Garfield Sobers is one of the great players in the history of cricket. An all rounder, Sobers was an able batsman, bowler, and fielder who could adapt his style of play to any circumstance. Sobers was the lynch-pin of the West Indies international teams from 1952 to 1974.
As a batsman, Sobers was renowned as an aggressive player who was not afraid to play an attacking game. In cricket, batsman are usually classified as those that produce runs and those that bat defensively, working to protect the wicket while their batting partner produces runs. Sobers often positioned himself at the very edge of the batsman's crease when awaiting the ball, standing as close to the bowler as is legally permitted. Sobers batting technique was so well developed that the shortened distance between himself and a very fast bowler did not impair his ability to stroke a fast bowled ball.
A common tactic in cricket bowling is to begin a match with the team's fast bowlers, (the pace bowlers) and follow their speed with the changes of paces and unpredictable ball movement that is in the arsenal of the spin bowlers. Sobers was the rare cricket batsman who could hit fast bowling and spin bowling with equal ability.
Sobers prowess as a batsman is reflected in the cricket record books. In 1960 versus Pakistan, Sobers scored a record 365 runs not out (meaning that Sobers was not out when the last run of the game had been scored). This record was not broken for 24 years. Sobers was known primarily as a powerful batsman, with the dexterity generated by supple wrists to use a flick type stroke to control the direction in which the ball was hit with considerable precision.
In cricket, each batsman faces a bowler for the segment of the match known as an over, an interval in which six balls are bowled at the same wicket, after which the bowler delivers the balls at the opposite wicket to the other batsman. Sobers was the first man to hit all six balls in an over beyond the boundary of the playing field, scoring six for each ball, the maximum score available in a single hit.
Sobers was also regarded as one of the finest athletes ever to play cricket, possessed of excellent reflexes and speed in the field when ever he was called upon to make a play on a batted ball.
Sobers reputation was strongest as a batsman, but he also had a significant reputation as a bowler. Sobers, who was left handed, was generally regarded as a medium to fast bowler, with mastery over a number of different deliveries. Sobers best type of ball was the bowling referred to as a 'chinaman,' a variation of the googly. The googly is a deceptive ball, as opposed to one that is intended to overpower a batsman. It is thrown by a right handed bowler in a manner that upon striking the pitch, the ball appears as if it will make a leg break (a break in the direction away from a right handed batsman); the googly instead breaks in towards the body of the batsman (an off break).
A chinaman (the term is a reference to the first player ever to thrown this type of ball) is the same type of ball as a googly, except it is thrown by a left handed bowler. The ball is thrown with the fingers of the bowler placed across the single seam of a cricket ball to impart the desired spin. The chinaman is thrown with a medium velocity (approximately 70 mph (110 km/h), in contrast to the fast bowling speeds of over 100 mph (160 km/h). It is similar in its movement to that of a screw ball in baseball.
Sobers, as an all rounder, made contributions to his teams in every respect. While playing for South Australia as a professional, Sobers once batted over 1000 runs and took 50 wickets as a bowler in two seasons, a double that has never been achieved on one occasion by any other player in the elite Australian league. He was the captain of the West Indies cricket sides for 16 years during his career. He was a cricketer who seemed to inspire awe tinged with immense respect, as Sobers was regarded as a consummate sportsman. On number of occasions during his career, Sobers called himself out on a play where the umpire had not made such a signal, as Sobers knew that he had made a play that the umpire could not have observed.
Sobers status in the cricket world was the basis for his knighthood by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. Sobers was declared a National Hero by the country of Barbados in 1998.