Was Garfield Sobers a Centaur?

BY BEN

Recently the Sportress wrote an article on how great all-rounders, much like the mythical centaur, simply don’t exist. Placing the bar for a good test batsmen average at 40 and a good test bowler average at 30, stats show that no cricketer has ever cut the mustard as a legitimate all-rounder. This sparked some outrage with my dad, a huge Garfield Sobers fan.

Garfield Sobers had a test batting average of 57.78 (definitely no problem there) and a bowling average of 34.03 (the same as the great Nathan Hauritz…hmmm). So after much debate here is me and my dad putting forward 6 reasons for why Garfield Sobers should be considered a genuine centaur.

Is this man a Centaur? Note: This pic may not be real.
Is this man a Centaur? Note: This pic may not be real.

 1. My Dad says…

 We all know how this conversation goes with our elders in one form or another.

Me: But Dad 34.03 just isn’t that good a bowling average.

Dad: Listen son, if you’d actually been at the GABBA in 1964 when he took 3 for in the first session and bowled like a centaur you’d understand.

Checkmate. I plan on using these sorts of arguments when I’m old and have to explain to my son how Andy Bichel was the greatest Australian all-rounder of his generation.

2. Sobers started as a bowler

Sobers started his first class career for Barbados as a bowler. In 1953 at the age of 16 he made his debut against an Indian touring team. Batting at number nine he didn’t score much but had bowling figures of 4/50 and 3/92.

The next year he made his test debut earning his spot as a frontline bowler and performed well with 4/75 in his first innings. At the end of 1954 the West Indies’ opener was ruled out with injury on a tour in Australia. Sobers was promoted from number 8 to number 1 in the batting order. He started his innings with three consecutive fours off Keith Miller and followed that with three more fours off Miller’s next over. He got out for 43 but the West Indies were sure they’d found their mythical centaur who could bat and bowl.

And I don’t need to explain that Sobers was a great batsmen -I’ll let Richie Benaud’s reaction here speak for his skill. Oh ok, have a graph.

This graph demonstrates ALL THE RUNS!
This graph demonstrates ALL THE RUNS!

3. Played alongside great bowlers and bowled whatever style was needed.

Garfield Sobers played alongside the first wave of great and feared West Indian quick bowlers. These players included:

Wesley Hall – 192 wickets at 26.38 (1958-1969)

Charlie Griffith – 94 wickets at 28.54 (1960-1969)

Roy Gilchrist 57 – wickets at 26.68 (1957-1960).*

Sobers also played much of his career with a great spin bowler in Lance Gibbs (309 wickets at 29.09).

The ridiculousness of Sobers was that he change his style of bowling to fit in to the role the team needed from him. Sobers was most effective as a left arm quick bowler but was often used to bowl medium-pace seamers, orthodox spin and wrist spin depending on the conditions and game situation. It stands to reason that this would have led to Sobers bowling a lot of overs in tough game situations, while in ideal bowling conditions he would have had to wait his turn behind the great strike bowlers that the West Indies possessed at that time.

Not displayed: ability to bowl in every conceivable manner
Not displayed: ability to bowl in every conceivable manner

To put that into a modern Australian context, Sobers would have bowled a lot of overs on days 2 and 3 at the Adelaide Oval and MCG and would have had to wait his turn at the GABBA and WACA or on day 5 at the SCG. He would bowl a lot of overs when teams were scoring a lot of runs, preventing the front-line bowlers from being tired out. Sobers would be used as a frontline bowler and would quickly morph into whatever type of bowler the team needed at different points in the innings.

4. It’s exhausting scoring 365 not out

It’s interesting to look at the graph above and see how Sobers bowling average suffered as he established himself as an all time great batsmen between 1957 and 1961. In his world record innings of 365 he only bowled 20 overs in the whole match with figures of 0/54. But surely even a centaur would be tired after batting for 614 minutes**.

5. Sobers first class record

Sure sure. First class cricket isn’t test cricket, but Sobers first class record is pretty kick ass. Sobers took 1043 wickets at an average of 27.74. His first class career was mainly for Barbados, Nottinghamshire and South Australia so the numbers do reflect playing in different conditions. In his first season in the Sheffield Shield he was the leading run scorer and wicket taker for South Australia. In 1963-1964 he was the leading run scorer and wicket taker in the whole competition.

6. Great fielder

To be a true all-rounder you need to be a great fielder and Garfield Sobers was one of the most outstanding and versatile fielders of his time. He played in the slips, short leg, point, cover and in the outfield at different points in his career. He moved fast, had a great pair of catching hands and a powerful throwing arm.

6 good reasons! In fairness I think a lot of these reasons could also be applied to Jacques Kallis with a batting average of 55.37 and a bowling average of 32.65 (plus I’ve actually seen Kallis play). Dad explained to me that Kallis is very good, but if I had been at the GABBA in 1964 I would have seen what a real centaur looks like.

Can’t argue with that.

*On a side note this dude was awesome but had a short career because he kept overstepping the line by several metres and bowling beamers!

** Approximately 100 times the average Shane Watson innings.

2 comments

  1. Greatness also requires civility, or to be a gentleman who adorns the game as we used to say before Australia had the great female all-rounders it has today. Gentleman Richie Benaud’s applause in the video above gives a nice glimpse of how Garfield Sobers had that as well, in Richie’s judgment. Richie is a contender for Australia’s greatest all-rounder because his captaincy was the greatest Australia has seen, as is Adam Gilchrist (another player of great civility who did not pass the bowling average threshold set to be a Centaur).

    Udo

    Liked by 1 person

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