Not many would deny the fact that Sir Garfield Sobers is one of the finest all-rounders cricket has ever produced. A gifted cricketer, who could bat left-handed proficiently, bowl left-arm chinaman, left-arm orthodox and left-arm medium pace. Sobers could have easily made it to any side solely on his bowling leave aside his batting average of 57.
Sobers made it to the national side as a 17-year-old riding on his exploits with the ball. And over the years he kept sparking his brilliance with the bat. Prior to the start of Test series between West Indies and Pakistan in 1957-58, Sobers has had played 14 Tests, with 672 runs to his name at a modest average of 30.54. He was yet to score a Test ton with his highest Test score being 66 against England at Lord’s.
The first Test at Bridgetown was all about Hanif Mohammad’s brilliance, where he batted for 970 minutes for his 337 to deny West Indies a win. Sobers got a half-century here after which, he garnered scores of 52 and 80 at Port-of-Spain as West Indies went 1-0 up in the Tests series.
A maiden Test ton is always special for any cricketer, but when Sobers decided to get one, he ensured he made it big. In fact, making it big would be an understatement – he made a world record out of it. Not many would have thought that the third Test at Kingston was going to script history and create a world record, which will stand tall for the next 36 years.
Pakistan’s solid start
The Pakistan captain, Abdul Hafeez Kardar exhibited immense character as he was playing with a broken finger. He won the toss and opted to bat first. After a shaky start, losing Hanif Mohammad for 3, Imtiaz Ahmed weathered the early storm with immense confidence and was well supported by Saeed Ahmed at the other end. Ahmed was undone by Collie Smith for 52 while Ahmed continued his good run and gelled well with Wallis Mathias to stitch a 101-run stand between them.
At the end of day 1, Pakistan were well placed at 274 for the loss of four wickets. But, an early morning shower on day 2, provided some assistance for the seamers as Pakistan were decimated for 328 by Eric Atkinson and Tom Dewdney’s brilliant bowling. Atkinson claimed a five-wicket haul as Pakistan could only manage 54 runs.
The West Indies counter-attack
Luck didn’t favour the Pakistani side as their new ball bowler Mahmood Hussain had to walk back to the pavilion in his very first over due to a torn hamstring. They had a mountain to climb now and West Indies openers made it worse by coming out hard against the new ball.
Conrad Hunte looked in a different groove altogether and got his team to a good start. West Indies lost their first wicket at 87 in the form Rohan Kanhai on 25. Fazal Mahmood induced an outside edge, which was cupped safely by Imtiaz behind the stumps. At three, walked in Sir Garfield Sobers and cricket was all set to witness one of the best knocks ever played in the history.
Arrival of the storm
Sobers accompanied Hunte in the middle. At stumps on Day 2, West Indies were comfortably placed at 147 for 1 with Sobers on 20 and Hunte battling it out on 100.
On Day 3, Pakistan suffered another huge blow when Nasim-ul-Ghani suffered a mistimed injury and fractured his thumb. This left Pakistan with very few bowling options to choose from with their skipper already putting in the hard yards with a broken finger Sobers took charge and overshadowed Hunte at the other end.
Sobers made the most of this opportunity and so did Hunte. West Indies were well placed at 243 for 1 at Lunch, Hunte on 139* while Sobers racing on 76, his the then highest Test score. Sobers shifted gears brought up his maiden Test ton and slowly reached closer to Hunte’s total by Tea. He wasn’t done yet, his hunger didn’t get over with a ton, he looked hungry for more. At the end of second session, West Indies were standing tall at 400 for 1; Hunte on the brink of a double ton at 196 while Sobers on 170.
At stumps on day 3, both the batsmen crossed the 200-run mark and steered West Indies in a dominating position at 504 for 1, Hunte on 242 and Sobers on 228. They were just 34 runs away from shattering the then highest partnership record of 451 by Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford. Another 34 runs for scripting history but, it wasn’t to be.
The next morning, Hunte was run-out for 260 while West Indies being at 533 for 2. They accounted for 446 runs together and fell short of just five runs from shattering a world record. But that didn’t stop Sobers from inflicting more damage. The fall of Hunte meant the presence of Everton Weeks at the crease, who had the highest Test batting average at that time.
Weekes fell prey to Fazal Mahmood’s persistence after a well-played 35 after which, Clyde Walcott took guard. In the second session, Sobers achieved something very extraordinary, achieved his maiden Test triple ton and was the youngest to have done so. His record of scoring a triple ton at a tender age of 21 years and 216 days is yet to be breached.
At tea, West Indies were 730 for 3. Sobers continued his onslaught and went on to inscribe his name with gold by overhauling Sir Leonard Hutton’s record of 364 in Test. Walcott played a brisk knock at the other end as West Indies declared their innings for 790 for 3, with Sobers being unbeaten on 365 while Walcott unconquered on 89. Pakistan used as many as nine bowlers in this innings as they ran out of options and were helpless against the powerful West Indian line-up.
Pakistan were mentally battered and physically bruised; they had to overcome a huge mental barrier with the bat and save the Test, which looked improbable. After a rocky start, Wazir Mohammad and Abdul Kardar provided some resistance but the situation demanded a lot more than they could have afforded. Atkinson once again chipped in with the key wickets and had three to his name while Dewdney also accounted for a couple. With only nine batsmen being available to bat, Pakistan were dismantled for 288 and West Indies won by an innings and 14 runs.
Sobers was indubitably the star and constructed a record, which remained unsurpassed for 36 years. In 1994, West Indian southpaw Brian Lara overhauled it with his marathon innings of 400 not out.