As part of the Luke Wright benefit year a golf day and dinner was organised at East Sussex National last night. Luke Wright was not there, he was hitting the winning run off the last ball against Gloucestershire in the T 20 blast but the greatest cricketer of all time was.
With his crinkly silvery hair and smiling demeanour Sir Garfield St Aubyn Sobers rather reminded me of Nelson Mandela. At 79 he was still spritely and any feeling of loss that no Sussex player was present was out weighed by the privilege of hearing him reminisce on the and his game.
This started with his 6 sixes off Malcolm Nash whom he charitably called a decent bowler. He said he made both Nash and Glamorgan famous and Nash, who became a friend, would say ” You could never have done it without me “. I asked the Great Man about his 254 for the Rest of the World v Australia, regarded by no less a judge than Sir Don Bradman as the greatest ever played in Australia. The young Dennis Lillee on the harder Aussie tracks was already a devastating speedster. The slip cordon of the brothers Chappell was positioned not far away from the boundary but Sobers was in imperious form.
When asked to to name his greatest bowlers his choice of Gupta of India after Jim Laker may be surprising. He pointed out that leggie “Fergie” Gupta took 27 wickets on unhelpful pitches in the West Indies in 1952-53 against a side containing Weekes who averaged over 100 in the series, Worrell, Walcott and Stollmeyer. The records show his haul of 149 wickets from leg spin had only been bettered by Benaud and Grimmett. Later I asked him if that was the series when Contractor got hit on the head by Charlie Griffith. He pointed out that Contractor’s head was so low that he could have appealed for LBW.
There was no bitterness about the man, no resentment that some – most – all – now made more out of the game with lesser talent. The nearest he came to this was sadness that West Indies cricket had declined because of the inducements of the world twenty twenty but he was quick to add that such players come for poverty and it was only natural that they sought financial security for their family.
As we drove back to Hove with my collection of sporting memorabilia enhanced by a menu card signed by Muhammad Ali to celebrate Cooper ‘s 50th birthday on April 29th 1984 I said to a fellow Sussex supporter in the car we were indeed privileged to be there to meet and enjoy the Great Man .