'You must forget about what's gone while batting'

Garry Sobers answers readers' questions on his memorable innings, concentration techniques, and those six sixes

"One of the ways of keeping concentration through long innings was: as soon as it goes to the keeper and the bowler is walking back to his mark, that is the time a batsman should relax" © Getty Images

Arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, former West Indies allrounder, Sir Garfield Sobers, was being interviewed live, exclusively on CricInfo. We would like to extend our thanks to the Northern California Cricket Association for their cooperation in facilitating this interview. Sir Gary was in the Bay Area attending the Third Annual Kingfisher Cup, hosted by the NCCA.

CricInfo: Sir Garry Sobers, we welcome you here today. Thank you for giving of your time to answer questions from cricket lovers all over the world. Maybe today will be your toughest innings yet, or we will get bowled out by your answers. I trust and hope that you will enjoy your time with us.

Sir Garry: Hello, how are you all out there?

Q: Sir Garry, maybe you can tell us what you are doing in California, and the Bay area specifically?

Sir Garry: Well, I was invited here by the NCCA to their banquet and also to have a look at the cricket competition which is going on at the present moment, and to open one of the matches that started yesterday, and there's also a banquet on this evening, which I'll be at. I'll probably be talking to some of the people there, and the cricketers who are invited this evening. I believe they're expecting some 250-300 people. I remember last time I came here they had an evening and they only had about 40 people, so this is really a big step up from 40 to 300!

Q: (From Aqil Ahmed, USA) What is it about cricket that makes it such an exciting game, in your opinion?

Sir Garry: Well, I suppose cricket is a game which you have to be born into to understand the difference and the excitement of it. I don't think cricket is a game that people who have never played or been involved in understand the excitement. It's a game that is full of excitement, because cricket lovers follow the game and understand the basic principles and rules. They become connoisseurs of the game. For instance in Test cricket, some people find it very boring when batsmen are finding it difficult to score runs quickly, but the real lovers of the game find it fascinating when there's a duel between bat and ball. That's one of the important things especially at Test level.

As we know in the US, people can't understand how you can play for five or six days and end up with a drawn game. But those in cricket-playing countries can understand that, particularly if the game is tight and being played between two good teams, and they can understand the tactics and strategies, and can enjoy the game.

Of course, one-day cricket is always exciting, because there is always something happening - there are wickets, runs, it is a very fast-moving game, and I think it's the kind of game that will eventually take on in the US. As we know, they like fast-moving sports, and this is the game that really produces entertainment. And this is how we should look at one-day cricket - it's a form of entertainment, rather than the form of cricket which will develop skills.

"One of the things about the six sixes, which really comes over me every time somebody asks a question… It makes me feel that's the only thing I've ever done in the history of cricket"

Q: (From Surender Visvanathan, Kuala Lumpur ) I saw you play in Madras in the late '60s, I think, when you were captain, and had a young Clive Lloyd in your side. I had always been a fan, but your 100 [95] in the first innings and 94 not out [74] in the second still remain in my memory. Whilst you did everything on the cricket field superbly, which did you enjoy the most? And whether you have a chance to answer this or not, please accept a long-time fan's admiration - you are still the best I have ever seen.

Sir Garry: Well, you've really got me a bit stumped. I don't remember the '60s and that particular game. I remember being the captain of the West Indies in 1967-68 [in 1966-67] to India. I can't remember getting a 100 in that series. You might have been talking about another series.

That was a series... I didn't really want to go on tour to India - not for any other reason, but I had been playing a lot of cricket. I had just joined Notts, I was playing in Australia, for Barbados. I needed a rest. I was really getting a bit tired, and being an allrounder, and taking over the captaincy - that was a burden being added to everything I was doing. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to have a break, and to give an opportunity for a youngster to go out there and start to mould his career.

I was glad I went in the end. It wasn't as easy as we thought it might be. We had some very good matches, and I found myself having to get 60-70 runs to save the West Indies from defeat.

I don't remember getting a 100, I was batting lower down in the order. It was one of those series where things didn't go too well, and I was batting for hours to save West Indies. That particular Test in Madras, I remember Charlie Griffith and myself having to stay there to see of Chandra [Bhagwath Chandrasekhar], who was the danger bowler. I think Charlie and I batted for 60-70 minutes, because there were only two to come, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs.

I hope Wes doesn't pick this up, but I don't think Charlie had much confidence in him... but I've always had lots of confidence in Wes! [Erapalli] Prasanna, who was a very slow offspinner, drew Charlie down the wicket, and it turned, and struck him in the chest, and Charlie thought it was a chance to waste some time, and he started to roll all up and down the pitch and the umpires came up to him, and said "Charlie, it can't have been that hard," and he said "Who got hit, you or me?" and then spent some more minutes. I was delighted with that, we got the draw, and saved us from defeat in that series.

Q: (From Shailesh Shukla, New York) How did you prepare yourself before going in to bat? Any specific strategy?

Sir Garry: Well, not really, I was not a superstitious person. I can tell you that I never really liked watching cricket. Even today, I find it really difficult. I was never a spectator, always a participant. In the early days when I first got into the WI team, when the Ws were playing, I would sit and watch, When you could learn from watching players like that, it was a great joy to watch them play.

Later in my career, I found I could only sit and watch for the first half hour or 40 minutes, then I would take a rest and lie down. Somebody would wake me up when something happened. I found it very relaxing. In cricket there is a lot of psychology in the game, especially if you are watching people who are not top-class. You know it was always nice to watch the likes of Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Seymour Nurse, but other fellows, you watch, and things are not going so well, it seems to work on your nerves, you tend to look for things in the wicket which are not really there.

"I prefer to watch some kind of a Western or other movie, or look at golf videos, rather than watch cricket videos of myself" © Getty Images

I always felt it was better to go in when I had to judge for myself. Then you were looking and playing yourself in, and you were playing to what you were receiving, and not to what you thought was happening, and that made it easier. So that was my only preparation if you could call it that. It is true that it is useful to get the sunlight, it's not nice to sit in a dark room, you should get accustomed to the light. When I lie down, I would take a look up into the skies when I walked in, I would get familiar with the light that way and then I would go in and play the ball on its merit. I didn't have the tension you get from watching and seeing things not going too right.

Q: (From Jeevananda Abayasekara, Sydney) How do you keep your concentration going through long innings? Did you have any special methods you used to keep your concentration going?

Sir Garry: I think that most experienced players have some ways of keeping their concentration, because over long innings, it's virtually impossible for a whole day. You have to find ways of breaking your concentration at the right times.

Early in my career, one of the ways of keeping concentration through long innings was when the bowler was bowling you concentrate, as soon as it goes to the keeper and the bowler is walking back to his mark, that is the time a batsman should relax. That's when you find a lot of players are concerned about a ball that's beaten them, and they'll stand there thinking about it and by the time the bowler turns to bowl again, they're still thinking about it and then they find when the bowler starts to run up, that's when their concentration lapses.

For me, as long as I wasn't out, I never thought about it. After that I would rest, or walk down the wicket and "garden". There was nothing wrong with the wicket, you see it so often, and it helps batsmen to relax, and keep their concentration. You take your mind off the bowler only when he turns round. When he starts to bowl, then you put on your thinking cap again. You must always have that relaxing period where there's nothing happening. You must forget about what's gone. That's what I used to do to keep my concentration over a period of time.

Q: (From John Clark, Melbourne, Australia) When Lara got his 375, you stated that he was "the only batsman who plays the game today in the way it should be played". Would you still hold to that statement?

Sir Garry: Well, it was either going to be Lara or Tendulkar, and I hadn't seen Tendulkar at that time, I had seen Brian Lara. If anyone was going to do it, it looked like it would be him. I also remember mentioning Tendulkar in that same breath. To break the record for number of runs, it will take somebody in modern cricket to be really a quick scorer. Today, cricket is played in such a way that batsmen don't really have the amount of time to go in there to get those kinds of runs without the captain declaring, because it's going to affect the team's chances of winning.

Brian, when I first saw him, he was a little strip of a boy, at the age of 16 when he first came to play in Barbados in the Sir Garry Sobers international schoolboy competition. He couldn't get the ball off the square, but you could see that he loved batting and wasn't going to give his wicket away. The following year, he came for a similar tournament, and you could see right away that his development was so quick, and he became a lot stronger, and was hitting with more power, and his placements were good. He could pick his spot, bisect the gaps, and you knew that he was that type of player, once he got going on a good wicket, you knew he was capable of doing that, he has the ability to score quickly. So it was no surprise when he did.

Q: (From Francis Ingledew, Teaneck, NJ) I've watched the video of the tied Test with Australia in '60-61, where Sir Garfield scored a tremendous century. I was moved by the video, because it seemed to record great deeds from long ago (actually, it made me sad, as if for something lost). I would like to know what EMOTIONS Sir Garry feels when he watches or watched this video, or other videos of his great performances.

Sir Garry: Well, really, truly, I hardly watch any videos of myself. I am not too wrapped up in myself. I leave that for other people. I think that's one of the reasons I maintain the person I am today, because I don't watch myself, like some people do. I think it's always a bad thing for top-class cricketers, or cricketers of great repute, to get wrapped up in watching themselves over and over. I might watch every now and again with my sons, if they have the video. I might sit down and watch and crack a joke with them, since they never really saw me play, but I prefer to watch some kind of a Western or other movie, or look at golf videos, rather than watch cricket videos of myself.

"In cricket there is a lot of psychology in the game, especially if you are watching people who are not top-class. You watch, and things are not going so well, it seems to work on your nerves, you tend to look for things in the wicket which are not really there"

FAQ: Can you tell us a bit about what your thoughts were as you hit those famous six sixes (nearly 30 years ago to the day) in an over off Malcolm Nash's bowling?

Sir Garry: One of the things about the six sixes, which really comes over me every time somebody asks a question, or says to me, "I've just seen them", or people always ask me about it… It makes me feel that's the only thing I've ever done in the history of cricket.

It wasn't really good cricket. Six sixes are not good cricket. It was an occasion where we were looking for quick runs. It was a team occasion, looking for quick runs, and the idea was to try and get as many runs as possible.

There were two versions of how to get quick runs. The Everton Weekes version and the Lord Constantine version. Lord Constantine said you should hit the ball in the air, because there are no fielders there to catch it, but you have to be sure to hit it over the boundary line. Everton Weekes said if you keep the ball on the ground, then nobody can catch you. On that occasion I chose the Lord Constantine version, since my wicket was not an issue, I decided I was trying to hit it in the air, and take the risks.

It was only about the fifth six that I thought: here's something that hasn't been done, why not try it.

Records have never meant a lot to me. If I have ever broken records, they have come in the stride of my duty to my team. If you look in my career, you will find that most of the records, we won the matches, it wasn't a draw it was never a situation where we decided: I want to score 365 runs at all costs, or go and hit six sixes regardless. Those thoughts never go into my mind. Always it goes into my mind that the team needs quick runs. You have to make them as fast as possible, getting out didn't matter. I was captain. We had to get a lot of runs. The score was 270-300 and I decided I'd have to take the chances to get them.

Obviously I knew for the last ball he would change his action. He wouldn't bowl the last one slow. He was going to try and prevent me from hitting him for six sixes. He knew his name would be on the wrong end of the world record. I decided wherever the ball was bowled, I would go after it. I wasn't going to let it be a wide. Luckily for me, he dropped it short, and there was a short boundary on the leg side, and as soon as it hit the middle of the bat, it was all over. But six sixes is not good cricket. It's not the kind of cricket that you want to teach youngsters!

Q: (From Harikrishnan, Madras) In 1968 at Queen's Park Oval, in the match against Cowdrey's England side, you as skipper of the WI, made what I have always considered a "sporting declaration". You may recall that WI then lost the game :-), and ever since it has become notoriously known as a "bone-head" declaration. Have you ever had second thoughts about it, and would you do it again in similar circumstances, given the opportunity?

Sir Garry: I declared to give England 216 [215] runs to win. They needed to score 215 in about three hours, and England had not scored during that whole series at more than 40 runs per hour. It was a decision that was made according to the conditions of the wicket and according to the composition of the team and it was well thought out. It wasn't one of those blindly made decisions. It was discussed amongst the members of the team and the manager before the decision was made.

I knew after the decision was made and the match was lost, a lot of members of the team said they knew nothing about it, but they were strangers to the truth, because I had asked the question about 15 minutes before I made the declaration, and as a matter of fact, some of the feedback I got was that I could have declared half an hour earlier! I know a lot of people will not believe it, because this is probably one of the first times that I'm putting it down, but I thought at the time it was my responsibility and it was my decision, but as I said, it was a decision according to the conditions of the wicket, looking at the strategy of the England team during that whole series, and what we had done in the first innings.

If one can recall, one of the things is that all the facts were removed from all the articles that were written, for what unknown reason, I don't know, during that Test. Basil Butcher, in the first innings, got six [five] wickets and he wasn't a recognised spinner in the West Indies team, and there was criticism for why Hall and Griffith were not playing. One was in the team but not fit. Basil had got five in the first innings, and we had bowlers like Billy Rodriguez, myself and Lance Gibbs. I didn't see it necessary to have a fast bowler to force a win on a wicket taking spin, and we needed to get in as many overs as possible to put England under pressure. It was at least calculated from that point of view. Anyone in the press who knew anything about cricket would have seen it that way without making criticisms. I knew there were other reasons, which I will not talk about on this particular occasion, but certainly if I had to make a similar decision again, I would do exactly a similar thing.

Sobers on his way to his final Test hundred, at Lord's, 1973 © PA Photos

Q: (From Aditya Basrur, Auckland) Who were your cricketing idols when you grew up?

Sir Garry: As a boy, really, even then I never used to watch much cricket. I used to play a lot of cricket, and most of my time was consumed in playing with my friends. I never really got much to Kensington Oval. I used to watch a lot where I learned my cricket. I used to score on the scoreboard to get the odd shilling to spend on a Saturday. That gave me an opportunity to see a lot of great players like Sir Everton, Sir Clyde, the Atkinson brothers, the late Sir Frank Worrell. There were lots of good players in those days - so many whom people outside have never heard of. Also George Carew. I had the opportunities of seeing those players and others top Barbadian players who were never given the chance to play for the West Indies. If they were around today, they would be top-class players in WI cricket, but back then Barbados cricket was so strong, it was very difficult for people of even the highest class to get into the Barbados team.

When I got a bit further on with my cricket, Sir Everton Weekes became my idol. He was one of those players who played shots. I always admired people who played shots. He was, to me, the greatest batsman the West Indies has ever produced, one of the greatest the world has ever produced. I was very fortunate to play with him.

Sir Frank and I, we lived in the same area when I went to play my first league season in Radcliffe as a youngster. He used to invite me round, and we used to talk a lot, we became very, very close. We used to discuss cricket and other things - he was like a father figure to me.

Q: (From Dave Liverman, Newfoundland and Jeff Green, London) We were both fortunate enough to be at The Oval in 1970 to watch you batting with Graeme Pollock. You both made centuries in a wonderful exhibition of batting. We'd like to ask you about your memories of that innings and your impressions of Pollock as a bat.

Sir Garry: Well, let me first say, it is probably one of the great pities of the cricketing world that people who love cricket have never had the opportunity of really seeing Graeme Pollock play at the highest level for too long. He was certainly a player with great potential. We can only call it that, because he didn't play Test cricket long enough to be called a great player, and greatness is always recognised at the highest level.

I think that those who have seen him even after South Africa was banned for all those years - and he played against some of the rebel teams - and I know I can speak on the behalf of some of the West Indians who went there late in his career, and how they thought of him. They thought he was a great player, a very, very great player then, and by that time, I think a lot of his youth was gone. He was getting older, and it was a pity that they didn't see him in those years. He certainly would have fulfilled that great promise.

I was fortunate to have the chance to play against him in 1963 in Australia, when I played for South Australia, when they brought a strong team down there and beat Australia in that series. Then later on I had the pleasure of captaining him in that RoW series.

It was a great privilege to play with him and bat at the other end, particularly in that series against England in 1970. He started off during that series and wasn't really in very good nick. I think that was the last Test match of the five, and he really played magnificently. I think all those who saw the innings would remember them. I don't think there was any more beautiful sight than to see Graeme Pollock in full flight. He was a tremendous timer of the ball, and played in the V. A short backlift, but tremendous power. I think a lot of the power came from the heavy bat he brought into cricket. I think after him a lot of players, Lloyd and Botham and others, started using heavier bats - from 2.2lbs or 2.4lbs to 3lbs and more, and today they have even heavier bats, which is good for playing in the V, but not very good for cutting and hooking. A batsman with that weight in his hand won't be able to lift the bat to cut and hook. At the end of the day if you're waving a bat like that round all day against Hall, Griffith, Holding and Roberts and the like, it becomes very heavy.

Q: (From the moderator, Keith) We know you are in a rush, but what was your greatest moment, memory of your cricket career?

Sir Garry: That's not an easy one. When you play cricket for 20 years at the top level, and you play in so many parts of the world against so many good teams, bowlers and batsmen, it's very difficult to pick out one particular innings or situation!

People talk of the 254 in Australia - that was certainly a top-class innings against probably the quickest bowler in the world at the time and one of the best spin bowlers. The situation presented itself, a good innings was called for at that time, and I was fortunate to produce that innings. Sir Donald Bradman rated it as one of the best innings on Australian soil, and that's a high rating. But Sir Donald is a very good friend of mine, and he says good things about me, so don't take it too seriously! But he was one of the greatest batsmen who ever lived, and he has seen a lot of cricket, so there was nobody better to judge that innings.

From a team point of view, though, my innings at Lord's with my cousin David Holford was probably one of the biggest highlights of my career, because of the tension, the status of the match, country v country was also far more important than the RoW v a country. There is a lot more at stake - we were in a position in which we had lost all of our top players, here was a young man playing his first or second match in England, at Lord's of all places, which wouldn't make it too easy, and to be able to pull ourselves out of that situation. I think we were in a situation in which they led by 87 on first innings and we had lost five wickets for 95 so we led by just seven runs, with five wickets in hand, so the pressure must have been horrendous on him.

To be able to bat out the rest of that day without losing a wicket, coming back next day and batting on, being able to declare without losing another wicket and giving England over 280-odd runs to win.

For some time early in that innings we had England in trouble, until Colin Milburn and Tom Graveney pulled it around, until the rain came down. So, to me, that was my greatest innings because of the circumstances it called for. Everything, your concentration had to be right, your approach, you had to have a plan, you couldn't do it otherwise. I went out there with a plan, and I was able to fulfill that, and everything that I wanted to do came off and that's what made that innings to me the most important, and probably the biggest highlight of my career.

Sir Garry has to leave us, so as he departs, we'd like to simply thank him for the unmeasurable pleasure he brought to those who saw him, in the unassuming way he played the game and in his incredible gifts. Also thank you, Sir Garry, for the time you have set aside to be with us today. We received over 1000 questions via email and hope all will understand that there was just not enough time to answer them all.