Garry Sobers pulls

Carry on, Garry: Sobers followed up his 322 runs in the 1963 series with 722 when West Indies returned in '66

© PA Photos

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My black teacher

Watching Garry Sobers dominate England in 1963 was a lesson in race relations and in cricket

Simon Barnes |

An education in cricket can't help but be an education in many other things. The West Indies tour of England in 1963 was as important a lesson as I ever learned in my life. I can refine this to two moments, both from the first Test match, at Old Trafford. Both concerned Garry Sobers. I suppose that is inevitable.

Let's put things into context. The London of my youth was a city dealing with a multiracial society as a relative novelty. It was an enthralling but rather uneasy time. I lived a couple of miles down the road from Brixton, London's Caribbean heartland. The lovely lilt of the Jamaican accent was part of London back then, heard often enough in the loudspeakered announcements on train stations: "Purley Oaks, Purley and Coulsdon Naaaarth!"

I lived in a liberal household. Neither my parents nor us children would have dreamed of making an openly racist remark, or for that matter, even thinking in terms of destructive racial generalisations, and yet….

And yet the predominant tone of the time was still gently and subtly racist. You got used to the casual assumption that black people were less intelligent, and for that reason spoke funny, and what's more, had grotesque sexual appetites. Of course they were humans like us, of course we were all equal, but it was damn good of us to admit that, wasn't it? So perhaps that showed that we liberals were slightly more human than the rest. Better not say that out loud. Just let the thought creep beneath your guard and lurk treacherously in the deepest recesses of your thoughts.

Is there anything he can't do?

Is there anything he can't do? © PA Photos

The West Indies team arrived in this country as a pretty considerable bunch. It was thrilling to see them, for in those days there was mystery about all overseas teams, seen only once every few years. There was a double mystery about these players. They were West Indian like our neighbours in Brixton, but they were also swaggering athletes with a great record of achievement. There was no deference. Nor even any pretence of deference.

I watched as much of that first Test match as I could, staring at the black and white cricketers on the black-and-white television. I turned to the newspaper the following morning, reading the cricket report as an evangelical Christian reads the Bible, convinced that in these words an ultimate truth was there for the taking. And I suppose there was.

Sobers was 26 and already a great cricketer. But he was all new to me. And the thing that really amazed me was that he just didn't move like anyone else. There was something flowing in everything he did, as if every joint had been bathed in a gallon of oil.

Just watching him play a defensive shot was a remarkable experience. And as for the times, the many times he went on the attack…

Much later in life, I became deeply familiar with night-hunting leopards. In their ultimately sinuous movements I could recall the way Sobers moved on a cricket field. Not just in the killing stroke but in the potential danger that threatened in every step.

I had two main heroes in that England team. The first was the captain, Ted Dexter, an attacking batsman of immense daring. The second, the fast bowler Brian Statham, was there because of my Lancastrian father's constant recommendation of his talent.

The West Indian teams of the mid-20th century forced people to re-examine their views on race

The West Indian teams of the mid-20th century forced people to re-examine their views on race © Getty Images

The first moment, then, is Sobers' hooked six off Statham. The best that England - the best that we - could offer was whacked into the stands. It was painful to watch, and glorious too, in one of the great contradictions of sport when partisanship wages war with admiration. Sobers scored 64 and West Indies went past 500. I had to accept they were better than us.

The second moment came during England's first innings. A great allrounder should be worth his place in the Test team for both his batting and his bowling. Sobers could get into any team in the world for his batting, for his fast bowling, for his orthodox left-arm spin, or for his left-arm wristspin.

Dexter - who else - was leading the England fightback and was on 73. It was then that Sobers bowled him a googly that took the glove and dollied to Frank Worrell in the slips. Not beaten; deceived. This wasn't glorious West Indian athleticism, this was glorious West Indian brain. I knew that before CLR James spelt it out, and Sobers was my teacher.

Sobers took four. West Indies won the match by ten wickets. They won the series 3-1. Sobers made 322 runs and took 20 wickets. Anyone who thought white people were superior to black people had only to look at the scoreboard. England were outplayed, out-fought and out-thought.

And it was beautiful. A great lesson from a great teacher.

Simon Barnes is a former chief sportswriter of the Times and the author of more than 20 books





  • POSTED BY saradindu on | April 29, 2016, 4:40 GMT

    He strode like a colossus and will always remain the Ultimate of the champion of the cricket arena . There will never be one again to be as complete as he was let alone surpass him . He is the Ultimate God of cricket .

  • POSTED BY Ashok on | April 28, 2016, 13:44 GMT

    A fine summary of the turbulent 60's when the Flower power was at its peak but apartheid(SA) & civil rights movements(USA) also got a voice. England was more liberal in that sense because of their colonial rule overseas- nevertheless still racial in its outlook. In comes the graceful WI Cricketers with superb athleticism of Gary Sobers, who was like poetry in motion in everything he did- from his walk to stylish batting & bowling. Sobers was the greatest Cricketer who ever graced the fields with power, majesty & talent oozing out of his batting or craftiness from his 3 in one bowling. In my opinion only Ted Dexter was the closest to match Sobers' power, style & grace. I was a Research student in England & always watched Sobers on TV of in person. There was only one Bradman & , there will never be another Gary Sobers! In my opinion all Humans are born equal & their intellectual abilities are dictated by the opportunities they receive in their lives. But talent like Sobers, stands out!

  • POSTED BY Venkatesh Venkatesh on | April 28, 2016, 6:52 GMT

    Excellent article on cricket genius cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers can we get another cricketer like him sooner or latter is trillion dollar question . Believe me it was shear joy to watch what ever he do on field it was something like our MIT students of Boston do . I still remember how West Indies in both the series humbled England with great ease with bit of hic ups and how they over came it . Of course in 1963 the West Indies team led by great Sir Frank Worrall and in 1966 it was Sobers himself .I but slightly differ one point on your article about intelligence every body has got one but how we use it is most important and how opportunities comes also equally important . It is time say good bye to asses the people on colour of the skin and join hands with every body to make world happier and definitely cricket lovely cricket thought me by looking at our Sir Garry how single handily he turned certain defeat into victory for his team

  • POSTED BY Yenjie on | April 28, 2016, 3:10 GMT

    Wow, Joey Carew & Joe Solomon! @guppys_Classmate, you are so right. In fact I would count almost 4 generations of incredible excellence - Constantine and Headley pre-WWII, followed by Worrell and Sobers in the 60s, Lloyd's entire unforgettable team of the 70s and 80s and then Lara, Ambrose, Walsh, Chanderpaul in the 90s and 00s. 50+ years of cricketers who would walk into any Test team in the world. I would go all in with Lloyd's team between 1975 and 1985 in a poker game of greatest most dominant dynasty ever in ANY sport globally, and feel like I had pocket aces. That was a team!

  • POSTED BY Bish on | April 28, 2016, 2:26 GMT

    The team in the picture is Back: Joe Solomon, Lance Gibbs, Joey Carew,Charlie Griffith,Dereck Murray, Basil Butcher Front: Rohan Kanhai,Conrad Hunte ,Frank Worell ,Garry Sobers, Wes hall

  • POSTED BY Bish on | April 28, 2016, 2:18 GMT

    The team in the picture is Back: Joe Solomon, Lance Gibbs, Joey Carew,Charlie Griffith,Dereck Murray, Basil Butcher Front: Rohan Kanhai,Conrad Hunte ,Frank Worell ,Garry Sobers, Wes hall

  • POSTED BY pervez on | April 27, 2016, 22:37 GMT

    I think it was Cardus who once said of Worrell - his innings had no sunrise or sunset; it was all high noon. The same could be said of a Sobers innings !

  • POSTED BY Moe on | April 27, 2016, 21:18 GMT

    I want to read about Chris Gayle's blushgate and this grotesque sexual appetite thing you talk about. I think the less intelligent and Mark Nicholas's "lack of brains" aspect has been sorted out. Even the CPL turns Danny Morrison into a grotesque sexual cookie monster. Also, I can't believe there are no cheerleaders in the BBL and the English T20 game.

  • POSTED BY manoj on | April 27, 2016, 19:14 GMT

    This team was just phenomenal, but to think such a team was succeeded by an equally or maybe even better team is just staggering. Australia of the late 90's and 2000's were excellent, but it was built around a single generation of great players. But West Indies seemed to have two distinct generations of phenomenal teams.

  • POSTED BY Yenjie on | April 27, 2016, 17:45 GMT

    What a photograph! Let me see how many I can name -

    Sitting (L-R): Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Frank Worrell, Garfield Sobers, Wesley Hall Standing (L-R): ___________, Lance Gibbs, _________, Charlie Griffith, Derrick Murray, Everton Weekes.

  • POSTED BY Steve on | April 27, 2016, 16:21 GMT

    Great people like Sobers transcend race or color. It's a pity he isn't involved closely with WICB efforts to put the WI cricket back on track.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | April 18, 2016, 8:34 GMT

    In the 1976 Wisden trophy in England and 1979-80 Frank Worrell trophy in Australia West Indian cricket radiated spirit of vengeance to it's highest depth in sport as though they were an army of the afro-american race.The pace bowling battery resembled a set of bomber planes launching a raid on an enemy base while the batsmen looked like an army batallion launching a dazzling counter attack on the enemy.The Calypsos looked as though they went out there to avenge their domination by the white race.Without doubt they won dignity and pride for their race and respect from the white people .I can never forget the exuberance of joy expressed by West Indian cricket fans at the fall of an opposing team's wicket in England.

  • POSTED BY Harsh on | April 17, 2016, 18:43 GMT

    Gary Sobers no doubt took cricketing genius to it's highest zenith in every department and defined cricket more than any player in the last century.It was an exhilirating sight witnessing the afro-american race win it's dignity on the cricket field as though they were marching to a battlefield.Cricket to them was a means of expressing themselves just like a poet,painter or musician.Witnessing West Indies achieving their pinnacle of glory was one of sport's most memorable moments .

    There was a contrast between Frank Worrell's team of 1963 to Clive Lloyd's of the 1980's .Lloyd's world beaters looked more professional and agressive,set to win at all costs.Worrel's unit inspired by his leadership displayed greater sportsmanship or spirit of the game,although as talented. as Lloyd's team.Although Clive Lloyd's team ruled the world more than any team ever to me it was Worrel's team in 1960-61 in Australia that won more dignity and pride for the afro-american race.