The game of cricket has seen many great players come and go ever since its inception.
The West Indies have produced numerous influential and legendary players who have left their mark on the game.
The West Indies have produced many great batsmen including Brian Lara, George Headley, Sir Vivian Richards, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Desmond Haynes and so on. In addition, it has produced great fast bowlers such as Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Wes Hall, the late Malcolm Marshall, Sir Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.
Yet, there is one player in particular that many from the cricketing fraternity regard as the greatest all-rounder and possibly, the greatest cricketer, ever.
The charismatic, flamboyant and skilful former West Indian all-rounder, Sir Garfield Sobers, born 28th July 1936 in Bridgetown, Barbados, is considered to be the greatest all-rounder to have ever played the game.
His record speaks for itself.
In terms of career aggregates, he is the second greatest all-rounder behind South African great, Jacques Kallis. With Sobers in a team, one would feel like that they are potentially playing with 12-13 players.
In order to understand Sobers greatness, one will need to dissect his career statistics and mention the amazing features he harnessed in his illustrious 20-year career.
He was the last West Indian all-rounder to be ranked no.1 in Tests until current West Indies captain, Jason Holder, became the no.1 all-rounder in Tests in the recent Test series against England.
A national hero back home in Barbados with the title of ‘Rare Excellent’, Sir Garfield Sobers’ Test match batting statistics read 93 Tests played, 8032 runs at an average of 57.78 with 26 tons and 30 half-centuries with a highest score of 365 not out against Pakistan.
His Test match bowling statistics read 235 wickets at an average of 34.04, with 6 five-wicket hauls including best bowling figures of 6/73 against Australia.
Sir Garfield is considered the greatest all-rounder to have ever played the game for many reasons. He had an amazing skill set. When Sobers, aged 17, made his debut for the West Indies against England, at first, he grabbed a spot in the team solely as a spin bowler.
However, with time, Sobers worked on his batting and acquired an amazing batting record.
Sobers further enhanced his skill set by becoming a potent new ball option and in addition, he became a magnificent fielder in every position, thus becoming the “five in one” cricketer that Sir Donald Bradman referred to him as. Sir Donald Bradman included Sobers in his all-time top XI.
Besides being an amazing batsman who possessed a flamboyance and elegance not many players could match, he could bowl all left-arm varieties of bowling from spin to fast-medium bowling.
That includes the left-arm wrist and orthodox. Sir Garfield was able to provide a new ball option, as he was able to bowl medium, medium-fast and fast-medium pace bowling.
He is also the only player along with Sir Donald Bradman to have received the accolade of Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World more than three times.
Sobers and along with the great Sir Donald Bradman and current Indian superstar, Virat Kohli, to have acquired a hat-trick of Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World titles.
Sobers acquired the hat-trick of titles from 1964-66. Sobers career was filled with accolades including the West Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year (1958–59), the Cricket Society Wetherall Award for the Leading All-Rounder in English First-Class Cricket (1970) and the Walter Lawrence Trophy (1974).
He was voted as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century in 2000, along with Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Vivian Richards and the greatest leg-spinner of all-time, Shane Warne.
He received a knighthood in the same year he retired, i.e., 1974, for his services to the game. In 2004, Sobers got a trophy named in his honour called the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy, which is awarded by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to the Player of the Year.
Averaging 30.54 in his first 15 tests with only one half-century to his name, Sobers had initially struggled to get going with the bat.
However, an innings of 365 not out against Pakistan in 1958 at Kingston, Jamaica, which was a 36-year world record, for the highest score in Tests helped Sobers increase his batting average by almost 15 runs.
The following Test led to Sobers reaching a career average of 50 for the first time in his career. From that moment onwards, his average never went below 50. Also, from 1959-74, his batting average always stayed above 56.
Along with the monumental 365 not out against Pakistan in 1958, Sobers had two other iconic moments.
One was easily his most iconic moment, in which Sobers while captaining Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan, became the first batsman in cricket first-class cricket to hit six consecutive sixes in an over.
The unlucky bowler was Malcolm Nash. His other iconic moment came against the Australians in a five-Test series for the Rest of the World in 1972.
During the third Test at the MCG, Sobers played what was later described by the great Sir Donald Bradman as “the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia”, Sobers scored 254 from 326 balls and in the six-hour batting masterclass, he hit two sixes and 33 fours.
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.
In addition, Sir Garfield Sobers has the second best second innings average in Test match history, with a cut-off of 2500 runs, after Jacques Kallis.
His second innings stats read, 67 innings, 2923 runs at an average of 55.15, with eight tons and 15 half-centuries to his name.
In addition, he had an eight-year peak period with ball in which he was one of the best bowlers in the world. During that period, only three bowlers took more than 100 wickets and averaged lower than Sobers’ bowling average of 27.93.
For an all-rounder to score 300 runs and take 20 wickets in a series is considered a major feat to accomplish. It has only been achieved 15 times throughout cricketing history and Sir Garfield Sobers is the only all-rounder in cricket history to have done that three times.
A legend like Imran Khan never achieved this miraculous feat and yet, Sobers achieved this feat three times.
He achieved the major feat twice against England, and once against India. In the 1966 five-test series against England, Sobers amassed 722 runs at a mind-boggling average of 103.14 with three tons.
He also picked up 20 wickets at an average of 27.25, and he took 10 catches, helping the West Indies win the series 3–1.
His overall captaincy record, however is a mixed bag. If you include the Rest of the World Series against Australia and England, Sobers captaincy record reads 49 matches, 15 wins 12 losses and 22 draws.
Despite the mixed bag of results in regards to his captaincy, Sobers still averaged nearly 59 in the 39 Tests he captained the West Indies. Only Sir Donald Bradman has a higher average as a captain.
It is safe to say that a player like Sobers comes once in a lifetime. He achieved so much and he is undoubtedly the most skilful as well as the most talented player to have ever played the gentleman’s game.
To master each cricketing discipline to the level that Sobers did is something that anyone would marvel at. In this author’s opinion, he easily the greatest all-rounder to have ever played the game.