Sobers Played his Last Innings with Brandy
by Sir Garfield Sobers

I HAVE always been a free spirit and maybe not always the conventional professional cricketer. I like to gamble, I certainly enjoy a drink and I never objected to a late night out and the company of a pretty woman. My philosophy was simple. As long as my social life did not interfere with or damage my cricket, I was doing nothing wrong and in many ways this spurred me on to even greater efforts, particularly the day after the night before! A classic example occurred in 1973, when I was coming to the end of my career and playing my last Test match in England, at Lord’s. It was the first day of the third and final Test in late August. We had piled on the runs, with Rohan Kanhai, also making his last appearance at headquarters, turning back the clock with an energetic 157. Roy Frederick had weighed in with 51 and Clive Lloyd 63.

The stage was set for me on the following day. I always loved playing at Lord’s and with us one up in the series and with runs on the board, I was very relaxed, so when Clive Lloyd suggested a night out, I was up for it. We visited some of his Guyanese friends in London for a meal and later I met up with an old friend, Reg Scarlett, just as I was leaving a nightclub and heading back to my hotel. The former Jamaica and West Indies off-spin bowler was living in London at the time. I was pleased to see him and abandoned the idea of returning to the hotel in favour of a drink with him. We ended the evening at a club, where we enjoyed the dancing and drinking, and, come 4am we politely offered to escort our dancing partners home before I returned to my hotel for a quick sleep.

We waited for the women to collect their coats, but they failed to turn up. I realised I had long gone past the need to sleep. “I have so much liquor in my head,” I said to Reg, “that if I go home to the hotel and go to bed, I’m not going to wake up.” He asked me what I wanted to do and I suggested that we go back to the Clarendon Court, where the team were staying, for a few more drinks and a little reminiscing about the good old days, and that’s exactly what we did. As morning dawned, I had a cold shower to wake me up and joined the rest of the team for the short journey to the ground. There was no chance of a rest in the massage room this time because I was 26 not out overnight, batting with Rohan, and due to take the first over against England’s quick opening bowler, Bob Willis. This was a vital day and I thought I should change my approach — I played forward and missed the first five balls and Willis was glaring at me down the pitch as though he could throttle me. I imagined I could hear the fellows up on the balcony laughing because they

knew that I had not been to bed and had a fair idea of exactly what was happening out there in the middle. The sixth ball hit the middle of the bat and I began to settle, but when I reached the 70s the alcohol started to work on me and I desperately wanted to go to the toilet. However, it was going so well and I did not want to break my concentration, so I decided to hold on.

When I reached 100, I gave up and told the umpire, Charlie Elliot, that I had to leave the wicket. He asked me what for because he hadn’t seen anything go wrong for me while I scored my century. I explained that I had been in agony for 25 minutes. I couldn’t hold on any longer and if he didn’t let me go there would be a nasty accident. He said: “Go,” but I was already on my way. “I don’t care what you say, I’m gone anyway,” I shouted back. When I reached the dressing-room, Rohan Kanhai, who was captain of the side, was waiting. “Captain,” he said — he still called me that out of habit — “what’s wrong with you?” “Skipper,” I replied, “boy, my stomach is giving me hell. The only thing that’ll help me now is a port and brandy mixed.” He called for the drink and I swallowed it quickly. He took one look at me and shouted: “Bring the captain another brandy and port — but make it a big one this time.” I liked the idea. “No problem,” I said and drank that down as well. Suddenly my stomach felt good and I didn’t even need to find the toilet. By this time, Bernard Julien and Keith Boyce were batting and when Boycey was caught by Dennis Amiss off Tony Greig, I went back out. I am told that John Arlott, who was commentating at the time, observed: “West Indies 373 for six — and Sobers still to come.” Thanks to the medicine, I went on to score another 50 not out. Bernard Julien and I added 155 in less than two hours before Rohan declared the innings closed at 652 for eight. That was my last innings in England. It was a memorable match for me at the age of 37. The Lord’s crowd gave me several great ovations as I trotted backwards and forwards to the wicket over those two days. I read afterwards that I showed great maturity in playing myself in steadily before proceeding with grace and power. Little did they know!

[Editor's Note: Taken from Garry Sobers: My Autobiography by Garry Sobers, published on May 20 in hardback at £18.99 by Headline Book Publishing.]

© 2001