Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sobers Part II

One of my friends has pointed out rightly that Wes Hall did not get to bat in the second innings of the Madras Test in 1967, while in the first innings he was out to Prasanna. I did my homework too and found out that Sobers was telling us a tall story. (I even checked the scorecards of the other two Tests of the series, but the facts did not match). I decided to keep the story anyway because it was such a delightful one, especially when Garry told it in his inimitable Barbadian singsong. I did not keep any notes so I lost out on some choice lines ten years down the line.

The ten or so of us who gathered at the MCC for cocktails that evening were there, thanks to SP Sathappan, Saucy to everyone (sitting next to Sobers in the photograph I have posted on FB), the club’s president who drew up the guest list. There were bigger names in Madras cricket, but we were the ones who got invited—my brother Sivaramakrishnan, TE Srinivasan, my tennis mate Bandhu Chandhok, and, among others, the unforgettable Mahidhar Reddy, the diehard Sobers fan who fell at his feet that night and wouldn’t let go of them for quite a while. I naturally did not mention that in my story, partly because it might draw attention to the quantum of Mahidhar’s lubrication, thinking he would be embarrassed by the story. Mahidhar was extremely offended that I ignored his part in the story and here goes: I have put the record straight once and for all.

Besides his infinite capacity for tall stories, we found another aspect of Sobers’s personality striking. He treated all of us as his equals, sharing his views on men and matters with utmost candour. He was, for instance, annoyed by the selective amnesia of a former Indian cricketer who not only was vague about his golf handicap (Why can’t he make up his mind, is it 18 or 12? It can’t be both), but also conveniently remembered an almost forgotten prior appointment and failed to return Sir Garry’s famous hospitality in the West Indies.

Sometime during the evening, Sobers waxed eloquent over the great bowling ability of Subhash Gupte whom he rated higher than Shane Warne as the best leg spinner of all time (I wonder if Sir Garry still holds the same view now that Warne has gone on to achieve greater heights in cricket). He then turned to me and asked me who I thought was the best orthodox leg spinner in India after Subhash Gupte. Was it Baloo Gupte, Subhash’s younger brother, he asked. I told him that many Indians agreed that Tamil Nadu’s VV Kumar was India's best leg spinner after Subhash Gupte. When he asked me why I thought so, I said that VV had this ability to make the ball hang in the air, had two different types of googly, and was the most economical wrist spinner I knew. Sobers nodded his head. He was in Chennai to assist Kumar at the MAC Spin Academy. “Yes, I can see what you mean. He still shows glimpses of those qualities when he has a bowl in the nets,” Sobers said, thoughtfully.

Besides being a great spin bowler, Kumar is quite a character, known for his unorthodox views. Rumour had it that far from endorsing the world’s most gifted all rounder’s views on spin bowling, he quietly advised his wards not to listen to the great man! And, according to my friend Vasudevan, who assisted him earlier, VV was the most improved bowler in the camp.

Reluctant to talk about his own cricket, Sobers revealed when pressed that no bowler troubled him, certainly no Indian bowler, not even Chandrasekhar. That is when he told us the story of how Sir Donald Bradman said, “Don’t worry Garry, you will sort him out,” pointing to Richie Benaud, when he thought Sobers was in a pensive mood. Sobers was puzzled and wondered what gave the Don the impression that he worried about Benaud’s bowling. His reply was the brilliant 132 in the Brisbane Test, which ended in a tie. Sobers also had a good laugh when reminded of his statement on the last morning of the Bombay Test in 1967 that he would finish the game in time to go to the Mahalaxmi races that afternoon. And he did, despite a rampaging Chandrasekhar who took all four West Indies wickets to fall.

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