Who Was The Greatest -- Bradman or Sobers?

Thu, Mar 28, '02

 

Windies Greatest

By Albert Baldeo



I was born in Guyana, the country which produced Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Roy Fredericks and others. Cricket is the lifeblood of the Caribbean, and its greatest adhesive force. C.L.R. James, a renowned cricket scholar, in his work "Cricket in West Indian Culture," at, p 119 aptly noted, "From its beginning to this day cricket in the West Indies has expressed with astonishing fidelity the social relations of the islands."

In his seminal work, "Beyond a Boundary," James puts cricket in perspective when he wrote,"Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance."


As kids, we were inspired to become famous and reach the pinnacle of cricketing fame like Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Learie Constantine, George Headley, Sir Frank Worrell, Rohan Kanhai and other West Indian icons so revered around the cricketing world.


They are the very embodiment of the West Indian dream, and the fruit of its labour. One of the great lessons we learnt as aspiring cricketers was to walk when you knew you were out without waiting for the umpire's signal and to acknowledge a good performance from the opposing side. In fact, sportsmanship was as intrinsic a part of a cricketer's development as his ability to play the ball off the legs or to hook a bouncer off the eyebrows.


The latter was a necessity in those days because our paraphernalia consisted only of a sculptured coconut tree branch for a bat and a cork ball for a ball, much in the traditions of the great West Indian players listed above. As Samuel Selvon chronicles in his book, "The Cricket Match," Ways of Sunlight, p. 162, a dry mango seed often substituted for a ball, and a pitchoil tin for a wicket.


Yet, what cricket meant for us as kids is best summarized by Nobel Laureate Sir V. S. Naipaul, in The Middle Passage, p. 44, "Cricket has always been more than a game in Trinidad. In a society which demanded no skills and offered no rewards to merit, cricket was the only activity which permitted a man to grow to his full stature and to be measured against international standards...The cricketer was our only hero-figure."


I would be remiss if I did not write to lend support to the vigorous view many writers have espoused that Sir Garfield Sobers was the greatest cricketer of the twentieth century. This question as to who is the greatest cricketer has spurred great debate when Wisden's panel of experts chose Sir Don Bradman over Sir Gary Sobers as the cricketer of the century just gone by. I wish to go one step further and say that Sobers was the greatest cricketer of this and any other century, and by parity of reasoning, that he was the greatest cricketer that has ever lived, or the greatest the world has ever seen.


The son of a merchant seaman from the small island of Barbados, his genius left an indelible memory wherever cricket is played, and his rise from poverty to greatness will be an inspiration for many to follow. He was a one-man cricket team, the dream of any captain. The completeness of his versatile skills and talents bestrode the cricketing world like a colossus, and like the proverbial Napoleon on the battlefields of cricket, he conquered all before him, excelling in every conceivable department of the game. Oh, if only Sir Gary was available to proudly don his West Indian flannels...West Indian pride will soar once again.


Uniquely gifted, he was blessed with supreme athleticism, panther reflexes, eagle eyesight and the heart of a lion. He was a peerless exemplar of cricketing brilliance, endowed with an alliance of such natural gifts of talent and genius, that we may never see his like again. He was the cricketer's cricketer, whose phenomenal genius hardly brooked human limits. It was legendary, both in quality and quantity. Sobers has set the standards by which other cricketers are measured.


Like Muhammad Ali in boxing, Michael Jordan in basketball and Pele in soccer, Sobers is similarly unrivalled in the world of cricket. Sir Neville Cardus, that doyen of cricket scribes, gave the appropriate imprimatur to his all round genius in Wisden, 1967, p. 38, when he wrote: "Garfield St. Aubyn Sobers...the most renowned name of any cricketer since Bradman's high noon. He is, in fact, even more famous than Bradman ever was; for he was accomplished in every department of the game, and has exhibited his genius in all climes and conditions... We can safely agree that no player has proven versatility of skill as convincingly as Sobers has done, effortlessly, and after the manner born."


In fact, Sobers is to cricket what Shakespeare is to literature, Michelangelo to art and Mozart to music. His only perceivable Achilles heel was as a captain, a consideration which can be excluded in the present context of argument. Sir Donald Bradman, who saw his 254 against Australia for a World XI in Melbourne in 1971-72, reckoned that it was the best innings he had ever seen on Australian soil. Sir Clyde Walcott said, "Sir Gary is remembered not only for his remarkable trail of statistical records, but for the quality of his cricket and the way he enjoyed the game."


E.W. Swanton reminded us that "the true measure of his influence must take account of his sportsmanship and an unselfishness that were never questioned, an example second to none." John Arlott described Sobers as "the finest all-round player in the history of cricket." C.L.R. James, in his work aforestated, reiterated that, "A man of genius is what he is, he cannot be something else and remain a man of genius." Michael Manley once said this of Sobers, "Sobers was destined, in typically Caribbean fashion, to shine like some great star alone in the firmament of his own genius."


Let Sobers have the last word. In his book, The Changing Face of Cricket, he commends C.L.R. James' words to all readers everywhere, as if answering those who chose him second best," What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?"


* Albert Baldeo is an attorney at law in New York City.