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Sobers' first Test

EW Swanton on his first sighting of Garry Sobers

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The following article by EW Swanton appeared in the April 1976 issue of The Cricketer



Garry Sobers: 'surprising if we do not come to know his name well in the years ahead' © The Cricketer
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Now that it can be regretfully assumed that Gary Sobers's Test career is definitely finished, let me recall the start of it back in 1954. I had first seen him, a slim, remarkably loose-limbed left-hander (not unlike the youthful Denis Compton in build and gait) playing for Barbados against MCC earlier on Len Hutton's MCC tour. He made 46 and 27, and took two rather expensive wickets in a game memorable chiefly for Tony Lock's being called for throwing, for the second time in successive matches, and for the narrowest of MCC wins by one wicket.

Gary was still four months short of his 18th birthday when he came up to Jamaica to play in the fifth Test with West Indies leading in the rubber by two matches to one. The first day was that wherein Trevor Bailey had his greatest triumph, taking 7 for 34 by some wonderfully good swing bowling on a good pitch, though in somewhat overcast weather. At No. 9 Sobers had little chance, but the Daily Telegraph readers were informed that: Sobers cuts wristily and it is gully and/or third man's thankless task to try to stop the boundary. Sobers had been able to show several wristy left-hander's strokes and to make it clear furthermore that nothing Trueman could send down was too fast to ruffle him.

How else did Sobers come into the picture? Well, he took the first England wicket when Bailey - who opened the batting as well as the bowling - was caught behind. Sobers made an excellent impression. He is a slim young man who runs lightly up to the wicket and the arm almost touches the ear as it comes over. On what might serve as a model action for a slow left-hand bowler, he builds changes of flight and spin in the classical manner. It will be surprising if we do not come to know his name well in the years ahead.

There was no surprise!

This, of course , was an English not a West Indian triumph, for after Bailey's miraculous opening blow they proceeded very slowly and soberly to retain their grip. Hutton produced an innings of monumental concentration in the fiery bowl of Sabina Park--almost nine hours for 205 with only one extremely difficult chance. It was stiflingly hot and West Indies had the ill-luck to lose King, their fast bowler, through injury--thereby, incidentally, giving their young recruit all the more bowling to do. The company of the flagship of the West Indies squadron, HMS Sheffield, and the men of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, who formed the garrison in Jamaica, gave England vociferous support.

One highly unusual thing, apart from Hutton's fine innings, marked the England innings, for before King was hurt, Compton, aiming to hook, fell and with his pad tickled the bails off--rather as he had done against Keith Miller at Nottingham six years earlier. And there was a gay 66 from Wardle which drove the advantage home.

Fred Trueman bowled very fast and well when West Indies batted again though it seems that he, like King, was too fond of the bumper. The following extract from my report has a topical interest in 1976:

Trueman for a few overs this afternoon came nearer fulfilling his promise of 1952 than at any time since, except for the solitary but all-important occasion of the first day of the Oval Test against Australia. Suddenly he found a new degree of speed and of course where there is extreme speed, accuracy becomes secondary.

There were too many bumpers, far too many, as there have been from both sides in both these last two Tests. I have not asked the umpires whether they have warned King and Trueman in the course of this match as Law 43 provides, since I believe that to be a matter between them and the captains and bowlers concerned.

I assume this step was probably taken in both cases, as it is the least that could have been expected and these two umpires have already illustrated that they have the full courage of their convictions.

Having said that, however, I must reiterate that it seems too much to ask umpires to take the extreme step of forbidding the bowler to bowl again in the innings on their interpretation of the words 'persistent and systematic'.

No bowler has been `suspended' in this way and it seems that some further clarification of the Law may be worth consideration. The feeling among old cricketers here certainly points that way and I hope that the West Indies Board of Control may feel inclined to pass on their observations on the subject to the Imperial Cricket Conference. There are quite enough potential causes of friction in a modern Test match without this. I am not especially censuring anybody concerned in the present series but I am drawing attention as emphatically as I can to an undesirable situation. `Undesirable' even more emphatically today.

As for Sobers, he, `as in the first innings, began with exemplary coolness ... he played easily and with no small power for one of his years', making 26. He was one of a staunch rearguard but England just had time to win the game and so share an eventful, not to say tempestuous, rubber--to be exact they had an hour and ten minutes to make 72.

It is an interesting coincidence that the cricket life of Sir Garfield Sobers is being written by Trevor Bailey, the man who had such an influence on this Test match. There is a certain contrast in philosophy and technique as between subject and author which, so the latter assures me, does not pass unnoticed in his book!

© The Cricketer

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