1973 January 21, 2012

A Test hundred with a hangover

Garry Sobers starred in an innings victory after a night (and some of the day) about the town

Batting at the highest level is hard enough, but doing so with a raging hangover adds another dimension to the challenge. At Lord's in 1973, Garry Sobers, one of the greatest players to have graced the game, did just that, and what's more, scored what turned out to be his 26th and final Test hundred.

Sobers had been left out of the West Indies squad for the three-Test series in the second half of the 1973 English summer. He was almost 37, increasingly hampered by knee problems, and it was generally believed his international career was behind him. By early July his form for Nottinghamshire was very ordinary - 436 runs at 36.33 and 12 wickets - but when a string of injuries left the touring side short, he was asked to help out. He scored fifties in the second innings at The Oval and Edgbaston, and also picked up three wickets in each game with the new ball.

West Indies headed to Lord's for the third and final Test with a 1-0 series lead, thanks to a big win at The Oval. Rohan Kanhai won the toss, batted, and by the close of the first day West Indies had reached 335 for 4 with Sobers unbeaten on 31.

Sobers was known as someone who was likely to be in the mood for a party, even during a major match. "I rarely went to bed at a normal time because I am one of those people who can have four or five hours' sleep and still wake up fresh," he admitted. "It was well known I liked a drink after play. My philosophy was that life is for living… I played hard and drank reasonably hard on occasions. I had to make sure those late nights could continue by maintaining a consistently high level of performance."

While most of the West Indies team returned to the Clarendon Court Hotel, Sobers headed out with Clive Lloyd for a meal and from there hooked up with an old friend, the former West Indies spinner Reg Scarlett, and the pair headed out for a night on the town. They ended up at a nightclub, and as they made ready to leave in the early hours, Sobers said he "realised I had long gone past the need to sleep". He persuaded Scarlett to come back to the hotel, where the two of them settled down in the bar to reminisce.

"We drank until about 9 o'clock, then I got a cold shower, walked up to Lord's, got my pads on and walked out as the umpires called play," he said. "I took guard, but all I could see as Bob Willis ran up was arms and legs. The first five balls I missed, and I could hear Kanhai and everyone else up in the pavilion laughing. Anyhow, the sixth ball hit the bat."

As his head slowly cleared, he found he had other problems, as "churning pains" started in his stomach. As he neared his hundred they were bad enough for him to consider retiring, but he feared it would break his concentration. He was not helped by the sunshine beating down from a clear blue sky. "I read afterwards that I showed great maturity in playing myself in steadily before proceeding with grace and power," he said. "Little did they know."

"I've held this in for 50 minutes, I can't hold it any longer. Put down whatever you like. I gone…"
Sobers makes his excuses to the umpire

He completed his century and soldiered on until the afternoon drinks interval, when he turned to Charlie Elliott, the umpire, and said: "I'm not feeling well, can I go off?" Elliott was bemused. "Go? What for? I haven't seen you get any injury." An increasingly desperate Sobers replied: "Charlie, I've held this in for 50 minutes, I can't hold it any longer. Put down whatever you like. I gone…" And with that he headed back to the dressing room, unbeaten on 132.

Inside the pavilion, Kanhai asked what was up and Sobers told him that his stomach was "giving him hell", adding: "The only thing that'll help me now is a port and brandy mixed." The drink was duly produced and he downed it in one. "Bring him another brandy and port," Kanhai said. "But make it a big one this time."

Sobers had almost two hours to rest while Bernard Julien and Keith Boyce added 76, and by the time Julien was dismissed for his maiden first-class hundred, Sobers was ready to return. He duly completed his 150 before Kanhai declared on 652 for 8.

Sobers' sufferings were not apparent to those watching, and the newspapers merely referred to his "minor stomach ailment". In the Guardian John Arlott wrote that the innings had "all the panache in attack and style in defence which makes him as handsome a batsman as we have ever seen… the splendour of his innings lay in the arc between cover point and mid-off".

Faced with hostile bowling and a noisy crowd with a large West Indies support, England were blown away and lost by an innings and 226 runs inside four days. "Soon after lunch thousands of West Indians were dancing around the outfield to celebrate victory after a match that was embarrassingly one-sided," noted Wisden. Sobers, his knee again a problem and perhaps a little weary for other reasons, eschewed the new ball and bowled a few gentle overs in each innings.

What happened next?

  • Sobers played* the five-Test series against England in the Caribbean in 1973-74 but struggled for form, scoring 100 runs at 20.00 and taking 14 wickets.
  • Kanhai was captain for the subsequent visit by England. Like Sobers, he too had a poor series, scoring 157 runs at 26.16. Both played their final Test in the series-levelling defeat in the fifth and final Test in Trinidad.
  • Ray Illingworth was sacked as England captain after the Lord's humiliation and replaced by Mike Denness, who endured a torrid tour to West Indies before the remarkable about-turn in Port-of-Spain.
  • Julien was inconsistent and failed to fulfill his early potential, and his career ended under a cloud when he joined the West Indies rebel tour to South Africa in 1983, for which he received a life ban.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

*15:15 GMT, Jan 21: Sobers had been originally mentioned as captain for home Tests against England in 1973-74. This has been corrected

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on January 23, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    Sure is the greatest of them all. You are looking at times when the bowlers had the advantage. Batsmen had to do all the hard work. I remember his 174 against a rest of the world......what a majestic innings. Sure was the arc cover to mid off. Love write up here. Philip Gnana, surrey

  • Michael on January 23, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    @bbpp ! That is NOT the reason why Gayle and Sarwan are not playing for the WI.Obviously you have now awoken from a very deep sleep,or maybe you were in a coma,if so you have my sympathy.....but with Gayle,he was critical of his capt.,coach and management,and for not telling the truth up front...and still wanted to be a part of the team.Now pray tell me,if one is employed,and one does that,and still expects that they would still be employed,would't that individual appear to you to lack basic common sense ? Sarwan's problem is his attitude,even in his native Guyana,the authorities there are having a problem with this.

  • Bryant on January 23, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    Wow!!! What a player. It does make me think that If the Aussie team had let Andrew Symonds play after his bender in England in '05 Bangladesh may not have won.. How is Symmo going on Indian Big Brother? Anyone know?

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2012, 23:41 GMT

    I had the privilege of watching him once at Sabina Park when I was 4 or 5 years old in 1973 or 4. Too young to remember much of the match. Just remember my father pointing out Sobers to me and mentioning that he was the best ever. Still the best ever in my eyes.

  • Safdar on January 22, 2012, 23:26 GMT

    Sobers was a brilliant batsman. He was the best I've ever seen.

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2012, 20:13 GMT

    Imran Khan was the greatest All-rounder the world has ever seen. I rate him higher than Sobers.

  • Matt on January 22, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    I don't even see that there's any need to defend Sobers as the greatest allrounder of all time. (From a Briton)

  • IFTIKHAR on January 22, 2012, 13:57 GMT

    I had the pleasure of seeing this innings in person and what an experience!The way Sobers smashed the fast bowlers was incredible! In my books he is the greatest batsman in living memory because the faster the came the harder he hit them...matched perhaps only by Viv Richards or Lara but the individual genius was incomparable!Memories of Greatness!

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    My earliest recollection of a great innings that Sobers feat. In my humble estimation like Pele and Maradona are the only two undisputed players in any all time greatest list of footballers, Sobers along with the one and only 'the Don' are in for cricket - nothing more to say.

  • Cricinfouser on January 22, 2012, 13:19 GMT

    funny Gary "Sobers" was drunk :)

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