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 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.
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*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