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An enchanting life

Garry Sobers' autobiography is a lesson in self-effacing humility and honesty to all the big men who write their stories.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2003 09:19 IST

Garry Sobers
An Autobiography

Garry Sobers
Headlines Publishing
2002
Sports/ Biography
Rs 225
Paperback

Cricket literature is rich and varied and has been embellished by some immortal writers,more popular than even Nobel Prize winners. So it is a Herculean task for a cricketer to make a mark in the genre with his autobiography. Garry (sometimes spelt with a single ‘R’) Sobers however achieves this with a belated autobiography ghosted for him by sports writer Bob Harris.

This autobiography published last year achieves the impossible, not by literary gravitas alone, but by a self-effacing humility and honesty that is a lesson to all the big men who set out to write their stories. Sobers is a giant in his field and one would have expected a testosterone-charged hyperbole to drive the narrative. There is no chest-thumping, no pointing to himself as a example for all generation of cricketers to come, there is no running down other players.

The autobiography is an enchanting first person of the greatest era of cricket when they balled real fast and there were no helmets but depended on grace, skill and a bit of divine intervention to reach glorious, immortal centuries and above all took cricket to gladiatorial heights.

West Indian cricket itself is the stuff of great literature. Two great writers, CLR James and Michael Manley, who was also Prime Minister of Jamaica, have drawn for us elaborate histories of how black cricket was a symbol of native aspirations and how it liberated the islands from the yokes of the past. Sobers is no social historian nor does he link his story to larger social and political upheavals of the islands. Yet his autobiography, coming three decades after he retired, has, by its detachment and regal restraint and above all the real truth, dovetails itself into the larger history written so well by the other two.

The 50s, 60s and 70s were the golden era of West Indian cricket. And to read about itwhen the Caribbean cricket is on the decline is all the more enticing.

Bob Harris has done well not to make it a sequential narrative,especially asthe book is a follow-up of many great books on the period written earlier. But everywhere, from the time Sobers took to playing cricket in the beach and in the streets near his house (though his father did not want him to be out on the streets. Fortunately he was a sailor and out of home most of the time) and perfected the art along with his brother, it was as if he was god’s own chosen one.

There was physical evidence of that as well, Sobers had twelve fingers, one of which was removed and the other which fell off on its own. But god’s grace did not fall off Sobers and from the streets to the large grounds around the world, Sobers played with rare abandon and chutzpah.

One of the more entertaining chapters is the one in which Sobers describes his six sixers off Malcolm Nash and the chapter on his 365. Incidentally Nash, made a living out of the worst over ever bowled in first class cricket. After he was hit for six sixers, (Sobers duly praises Ravi Shastri’s similar effort) Nash became a regular speaker at cricket and after-dinner functions and made himself into a minor celebrity, while Sobers himself did not get anything apart from of course the larger glory! A clear case of the victim getting the better of the oppressor!

Sober's close friend and Test player Collie Smith died in an accident in a car, which Sobers was driving. It left a deep impact on the Sobers mind and a sense of guilt, which he still hasn’t got over. It is a pain that Sobers keeps talking about in a book and it seems that his great innings were all an effort to say sorry to Smith.

Rich in anecdotes and weak in self-embellishment, the book promises to be a lesson that every cricketer and fan must read.