Tag Archives: Gary Sobers

Is it so tough at the top?

One of Third Man’s abiding cricketing memories is of David Shepherd, not standing on one leg in umpire’s panama and coat, but with both legs rather unsteadily searching for balance on a five star hotel’s plush carpets, his face as red as the Devonian soil from which he grew, holding a champagne bottle in each oversized hand, pronouncing to anyone one who was willing (and to the many more who were unwilling) to listen that, “It’s tough at the top”.

‘Shep’ at that moment had been ‘at the top’ for precisely four hours.  The scene was Gloucester’s Nat West Final celebrations in 1973, a few hundred yards from the scene of their triumph on a flat Lord’s deck that had drawn the sting from the Sussex attack. 

Cinderella had indeed gone to the ball.  On a nearby sofa sat three cricketing legends.  Between Garfield, St Aubren, Sobers and Frederick, Seewards, Trueman slouched the twenty year old James Clive Foat .  The three were swapping stories from their extraordinary cricketing careers, as mates do at such moments.

TM was recently twice reminded of this vision of impermanence: first, when visiting Old Trafford. The Squire had been invited to inspect the latest phase of the redevelopment scheme that to His satisfaction is placing giant children’s coloured building blocks around the boundary edge. “Quite visible from outer space, Cumbes assures me.”

Inside the Lancashire CCC Indoor School young Peter Moores has stuck up various mission statements and motivational homilies from the likes of General Patton and other celebrated management gurus. (No wonder Kevin, Power-from-within, Pietersen and Moores did not quite see eye to eye.) 

“What is that all about TM? In our days only amateurs bothered to read and there are no amateurs today,” volunteered the Squire.

One vinyl-coated missive read: “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.  The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”

So once wrote T. Alan Armstrong,

“Well he got that one ar*e about face didn’t he – like his parents with his names.”

The Squire was referring to the fact that the victorious performance is merely the prelude to events in which the status as champions is put to the test.

World Champions, England, have lost four Test matches on the bounce.  In each of which their batting has failed the True Champion’s Test,

“TM, as that keen exponent of the 2nd Law of Thermo Dynamics, the Dowager Duchess herself was fond of reminding us, ‘A plastic coat does not permanence make’.”

“Perhaps Your Grace should send Mr Flower your celebrated essay, ‘On Shot Selection’?”

“Have it coated in vinyl immediately and require Hague to dispatch it in the next bag to our Man in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.”

In a world where we are forced to conform to society, it is necessary to have personal chaos – T Alan Armstrong.

“Bring it on.”

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Virender Sehwag – Rara Avis

Those for whom the bleep test is an approaching nightmare, the yoyo a yearning easily ignored, the skin-fold measuring device as welcome as a dentist’s drill, the press conference a void to be avoided and foot movement a distraction from the job of laying bat on ball, Virenda Sehwag is an idol.

Well, he may not be as fond of full-fat ice cream as Samit Patel, but he looks as if he enjoys food, doesn’t enjoy exercise and could be a computer salesman off the cricket pitch with short sleeve shirt and chinos rather than one of the world’s most exceptional batsmen.

But mark well, there is a great deal of technical skill and discipline on show when Sehwag bats.

In a game that takes place in the four dimensions of in/out, up/down, here/there and time, the odds are far better if the batsman uses either a perfectly perpendicular or a perfectly horizontal bat – anything in between increases the difficulties of meeting the ball at the batsman’s choice of contact point. 

In fact, it is more important that you hold to the straight and the horizontal than that you use the full face of the bat. 

Sobers and Lara both had the knack of applying the same swing but varying the amount of the face that was applied to the ball.  They could ‘slice’ and intentionally reach the straightest or finest of third man and fine leg boundaries.

Ditto Virender.

This special technique can only be built upon a spectacular pair of eyes but when these rare things come together you have master batsmen who can drive a ball in an arc of over 270 degrees, all along the ground, over the in-field or across the rope, whichever they choose.

This gives them so many relatively safe scoring directions from an identical ball that they pierce the field at will.

The early Ben Hollioake looked to have the same skill, but cricket was robbed of the chance to see how he would use it.

The remarkable thing about Sehwag is that this precision eyesight normally decays with age requiring a mid career change of technique.  Even Sobers and Lara found it harder and harder as they grew older and made adaptions, but Virender treated the world to a superb display this week in his 219 in 149 balls with 25 fours and seven sixes at the age of 33.


The conditions and the opponents were ideal but it was still an awesome display.

While the new religionists in cricket put their novitiates through the Inquisition of their gruelling torture physical conditioning, making them more injury prone on the way, they must have to shield their eyes from the heresy Sehwag preaches. 

His creed is sacrilege and all the more full of heavenly wonder for that.

And his calling and running between the wickets? 

Well that is in the Compton class of absolute entertainment.


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First Up

Today is the first day of the first Test Match in the English season of 2010.  It should be one of the most exciting days of the year for cricket lovers, especially for young people for whom this day may become an abiding memory, a first.

That it is not the first of a five match series, that it is against an emerging Test playing country, that it comes when lovers of cricket may be dangerously divided by their reaction to and support for the very short and the long forms of the game, and that its reach and impact is much reduced because it is not being broadcast freely to all who may wish to view it may take the some of the shine off the day, but it should not.

Recalling the first day of a series is different from recalling your first Test Match glimpsed on a screen or your first visit to a Test match.  These will be deeply imprinted and have their own special qualities. 

But noticing the sudden hush in the hubbub as the crowd settles, feeling the freshness of morning air, watching that first ball, sensing the start of the fast bowler’s run, discerning the sometimes immediate impact of bowler’s boot on virgin Test turf, hearing the crack of bat on hard ball and joining in the spontaneous release in tension as anticipation transmutes into observance form lasting connections that become over time a broad well beaten pathway in the brain.

For those who were there or lucky enough to be able to view it, who can forget the first moments of the 2005 Lord’s Test against the Australians: Circus and Theatre, Bear Pit and Altar.

Third Man’s earliest memory of a first session of a first Test was the one played at Old Trafford in 1963 when Frank Worrell, having won the toss, chose to bat and Conrad Hunte took guard to Trueman.

Not so much hunting for runs as never rejecting any offered to him

Hope turned to disappointment, then, to inspiration and finally to awe as Trueman’s early dismissal of Carew brought Kanhai to the wicket to join Hunte:   Freedom and Responsibility (with not a sign of Fairness for the rest of the day).

Kanhai blazed with extraordinary intensity and virtuosity, showing the value of domination as he hooked often without attention to balance, cut with a flashing blade and drove as if at the last possible moment.  Hunte, disciplined as a Jesuit at a party, accepting and celebrating only what was proffered but refusing nothing, scored 104 carefree runs.

Between them they put on 151 with Kanhai making 90 of these before his wild and reckless running yet again ended their partnership.*

Rohan Kanhai - once seen, never forgotten.

But this was all part of the experience of cricketing abandon that we would come to know and treasure by the end of the series.  They left us in September yearning to see more.

Butcher joined Hunte and with the fall of his wicket there appeared the loose limbed Sobers like nothing other than the big cat on his sponsor’s bat coming to life before our eyes.   Soon after, bad light ended play with the West Indies on 244 for 3 and Hunte having just reached his century in four hours, forty minutes.

The next day, Hunte reached 182 out of 398 in eight hours, twenty minutes.  The West Indies declared at 501 for 6 and bowled England out twice before completing their victory before tea on the fourth day by making 1 run in their second innings, scored appropriately by Hunte.

The West Indies went on to win the series by three victories to one, but the home side’s defeat had been sealed in that first session on June 6th in Manchester.

As England begin their innings today the memory factory goes back to work.

*During the fourth Test in Adelaide against the Australians in the famous ‘60/’61 series, Kanhai was on his way to his second century of the match.  Hunte was on 79 when between overs they agreed that there was a run if the ball was pushed gently wide of mid-off.  Kanhai duly hit it strongly straight to mid-off and to Hunte’s surprise set off for the run.  Hunte responded and the throw missed the stumps to the relief of both batsmen.  Shortly after, Kanhai repeated the manoeuvre but this time mid-off’s throw hit and Hunte was run out. 

The selfless West Indian openner, a recent convert to Moral Rearmament, decide that before he left the wicket he would go down to console Zanhai.  In the emotional confusion that followed, Hunte made his way to the boundary and found himself amid the laughing crowd down by the ‘wicket fence’ far from the pavilion gate.]

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