Someone smiling on Sammy
The greatest cricketer of all time played here at Trent Bridge. They reckon he arrived the afternoon before Nottinghamshire's first match of the summer and strolled across the lush outfield in a thick sheepskin coat to watch his new team-mates at net practice. The next day, in one of the Gillette Cup 60 over matches that used to start the season, Garry Sobers took four wickets and made 60 not out on a damp pitch to see his adopted county over the line. "Well played you fellas" he said in the dressing-room after receipt of the man of the match award, "now who we got in the next round?!"
Darren Sammy will not have seen Sobers play, not live, but he will know the legend and identify with the joie de vivre. Sammy would agree that he is lucky to have played the Test matches he has and is under no illusion about the present position of West Indian cricket. There is no Sobers, no Richards or Roberts nor a Greenidge or Garner. Nothing close. But there is spirit and hope, best illustrated by the man who wears the captain's armband once worn by the incomparable Sir Garry.
At 11 o'clock this morning, beneath a sapphire sky that would have done justice to St. Lucia, Sammy walked the walk that Sobers first took all those years ago and requested a fresh guard. A blistering array of counter-attacking strokes the previous evening had left the West Indies captain 88 not out, just two clean hits from a first Test match hundred. Marlon Samuels had the strike and worked a single from the third ball of the day; Sammy played the fourth from the middle of his bat. The fifth hammered into his thigh pad, the sixth was left well alone. A few spectators still searching for their seats barely noticed these nervous moments, the rest of a sun-kissed full house were bent forward squinting through the bright light at the tense early exchange some 70 metres away.
James Anderson offered mainly a full length, examining footwork and mind. Stuart Broad bowled a few bouncers to test courage and patience. Twice Anderson passed the Sammy outside edge and threw back his head in frustration. Rarely can a cricket ground have so ached for both friend and foe. Then Sammy scorched the turf with an off drive to move to 92, which brought hardcore appreciation from the crowd.
The batsmen exchanged singles twice before the start of the 6th over of the day. Time: 11.19am, Sammy 94. The first ball was punched with feeling to mid-off, no run. Hearts beat faster, hands clammed up. Anderson jogged from gully to talk with Broad on the walk back to his mark. Feet shuffled. God knows what Anderson said. Probably nothing. Make him wait.
11.20am. Broad pitched fuller and wider, Sammy threw his life at it and the ball flew fast and safe over Anderson's head for four. Sammy 98. The hum of anticipation hummed louder, more urgent. Please, let it be. Let this good man have his moment in the Nottingham sun.
11.21am. Broad bowled a beauty, a good length and straight that moved away off the seam. Sammy, the tall, slim, smiling St Lucian - the first from his island to represent West Indies - launched himself into a contortion hitherto unseen; attempting it appeared to strike this crucial ball, the ball of his batting life, over the leg-side stands and into space.
He failed in this mission, failed utterly. But someone was with him, someone important said: "Okay Darren, you've put a bit in, taken up some slack, this is one is for you" and the ball flew from the back of the bat, passed the diving fielder at point and sped to the boundary.
Hooray! Bravo! He's done it! The crowd stood as one, roaring approval. The West Indian dressing-room the same. The batsman raised his arms to the heavenly sky and kissed the famous badge on the maroon helmet. And he smiled that wonderful smile. He is not Sir Garfield Sobers and he knows it. But he is a proud and talented cricketer who has made something of himself, his job and his team. No one on earth could begrudge Darren Sammy the Trent Bridge 21 minutes that he will never forget.
Former Hampshire batsman Mark Nicholas is the host of Channel 9's cricket coverage