An island full of cricket history

A FEW days before the third Test began at Barbados, the entire island nation was excited because a statue of their favourite Bajan was going to be unveiled. The statue was of the one and only Sir Garfield Sobers and though there was rain just prior to unveiling, it did not deter the thousands who came to witness the historic occasion. Some in the crowd who had not brought their umbrellas used the plastic chairs turned over on their heads as a cover against the rain but just as rain stoppages never made a difference to Sir Garfield Sobers when he was playing, it did not dampen the enthusiasm of his admirers as they waited for it to pass.

The statue itself is a terrific one showing Sir Garfield Sobers as he was in his youth and the stroke is one he played so regularly and effortlessly-the drive through the off-side. The follow-through is shown in all its glory with the bat finishing well over the right shoulder. It's a statue that captures the essence of Sir Garfield Sobers as a batsman. But then Sobers was not only a batsman par excellence but a lethal quick bowler, who could swing the ball either way and when the ball got old he would bowl orthodox left-arm spin or 'chinaman'. And what about those astounding catches that he took. It was his outstanding skill in all the departments that made him the greatest cricketer ever in the history of the game.

Nobody before and definitely nobody after Sir Garfield Sobers has ever come close to his skills and more importantly deeds. So perhaps the Barbados government should look at other spots where they can install statues of Sir Garfield Sobers as a bowler and as a fielder.

Not many legends have the good fortune of seeing a statue of themselves during their lifetime for invariably these are erected only after the legend has gone to another world and this is indeed refreshing. As indeed the fact that the statue that was erected showed Sobers as he was in his youth and prime. Nobody wants to see a statue of a sportsperson when he is old, for sports is all about youth, vigour, energy, enthusiasm and zest. That's why it's hard to understand why portraits of sportspersons are commissioned when they are on the wrong side of 50. These hardly show those seeing the portraits years later as to how the sportspersons really looked in their heyday.

Just have a look at some of the portraits at the various grounds over the world and you will know what I mean. At the Long Room at Lord's there are portraits of some of the greatest cricketers in the world but all when they were fifty-plus and some much later. The most disappointing is that of Keith Miller. Now all those who follow the game of cricket know what a flamboyant, charismatic cricketer Miller was. The thick mane of hair, the lock falling on the forehead and flicked back with a toss of the head is cricketing folklore as also the manner in which he bowled some real lethal stuff and hit some huge sixes and always with the kind of style that made him not just a crowd puller, but also one who promoted cricket when it badly needed it after the second World War.

So should not later generations who did not have the benefit of videos of that era be shown through a portrait what it was about Keith Miller that made him so special. Instead what we get to see is a portrait of a man in a suit and looking nowhere near robust as he was during the time when he captured the imagination of the sporting public.

Barbados has produced so many world class cricketers that the Barbados Cricket Association now finds itself short of places to name after the greats. An all-time Barbados XI will be perfectly capable of taking on a World XI and beating them. Apart from Sir Garfield Sobers there are the other three cricketing knights, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Everton Weekes.

Then Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, now a senator in the Barbadian Parliament and still with a ready laugh and a new joke to tell. To use the new ball they have Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. So you see what a great all time World XI Barbados has. But it also means that there is not much space left at the stadium to name after these great players. Therefore the BCA had to name the bowling ends Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. Even they had to contend with public opinion and not rename the Kensington Stand which is famous in its own way for some of the 'characters' that it seats during the matches.

It's a harkback to the problems the Mumbai Cricket Association had to face when it decided to honour Sachin Tendulkar after he had become the first player to score 10,000 runs in one-day internationals. The MCA found to its embarrassment that there simply was no place left which could be named after him and had to make do with a small section which did not amuse the little champion though he, as is his wont, didn't make his view public.

Now the MCA is looking at building a new stadium in the suburbs of Mumbai ostensibly to name it after the little champion but don't be surprised if it's named after somebody else and Tendulkar only gets a stand named after him.

Frankly it is a waste of money and resources to go for another stadium when that money can be used for better cricketing things than a stadium.

And what about the liability of that big colour screen which is now lying unused and has taken up valuable spectator seats. Hopefully better sense will prevail and precious resources used for Mumbai's cricket rather than another concrete structure which will have a Test or a one-day international just once every year.

West Indies cricket may well have begun the comeback trail at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, which has not only been a lucky venue for the team but also has a wonderful cricketing tradition and history that is truly inspirational. India certainly has no happy memories of the Kensington Oval but it was wonderful to come to a place which genuinely honours and revers its cricketers, like no other country does.