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A Test hundred with a hangover

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

Martin Williamson

January 21, 2012

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Garry Sobers on his way to 150*, his final Test hundred, England v West Indies, Lord's, August 24 1973
None the worse for wear: Garry Sobers on his way to what was to be his last Test hundred © PA Photos
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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

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Posted by Philip_Gnana 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

Posted by Metman 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.

Posted by kapowie 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?

Posted by   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.

Posted by zoot on (January 22, 2012, 23:26 GMT)

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

Posted by   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.

Posted by igorolman 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)

Posted by gujratwalla 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by ksb84 on (January 22, 2012, 13:19 GMT)

funny Gary "Sobers" was drunk :)

Posted by Punter_28 on (January 22, 2012, 12:04 GMT)

For all those blokes who claim that of all the people, Imran was an allrounder and that too better than Sir. Gary , they must be either insane or must be drunk, For me , Imran was primarily a great bowler who could also bat. And for as Kallis is concerned , he may have the numbers to boost his claims... but can any one tell that how many test matches he won for SA either with his batting or bowling... To me Sir. Gary is the greatest ever cricketer till now... Ian Chappel rates him as the best ever bat he had seen till date.. Sunny says that there is only one thing he has not done in Criket field i.e. donning the Wicket-Keeper gloves... even that he might have done with aplomb had he been tested on that!!!obviously these guys know better than many of

Posted by harshthakor on (January 22, 2012, 7:02 GMT)

Sobers is surely the greatest cricketer of them all and no all rounder can be compared to him.Arguably the 2nd best bat ever to Don Bradman and the best ever left-hander.Like a prophet to the game of cricket.

Posted by Silloh on (January 22, 2012, 1:51 GMT)

Sobers was the greatest -past , present and future. All overs were treated with disdain, even a hang...over !

Posted by vk6848 on (January 22, 2012, 0:25 GMT)

Rakim, Can we please forget our country biases? Garry Sobers was the greatest cricketer ever, like 07sanjeevakaru says; even Imran Khan will admit to that. If you have never seen him play, even on TV, I am sorry for you. There was a 256 he scored that was shown on cinema screens, and so many other shots, balls, catches and stops- even his walk in to bat, that no one could match.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 21:47 GMT)

In the first test match i ever watch, Sobers scored a double century at Kesington oval, and Worrell was 196 not out, against The MCC captained by Peter May, With Swetman, Trueman, Cowdrey and Pullar in the side. I remember in that match Hall bowling at a fiery pace at Puller. The match was ended in a draw. In those days we in Barbados got half the day off from school to go to cricket.

Posted by 4test90 on (January 21, 2012, 20:29 GMT)

Thanks Martin - he might have made a difference in a tight series !!

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 19:39 GMT)

Any day Kallis can bat like Sobers when drunk then he can attempt to claim that he is the #1 all rounder in Test Cricket lol

Posted by Rakim on (January 21, 2012, 19:37 GMT)

LOL. Tho Imran took alone against WIndians in 80s. I mean he drew series against them single handily. So for me Sobers one of the greatest but Imran is THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL. Respect.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 17:50 GMT)

4test90 - during the the research for this article reports said he had been unfit or at least considered not fit enough by the selectors for the Australia series. At the time he was having serious problems with his knees

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 16:59 GMT)

Garfield Sobers will always be the alpha-male among cricketers!

Posted by 07sanjeewakaru on (January 21, 2012, 16:24 GMT)

Surely the greatest cricketer.

Posted by Hendersun on (January 21, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

Whether it is Dilbert, John Arlott, Geoff Boycott, Ian Chappell or Tony Cozier describing the works of Sobers, there is never any doubt about his excellence in the minds of anyone not priviledged to witness his unimitable style.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 15:04 GMT)

Classic wish I had a time traveller device to watch this in real life

Posted by 4test90 on (January 21, 2012, 13:02 GMT)

Does anyone know why Sobers did not play vs Australia in the Caribbean in 1973 ? I thought he had retired before it, but obviously this story shows he played after it - was he injured or dropped, anyone ?

Posted by bbpp on (January 21, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

And Gayle and Sarwan can't play because........? Granted they are not in Sober's class but then no one in the current WI team is and players should not be banished because they like to party and live a little. Also, it is cricketing ability that counts, not how many push ups you can do. It is after all a sport...not so?

Posted by maddy20 on (January 21, 2012, 12:46 GMT)

Incredible. Hundred with a hangover? Truly magnificent.

Posted by bobletham on (January 21, 2012, 12:28 GMT)

I was there, square with the wicket on the Grandstand side of the ground. It was a superb innings, the best of several Test centuries I saw Sobers get - and for anyone who saw him bat, in the flesh or video, will know what that implies!

Posted by Hendersun on (January 21, 2012, 9:44 GMT)

The six catches Sobers held in the match were at that time a record for a West Indian. Two of them were heldwhilst fielding in the craftily created "pick-pocket" position of his own making where he most often fielded for the deft off-spinner, Lance Gibbs. This Lord's show under personal duress was indicative of the commitment that this genius gave to cricket. I feel that it is highly unlikely that there will be anyone from anywhere at anytime for many, many mornings to come that will supersede Sobers' level of performance in this game.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 8:22 GMT)

a great one indeed which is why he is one of the best :D

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 7:54 GMT)

Sir Garfield Sobers.. a champion cricketer really!!

Posted by doubtingthomas on (January 21, 2012, 7:48 GMT)

No doubt he was "Sober's" all along

Posted by FatBoysCanBat on (January 21, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

This is awesome. There is a guy in my team who turned up to game after spending the last night and the morning in the pub. It was our last game of the season, a 2-day game played on alternative Saturday's. We batted first and he was #4. While he waited his turn to bat, he was asleep in the team shed and after a good opening partnership [73] the first wicket went down. I went in at 3 and two balls later the other opener was gone and my drunk team-mate came out to join me. He swung and missed at the first 5 or 6 balls but somehow hooked the next for 4. We preceded to bat out the rest of the day adding 357* for the 3rd wicket. My partner making a chanceless 231 while I had battled at the other end for my 112. The next week we decided to bat on because there was nothing to gain. My partner had a quiet night the night before and only lasted a few balls. It is fair to say he definitely batted better when he was off his trolley and didn't pass 50 the entire next season.

Posted by deepak_sholapurkar on (January 21, 2012, 7:22 GMT)

interesting 3 lines from second paragraph.

""Sobers had been left out of the West Indies squad for the three-Test series in the second half of the 1973 English summer."

How they dropped Sober's. In modern day india we are not able to drop/rest any senior player.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2012, 7:17 GMT)

this the most incredible story of genius that one can think of.. he truly was one of the top 3 to have ever played the game...

Posted by boehj on (January 21, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

Truly, a very Sobering tale.

Posted by albstp on (January 21, 2012, 5:06 GMT)

Real men, real player. What an era.... Those were players with real talent. Admire them. Wish I could have seen Gary Sobers play.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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