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An allrounder like no other

As a batsman alone Garry Sobers was among the very best; to add to that, he had talent to spare to take 235 Test wickets

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
Garry Sobers: the only allrounder to score 300-plus runs and take 20 or more wickets in a Test series three times  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Garry Sobers: the only allrounder to score 300-plus runs and take 20 or more wickets in a Test series three times  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

First there is Sir Garry Sobers, and then there are all the other great allrounders in Test cricket. Sir Don Bradman unquestionably qualifies as the best batsman ever seen in Tests, but several pundits are willing to bet that in terms of all-round match-winning ability, none has surpassed - and perhaps no one ever will - the sublime Sobers.
Bradman himself called Sobers the "five-in-one cricketer", and with good reason: apart from being an outstanding batsman and fielder, Sobers the bowler was so versatile that he could bowl three different styles - left-arm seam and swing, slow left-arm orthodox, and left-arm wrist spin. Sobers' skills with the ball allowed West Indies to often play an extra batsman - in fact, it was almost as if they were playing with 12 members in the team.
Sobers' leading suit, though, was his ability with bat in hand. He finished with an average of almost 58, and even that doesn't do full justice to his skills. Throughout his career, Sobers never particularly bothered with trivialities like stats and numbers, which make his achievements even more remarkable. It's astonishing that even after scoring at a rate that most specialist batsmen couldn't keep pace with, Sobers still had enough talent to spare to go ahead and take 235 Test wickets at a bowling average of less than 35.
Unlike a Sachin Tendulkar, though, Sobers didn't immediately set the world on fire when he entered Test cricket. For the first three years or so he was fairly ordinary, with only one half-century to show in his first 15 innings. The first sign of his truly precocious talent came during the course of a resounding defeat at the hands of England at The Oval in the summer of 1957. In extremely difficult batting conditions, in which West Indies were bundled out for 89 and 86 in their two innings, Sobers scored 39 and 42. No other West Indian batsman touched 30 in either innings.
From 1958, Sobers' batting graph soared. In only his third Test of the year, against Pakistan in Kingston, he scored a monumental unbeaten 365. It was the record for the highest Test score, and stayed that way for the next 36 years, which is the longest any batsman has held this record. His career average shot up almost 15 runs after that one innings, and in his next Test it touched 50 for the first time, from where it never dipped below 50 again. In fact, from the beginning of 1959 to the end of his career in 1974, his average never went below 56.
And then, of course, were his knocks outside of Test cricket. One of his finest batting displays - one that the Don said was "the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia", came at the MCG in 1972, when Sobers, playing for World XI, destroyed an Australian attack that included a rampant Dennis Lillee on the way to 254. Lillee had taken 8 for 29 in the previous Test, and had dismissed Sobers first ball in the first innings in Melbourne, but in the second innings Lillee finished a distant second-best, as Sobers cut and drove him to distraction. A few years earlier, a much lesser bowler, Glamorgan's Malcolm Nash, had been at the receiving end when Sobers spanked him for six sixes in an over, the first time it had ever happened in first-class cricket.
Sobers' Test career as a batsman
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Till Dec 1957 14 672 30.54 0/ 3
Jan 1958 onwards 79 7360 62.90 26/ 27
Career 93 8032 57.78 26/ 30
As a bowler, Sobers' stats aren't as stunning, but he was more than handy with his ability to bowl various styles. His peak period as a bowler was understandably much shorter, but during the eight years between 1961 and 1968, he was quite a handful, averaging less than 28 and taking almost four wickets per Test.
In fact, his bowling career can be divided into three distinct parts: till 1960, he bowled quite sparingly, taking only 43 wickets in 34 matches, without a single five-for. Then came the best passage for him as a bowler, during which period he delivered two of his most incisive performances: at Headingley in 1966 he returned figures of 5 for 41 and 3 for 39 to help West Indies win by an innings; at the Gabba a couple of years later, his orthodox left-arm spin was good enough to give him a second-innings haul of 6 for 73 and bundle Australia out for 240 as they chased 366 for victory.
Sobers' Test career as a bowler
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Till Dec 1960 34 43 47.25 118.7 0/ 0
Jan 1961 to Dec 1968 33 125 27.93 76.3 5/ 0
Jan 1969 onwards 26 67 36.94 103.6 1/ 0
Career 93 235 34.03 91.9 6/ 0
More than most other cricketers, Sobers was able to, on more than one occasion, deliver his excellence with bat and ball in the same series. Scoring 300 runs and taking 20 wickets in a series is no mean feat - it's only been achieved 15 times in the entire history of Test cricket - but Sobers managed it three times on his own, twice against England, and once against India. The Australian allrounder Keith Miller did it twice, but no one else has achieved it more than once. Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Shaun Pollock were among those who did it once each, while Imran Khan didn't even achieve it once.
Overall, Sobers' all-round numbers are outstanding - his batting average is nearly 24 more than his bowling average. In terms of this differential, only Jacques Kallis of South Africa has a slightly higher difference.
Top allrounders in Test cricket (Qual: 3000 runs, 200 wickets)
Player Tests Runs Average Wickets Bowl ave Diff in ave
Jacques Kallis 142 11,449 55.84 267 31.90 23.94
Garry Sobers 93 8032 57.78 235 34.03 23.75
Imran Khan 88 3807 37.69 362 22.81 14.88
Shaun Pollock 108 3781 32.31 421 23.11 9.20
Ian Botham 102 5200 33.54 383 28.40 5.14
Richard Hadlee 86 3124 27.16 431 22.29 4.87
Chris Cairns 62 3320 33.53 218 29.40 4.13
Kapil Dev 131 5248 31.05 434 29.64 1.41
Excluding the first three years of his Test career, when Sobers was still finding his feet in international cricket, he averaged nearly 63 in 79 matches, which was easily the best during that period. England's Ken Barrington was the only other batsman whose average was close to 60. Even Sobers' overall career average of 57.78 is among the very best: with a cut-off of 3000 runs, only five batsmen have done better.
Best Test batsmen between Jan 1958 and Dec 1974 (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Garry Sobers 79 7360 62.90 26/ 27
Ken Barrington 80 6754 59.76 20/ 35
Hanif Mohammad 37 3018 51.15 10/ 11
Doug Walters 50 3869 50.90 12/ 23
Rohan Kanhai 74 6021 49.35 15/ 28
Bob Simpson 50 4045 48.73 8/ 23
Ted Dexter 62 4502 47.89 9/ 27
Geoff Boycott 63 4579 47.69 12/ 26
And in the eight years when Sobers was at the peak on his bowling powers, he was among the best in that aspect too: only three bowlers took more than 100 wickets at an averge lower than Sobers' 27.93. West Indies had a pretty useful attack during that period too: Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith took care of the fast-bowling duties, while Lance Gibbs was the number one spinner. Since Sobers obviously wasn't the leading fast bowler or spinner, he was more of a support act, and hence seldom got the opportunity to bowl fast with the wind or slow against it. Later in his career with West Indies' fast-bowling resources dwindling, Sobers bowled long spells with defensive fields, but he managed that too without his bowling stats suffering too much.
Best Test bowlers between Jan 1961 and Dec 1968 (Qual: 100 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Fred Trueman 26 133 21.67 49.4 10/ 3
Lance Gibbs 33 158 24.24 75.7 12/ 2
Peter Pollock 24 101 25.22 57.7 8/ 1
Garry Sobers 33 125 27.93 76.3 5/ 0
Graham McKenzie 46 201 28.42 68.8 14/ 3
Wes Hall 30 100 29.17 57.8 3/ 0
David Allen 32 109 29.91 89.6 4/ 0
Fred Titmus 47 145 30.82 96.1 7/ 0
As a captain Sobers was a mixed bag. Of the nine series he led in, West Indies won three, but those were the first three series he captained. In 1966 in England, especially, Sobers was immense: in five Tests Sobers scored 722 runs, including three hundreds, at an average of 103.14, and took 20 wickets at 27.25. At Lord's in the second Test he played arguably his greatest innings: his unbeaten 163 helped turn around a first-innings deficit of 86 and helped West Indies recover from a precipitous 95 for 5 in the second innings. With David Holford, who made an unbeaten 105, Sobers added an undefeated 274 for the sixth wicket. He scored another century at Headingley and starred with both bat and ball in that game.
Thereafter, though, his captaincy stock fell, especially when his reckless declaration at Port of Spain leading to an England win in a Test in which they took only nine wickets.
Despite the pressures of captaincy, Sobers' batting standards remained high, with an average of almost 59 in the 39 Tests he led in. Among captains who've scored at least 3000 runs, only Don Bradman has a higher average.
Highest averages as captain in Tests (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 24 3147 101.51 14/ 7
Garry Sobers 39 3528 58.80 11/ 15
Graham Gooch 34 3582 58.72 11/ 16
Brian Lara 47 4685 57.83 14/ 19
Greg Chappell 48 4209 55.38 13/ 19
Sobers was also one of the greatest match-winning batsmen in Test cricket: his average in wins was 77.42, which remains among the highest. Only the Don and Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq have higher averages.
Highest Test averages in wins (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 30 4813 130.08 23/ 4
Inzamam-ul-Haq 49 4690 78.16 17/ 20
Garry Sobers 31 3097 77.42 12/ 11
Kumar Sangakkara 42 4282 76.46 15/ 15
Greg Chappell 38 3595 70.49 14/ 16
Some of Sobers' most memorable innings came against England. From 36 Tests against them, Sobers scored 3214 runs, which accounts for 40% of his total aggregate. He played eight full series against them, and averaged more than 75 in four of them. His poorest series against England was his last one, in which he managed only 100 runs from five innings, including scores of 0, 0 and 20 in his last three innings. Despite that, he finished with a 60-plus average against them, which is among the highest for any batsman who's scored more than 2000 runs versus England.
Highest Test averages v England (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Don Bradman 37 5028 89.78 19/ 12
Viv Richards 36 2869 62.36 8/ 15
Brian Lara 30 2983 62.14 7/ 11
Sachin Tendulkar 24 2150 61.42 7/ 10
Garry Sobers 36 3214 60.64 10/ 13
And unlike some of the current batsmen who are much greater batsmen in the first innings than the second, Sobers had no such problem. Even in the fourth innings of matches, Sobers managed an average of almost 47. Apart from that unbeaten 163 at Lord's mentioned earlier, one of his most meaningful second-innings contributions came against India in Kanpur in 1958. Both teams had been bowled out for 222 in their first innings, and in their second, West Indies were struggling at 83 for 4 when Sobers struck a magnificent 198 to lift them to 443, a target which turned out to be well beyond India in their second innings.
Sobers' overall second-innings average of 55.15 is the second-highest among batsmen with 2500 runs; only Jacques Kallis of South Africa has done better.
Highest second-innings averages in Tests (Qual: 2500 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 99 4231 59.59 9/ 26
Garry Sobers 67 2923 55.15 8/ 15
Allan Border 111 4371 54.63 11/ 24
Kumar Sangakkara 63 2899 52.70 9/ 12
Matthew Hayden 81 3472 51.82 11/ 13
Sunil Gavaskar 90 3963 51.46 11/ 22
VVS Laxman 75 2968 51.17 5/ 18
Geoff Boycott 85 3319 51.06 9/ 17

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo