Wales.

In 1963/64, South Australia won the Sheffield Shield with Sobers becoming the season’s leading run scorer with 973 at 74.84 and the leading wicket taker with 47 at 28.27. On December 14, 1967, Nottinghamshire announced that Sobers had signed for them and had been appointed club captain.

In his 383 First-Class matches, he scored over 28,000 runs and took over 1000 wickets, having spent time with South Australia and Nottinghamshire towards the end of his career.


His success continued in the next two series at home to India in 1961/62 and away to England in 1963. He was elected Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1964.Sobers was made captain of the West Indies in 1965, a role which he would hold until 1972.

Sobers enjoyed immediate success as West Indies captain when his team defeated Australia by 179 runs in the First Test at Sabina Park. West Indies went on to win the series 2–1 and so claim the Frank Worrell Trophy. This was the first time West Indies had beaten Australia in a Test series.

Sobers enjoyed spectacular success in England in 1966 and was widely acclaimed as “King Cricket.” In the five Tests he scored 722 runs at an average of 103.14 with three centuries, and had 20 wickets as well as taking 10 catches. West Indies won the series 3–1. His status was celebrated by the Trinidadian calypso artist Mighty Sparrow, with his song “Sir Garfield Sobers.”

In 1966/67, Sobers captained the West Indies team to India and won the series 2–0 with one match drawn. In 1968/69, Sobers captained the West Indian cricket team in Australia and then played a three-Test series in New Zealand. In 1969, West Indies toured England. Sobers captained West Indies for the five-Test home series versus India in 1970/71.

A year later, Sobers led West Indies in five home Tests against New Zealand. Sobers was succeeded as West Indies captain by Rohan Kanhai for the 1972/73 home series against Australia. Sobers played his last Test in March 1974 at Queen’s Park Oval against England.

Six Sixes in an over

On August 31,1968, Sobers became the first batsman ever to hit six sixes in a single over of six consecutive balls in First-Class cricket. Sobers was playing as captain of Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan at St. Helen’s in Swansea. This tally of 36 runs in an over broke a 57-year-old record of 34 runs, held by Ted Alletson.

Commenting upon Sobers’ six sixes in an over against his team in 1968, Glamorgan captain Tony Lewis said: “It was not sheer slogging through strength, but scientific hitting with every movement working in harmony.”

Rest of the World XI

Sobers was invited to captain the Rest of the World XI in England and a World XI in Australia. In January 1972, in the third unofficial Test between Australia and The World XI at the MCG, Sobers played an innings of 254 which was described by Don Bradman as “probably the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia.”

Australian captain Ian Chappell also rates the innings as the best innings he ever saw. His innings lasted 376 minutes and included two sixes and 33 fours.

Sri Lanka’s first coach

Sobers was Sri Lanka’s first Foreign Coach in 1982. Under him, Sri Lanka toured New Zealand for two Tests and inaugurated their Test credentials with Australia in Kandy, before leaving for the 1983 World Cup in England.

As coach, Sir Gary had stressed on the strategy of a positive mindset, along with controlled aggression as twin motivators. He had returned to Sri Lanka in 2015 to unveil the Sobers-Tissera trophy for the West Indies’ Test series.

Honours and Legacy

Among the awards that Sobers won during his playing career include: the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1964; the Cricket Society Wetherall Award for the Leading All-Rounder in English First-Class Cricket in 1970; the Walter Lawrence Trophy winner in 1974.

In the 1975 New Year Honours, Queen Elizabeth II created Sobers, a Knight Bachelor for his services to cricket. The Prime Minister of Barbados was pleased that an honour would be forthcoming for Sobers.

The award was originally intended to be made in the 1975 Queen’s Birthday Honours, but since there was a royal visit to Barbados planned for February 1975, it was moved forward to the New Year list so that Sobers could be knighted by the Queen in person during the visit.

He became a dual Barbadian-Australian citizen through marriage in 1980. Sobers was made a National Hero of Barbados by the Cabinet of Barbados in 1998 and is thus accorded the honorary prefix “The Right Excellent.”Sobers was named as one of the eleven National Heroes of Barbados.

In 2000, Sobers was named by a 100-member panel of experts as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. He received 90 votes. The other four cricketers selected for the honour were Donald Bradman (100 votes), Jack Hobbs (30), Shane Warne (27) and Vivian Richards (25).

In 2003, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, where he had played many First-Class games for South Australia. In 2004, the International Cricket Council (ICC) inaugurated the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy which is awarded annually to the ICC’s Player of the Year.

In 2007, Wisden retrospectively selected the Leading Cricketer in the World for every year dating back to 1900 (except 1915–18 and 1940–45), Sobers being selected for eight years (1958 through 1970).

Only Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Donald Bradman (10) received the accolade more than three times. To mark 150 years of the Cricketers’ Almanack, Wisden named Sir Garfield Sobers in an all-time Test World XI. In 2009, Sobers was inducted into the ICC’s Cricket Hall of Fame.


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