Sir Garfield Sobers: The Baylands’ Favourite SonMartin Chandler |
Author: Sandiford, Keith
Publisher: JW McKenzie
Rating: 3.5 stars
As a collector of cricketing biographies and autobiographies I have, over the years, come to divide cricketers into three distinct categories. The first has only two men in it, Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. The second group used to comprise three names, Ian Botham, Geoffrey Boycott and Garry Sobers, with the final group being ‘everyone else’. The Don and Tendulkar are still in a category of their own, but over the years all of Botham, Boycott and Sobers have slipped and now stand just an acquisition or two away from relegation.
The completist in me drives me to aim to acquire ‘everything’ within my collecting parameters. It is an impossible dream of course, but then if it were possible to have a ‘complete’ collection all the pleasure of the chase would disappear. But it is necessary to be realistic, and no one could ever have enough space to store everything about Bradman or Tendulkar, so I have never even tried. As far as the other three are concerned I had the same philosophy for many years, but as time has passed and the publication of new books about the trio has reduced to a trickle the temptation to buy the occasional missing book and edge towards a full set has proved impossible to overcome.
Sobers was almost the most difficult to resist. My earliest sporting memories date back to 1966 when, of course, the England soccer team memorably won the World Cup. That summer the England cricket team, my other great childhood love, failed miserably to emulate their footballing colleagues, well beaten by the West Indies long before snatching a remarkable victory in the final Test. Well I say the West Indies. It would be more realistic to say they were beaten by Garry Sobers with a bit of help from ten other blokes. Statistical evidence might suggest otherwise, but I have never had any doubt but that Sobers is the greatest cricketer I have ever seen.
In the splendid essay that is the centrepiece of this book, the latest to be published by book dealer John McKenzie, Keith Sandiford doesn’t go any further than to suggest Sobers is merely one of the greatest cricketers of all time. In view of their shared background I was slightly surprised by that, but suspect that if he were being completely honest Keith would agree with me.
There have so far been three autobiographies published in Sobers’ name, and a decent biography has appeared from Trevor Bailey, as well as other books concerned primarily with the great man, not least a couple by Sandiford, but there is probably room for a ‘definitive’ biography as well. In the meantime this ‘appreciation’ is an excellent addition to the body of writing that already exists on Sobers. It is an intensely personal account from a man who, having been at primary school with his subject in the 1940s, has been able to call him a friend for more than seventy years.
Sandiford, who rose from the same humble beginnings as Sobers in the Baylands area of Barbados, also went on to enjoy a successful career, albeit in his case in the world of academia rather than sport. In Sir Garfield Sobers: The Baylands’ Favourite Son he introduces the entire Sobers family, his own parents and siblings as well, and in addition many other people who touched all their lives.
There follows a whistlestop tour through Sobers’ cricket career. There is no match by match analysis, something which has been done elsewhere, but there are valuable insights from a friend about a friend. One particular example concerns the famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, declaration at Port of Spain in 1968 that allowed Colin Cowdrey’s England a shot at what proved to be a fairly straightforward target. I was delighted to see that Sobers remains unrepentant about the declaration and his reasons for it, and that he remains adamant that he would do the same again. It is perhaps appropriate that as I began typing this review I had more than half an eye on Kusal Perera’s remarkable innings at Kingsmead – I hope that Sobers was watching, and have no doubt he would have approved.
The narrative content of Sir Garfield Sobers: The Baylands’ Favourite Son takes up 68 pages and the balance of the book consist of an innings by innings record of Sobers’ performances in First Class cricket. In a book that is not really about statistics I have to confess to not really being sure why that is there. I would have much preferred the space to have been taken up with some photographs of the members of the Baylands community who the reader meets in the opening pages, images of Baylands itself and perhaps the odd one or two of Sobers playing cricket. As it is there are only three illustrations, albeit they are an excellent choice. The front cover is adorned by a head and shoulders portrait of the young prodigy, and on the rear of the smiling octogenarian. Finally, facing the title page, is Sobers the cricketer in his pomp and his followthrough from one of those flashing square drives a photograph taken, I fancy, in that far off summer of ’66.
There are two ways of owning Sir Garfield Sobers: The Baylands’ Favourite Son, being firstly as a paperback at £15 or, for those who are that way inclined, as one of a numbered limited edition of 125 copies, cloth bound and signed by author and subject at £120. In either case the purchase is post free within the UK and orders can be placed by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org