A trip down memory lane with Sobers & Co
A huge West Indian fan and former commentator meets the greatest all-rounder in the world as well as Sir Everton Weekes and Sir Wes Hall
Caribbean cricketers have enchanted and enticed me from my childhood during my life-long romance with cricket. The first Test match I watched - in November of 1948 - at the Feroz Shah Kotla involved the West Indies, then led by John Goddard while India were captained by Lala Amarnath.
The batting prowess of Everton Weekes (779 runs in five Tests in 1948-49) and Clyde Walcott (452 runs in five Tests of the same series) left a lasting impression on the mind of a fledgling cricket fan. Destiny so destined that Frank Worrell and Sonny Ramadhin came to India next year with the Commonwealth team and the majestic batsmanship of Worrell and the spin craft of Ramadhin left an indelible imprint on my psyche.
During my recent Caribbean 'cruise' I was invited to commentate in Trinidad for Radio 360 on the two one-day internationals India and West Indies played on August 11 and 14. The thrill of being in the box again extended to a desire to meet the three legends of West Indies cricket on my next port of call – Barbados. It had been a while since I had met Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Wes Hall after having seen them in action during the West Indies tours of India, sharing the microphone with Sobers as a member of the WorldTel commentary team in 1994 and the friendly encounters with Hall when he managed the touring West Indies teams in 1983 and 1996.
It was heartening to find Weekes readily agreeing to meet me at his Christ Church residence while recuperating from a heart ailment. He was mentally alert, remembering how accomplished Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar were as batsmen; Dattu Phadkar, a good fast bowler and high-quality spinner Subhash Gupte.
My meeting with Sobers was scheduled at the Sandy Lane Golf Club in Bridgetown. He was comfortably seated on a sofa waiting, for my arrival and his sharp memory was commendable for a man who is 83 years of age.
He didn't appear too happy with the state of Caribbean cricket. "It was a pride to play for your country. Personal records did not matter to us. The team blazer and cap were so precious. Our players are now busy playing in professional leagues and not available for the West Indies team. Our cricket needs a total reorganisation," he remarked.
My query on the best spinner he ever faced evoked a quick response from the great man: "Gupte was a clever bowler who bowled three googlies to confuse batsmen with his guile. He turned the ball sharply from leg and deceived batsmen with flippers and googlies." Sobers also rated Australian mystery spinner Johnny Gleeson (whom he faced in the 1968-69 away series) as difficult to tackle. Gleeson kept his middle finger concealed to flip the ball at the time of delivery and Bishan Singh Bedi cropped up in our conversation for ringing Sobers to wish him on his July 28, 1936 birthday year after year.
Sobers opined that Dennis Lillee was the best fast bowler he faced and remembered the Western Australian for being "ferociously fast," his "surprise bouncer" and one who "attacked incessantly."
Sobers's Lillee-related utterances reminded one of the 1971-72 Rest of the World v Australia series Down Under where the pace ace had the measure of Sobers early in the series before the all-rounder coming good at Melbourne. At the historic MCG in the third Test of the series, Lillee's five for 48 included the wicket of Sobers for a duck. Then, Sobers sent back Lillee for zero (caught by Bedi) followed by an epic innings of 254. The feisty Australia returned figures of 3 for 133 and those three wickets did not include Sobers. Test cricket's greatest all-round player also had complimentary words for the efforts of Kapil Dev as well as current captain Virat Kohli.
Sobers has been busy playing, promoting and hosting an invitation golf tournament played on three golf courses- Sandy Lane, Royal Westmoreland and Barbados Golf Club. It was so satisfying to learn that an annual international schoolboys cricket tournament is being organised.
A warm handshake from the man who scored 8,032 runs, claimed 235 wickets, pouched 109 catches, slammed the one-time highest score record of 365 runs, bowled fast medium, spin (back of the hand chinaman) and fielded brilliantly at short leg in Test, was the best parting gift to me.
Hall insisted I meet him at his Cane Garden, St James residence. The pictures of 1960-61 Tied Test in Brisbane and his bowling action revived memories of the bygone days. He was happy to see the Indian team armed with so many good fast bowlers. While Jasprit Bumrah impressed him the most, he eulogised Kohli, both for his batting and aggressive captaincy. The dinner dished out by Hall was symbolic of our friendship across 50 years.
Meanwhile, Cricket West Indies (CWI) has done well to honour well-known commentator Joseph 'Reds' Perreira for his contribution to cricket coverage in the electronic and print media for 60 years.
Ricky Skerritt, President of Cricket West Indies, presented a memento to the iconic commentator during the lunch session of the second Test between India and West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston. While accepting his honour Reds was graceful to remember two deceased colleagues –Tony Cozier and Tony Becca.
Along with Cozier, Reds dominated the panorama of cricket commentary in the Caribbean. A voice, clear and loud has boomed through radios across the world through 450 international matches that included five cricket World Cups and Olympic Games.
Reds spent his formative years in the small, unknown and neglected Guyanese village of Pomeroon, located on the banks of Essequibo river.
His father was a farmer, who used to grow coffee and oranges and carried the produce along with timber and cargo to Barbados and Trinidad in a boat built by him. He spent his childhood fishing and sailing.
Reds conquered a stammering problem by rigorous deep breathing exercises (with apologies to speech therapists) and self-confidence. He started with imaginary commentary. So, out of the ashes emerged the phoenix now known as Reds Perreira.
He is now settled in St Lucia where he works for the Ministry of Tourism. The walking encyclopedia of sports is a philanthropist, establishing the Reds Perreira Sports Foundation in 2004.
It was yet another fascinating trip to my favourite region. And while boarding my flight to New York from Barbados's Grantley Adams airport, the famous lines of Harry Belafonte's famous song, the Jamaica Farewell rang loud in my ears, "Sad to say, I'm on my way; won't be back for many a day."
Prof Ravi Chaturvedi, 81, is a long-time WI cricket fan, who has done radio commentary in the Caribbean as well as India and Australia.
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