The word ‘genius’ was mentioned ad nauseam at the Taj on Sunday evening. The chief guest of the evening — Sir Garfield Sobers, a cricketing genius, was at the venue to promote a film about a genius — Ramanujan.
It's a tie: Dilip Vengsarkar, Mumbai Cricket Association vice-president, presents Sir Garfield Sobers the MCA tie as fellow former Mumbai captains Ajit Wadekar (extreme right) and Madhav Apte look on. Erstwhile wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer is on the extreme left. Pic/Bipin Kokate
However, in the course of his on-stage conversation with Devika Bhise, the actress who plays the wife of Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel) in the to-be-released film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, the 79-year-old West Indies legend admitted that although he was a naturally gifted cricketer, he had to burn the midnight oil, as it were, to perfect his skills.
Those South Australia days
Not that he mentioned it on Sunday, but it is a fact that when Sobers played for South Australia from 1961 to 1964, he would sometimes take a nap on the masseur’s table in the dressing room and would be woken by South Australian cricket’s head honcho Sir Donald Bradman with the words, “South Australia are in trouble today, son. You will have to go out there and make a hundred”.
In his autobiography, Sobers revealed that each time Bradman woke him up, he would come back with a hundred against his name. If this is no work of a genius, nothing is.
“Ability and ability alone, doesn’t work. You have to work hard to make it work (although) you don’t have to work as hard as the other person, who doesn’t have the same natural ability,” he said to an audience which included India Test cricketers who he had played against like Madhav Apte, Nari Contractor, Farokh Engineer Kenia Jayantilal and of course his opposing captain in 1971 series, Ajit Wadekar. Engineer played against Sobers in county cricket as well.
They were all thrilled to see the greatest all-round cricketer again. Dilip Vengsarkar, former India captain and current vice-president of Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), presented Sobers the MCA tie and Sobers was told by Engineer that Mumbai is to Indian cricket what Barbados is to West Indies cricket.
In the course of his conversation with Devika Bhise, Sobers also revealed that his elder brother Gerry was a better batsman than him. “People still don’t believe it, but he was very good.
My brother Gerry was better than me
“As a matter of fact, Gerry was better than Seymour Nurse (former West Indies batsman). He and Seymour were at par but they (selectors) always gave him (Seymour) the nod. Gerry came in at the wrong time. I was very fortunate. I came in when it was a bit easier to get into the West Indies team,” said Sobers.
Can’t blame players for T20
Before the great Barbadian advised some members of Mumbai’s under-19 team while on the dinner table, Sobers put the Twenty20 monster in perspective on stage: “It is very difficult to criticise players who want to play the IPL (Indian Premier League) because most of them come from humble backgrounds. If they can get the opportunity to be better off, you can’t blame them. Players are retiring before their time because they want to play Twenty20 and I cannot blame them. But I believe there will come a time when a lot of players will recognise that Test cricket is the No 1 form of the game. Twenty20 is entertainment and that is all it is... entertainment!”
Never craved for records
Sobers ended his Test career in 1973-74 as the highest run-getter with 8032 runs. His unbeaten 365 against Pakistan in 1958 was the top individual score until fellow West Indian Brian Lara surpassed that magic figure at Antigua against England in 1994. He was emphatic in his reiteration that he never played for records: “Records to me, is not the way to go. When people set their stalls on breaking or setting records, to me, that is not part of the game. That is just trying to make yourself and forget your team.
“Throughout my career be it for West Indies, Barbados, Police, Nottinghamshire, South Australia... you will notice I always performed when the team was down – and not when it was up.”
Garfield Sobers during an event at Taj hotel, in Mumbai at Colaba. Pic/ Bipin Kokate
Golf, the greatest sport
Sobers surprised his audience when he rated golf as the No 1 sport. He was coaxed by teammate Sonny Ramadhin to try out golf when the historic 1960-61 tour of Australia was heading towards completion at Canberra. Here is his golf story:
“Sonny always used to ask me, ‘why don’t you come and play golf’ and I used to say, ‘that stupid game? You hit the ball and you lose it; you find it and hit it again’. Sonny persisted and on the last day of the tour in Canberra, he said to me, ‘I got you now because you are not playing’. I agreed and went along. I swung at this little ball and you wouldn’t believe it... I missed it. I said to myself, ‘you hit all these moving balls, but couldn’t hit a still ball?’ I tried again and missed. I had played all kinds of sports and I had never felt so belittled. Wes Hall came up and said, ‘give it to me, I will show you how to hit it’. Wes stood up and took about 10 pounds of turf off the ground and the ball was still there. (laughs).
“I started to play golf and found it a beautiful game. To me, it’s the best sport I have ever played. I have represented my country (Barbados) in table tennis, basketball, soccer, cricket and dominoes but I don’t think there is any sport better than golf. It is the only sport in the world that you can play by yourself. I just love it and I am sure a lot of people will agree with me. It brings out the character in you. When I’m home I play golf six days a week. It keeps me fit.”