Pele. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. Serena Williams. Usain Bolt.
Wait a minute, what about Sir Gary Sobers? Well, he will probably be the least globally recognised name among the list of all-time world superstars of African descent who can claim the marvellous distinction of being the greatest ever in their respective sports.
But, make no mistake. The West Indian luminary was no less a maestro at what he did, an absolute doyen of the cricketing world who is credited by numerous credible voices to be the finest player to ever play the game.
There is a simple factor to consider when one wonders why a man like Sir Gary won’t be spoken of in every country of the world in the same breath as the other sporting greats.
It is purely for the reason that for far too long the matrix of cricket has been one common historical legacy in certain regions of the world.
For instance, the name of a great tennis player of this era, somebody like Rafael Nadal, or a basketball equivalent of him, LeBron James, will be on the lips of people in almost every corner of the world even among sports lovers who hardly watch or understand the intricacies of the particular game.
Then you have some of the greatest cricketers of the era, men like Virat Kohli or Chris Gayle. superbly gifted athletes like anybody, but they are household names only in parts of the world that have a fair bit of knowledge in cricket.
It must change, it will change and thankfully it is changing at very good speed.
New cricket stars will emerge and they will be famous throughout the world. But it doesn’t mean that the likes of Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers, even as he turned 86 last July, will be forgotten.
A skilled bowler, aggressive batsman and an excellent fielder, he is widely considered to be cricket’s greatest ever all-rounder and one of the greatest cricketers of all time, if not the best.
Such an indelible legacy can never be erased, for it is a rarity that world cricket can produce a player who has the burden of doing everything on the field for his team, except wicket-keeping
Such an indelible legacy can never be erased, for it is a rarity that world cricket can produce a player who has the burden of doing everything on the field for his team, except wicket-keeping. And he still has it in him to record amazing career stats of 8,032 Test runs in 93 matches at an average of 57.78, scoring 26 centuries and taking 235 wickets.
To a lot of older cricket fans, Sobers’ incredible level of success was not surprising though, because when they watched the young 21-year-old from Barbados smash 365 not-out for the West Indies against Pakistan in Kingston in 1958 in a Test, they knew they could most likely see no other like him for a very long time, even a lifetime.
And there was also the other aspects of his game, an outstanding fielder and feared fast bowler.
Of course not feared off the field, as testified by fellow Barbadian-born Winston Weekes.
Naturalised Englishman Weekes, who has maintained a great affinity over the decades with Zimbabwe, where he played and coached at club level in the 1980s, has a passion for creating opportunities for others and bringing people together.
Acting as an agent and mentor, Weekes is best known in the African country for facilitating contracts for Zimbabwean players to spend some months playing league cricket across England’s club scene.
Earlier this year, Weekes helped strike deals for Zimbabwe men’s vice-captain Regis Chakabva and women’s captain Mary-Anne Musonda to be sponsored by Keeley Cricket, one of the best cricket bats manufacturers in the world.
The East Sussex-company is run by brothers Tim and Nick Keeley, both good friends of London-raised Weekes.
Ever the jolly good fella, Weekes recently had quite a surprise for the overjoyed brothers, lunch in London with Sir Gary Sobers.
Using his Barbadian and Caribbean links, Weekes managed to get the great man to spare some of his time, which the West Indies legend was only too happy to do.
And, of course, the more the merrier. In addition to Weekes and the Keeleys, three more friends tagged along to meet the ICC Hall of Famer, who played 94 Test matches for West Indies between 1954 and 1974.
“It was the best day ever,” Weekes told This Is Africa from London.
“The Keeley boys, who make the Keeley bats, wanted to meet him (Sobers). So I took all the boys out to go and meet him. They say it was the best day of their lives, to meet the cricketing legend, probably the best cricketer who ever lived. And, let me tell you, he’s a superb human being.”
“We had a great day in his hotel room, which is named after him. It’s near the Barbados embassy in London and the hotel named the room after him, the Sir Gary Sobers Room. It’s a beautiful suite, and then we went out for lunch, on the same street. We went to a beautiful Thai restaurant, had some food. And he’s so funny. If you met him you’ll understand what I mean. It’s like meeting Nelson Mandela, man! You know, the man is a legend. And he told us some great stories, you know. It was fantastic. So the Keeley boys were happy. They couldn’t believe I pulled it off. When I said I’m going to introduce you to Sir Gary, they were like ‘no way!’ I said ‘yes way! All Thursday you gonna spend the day with him!’ Unbelievable day for them.”
Sobers was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 for his services to cricket.