Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book review: "Cricket Crusader", by Gary Sobers

For some reason, I really enjoy reading cricketers' autobiographies.  Biographies are good too, but when it's in the cricketer's own voice, it's special.  I have previously written a blog post about some biographies and autobiographies, and also reviewed several of them.

Just finished reading an autobiography of one of the very greatest cricketers of all time -- "Cricket Crusader", by Gary Sobers -- and it was a fun, educational read.  Sobers wrote this book around 1965 while he was still playing, at the peak of his career.  He played Tests till 1974, so the book doesn't cover his complete Test career of course.  But it gives great glimpses into his early years, the development of his cricket, his attitude towards the game, etc.

Sobers writes in an interesting, unusual style, mostly in first-person present tense.  And the language is lyrical, very evocative of the Caribbean.  It also appears quaint and old-fashioned at times!  This book is not a manual on how to play cricket, Sobers-style.  That's because he had already written another book in that genre -- "Cricket, Advance!".  This is a narrative, story-telling type of book.  Sobers doesn't fill it up with scores and statistics and dry recounting of events as they happened on cricketing fields.  In fact he consciously chooses not to supply exact scores and bowling analyses, saying that there are other sources for that kind of data.  He focuses instead on the thinking that goes into the game, his own as well as that of his peers.

The book is organized pretty much chronologically, starting with his days as a small kid playing "Lilliput cricket" in Barbados.  He describes how they play on any bare patch of ground, with knitted balls rolled in tar, on a 10 yard pitch, against underarm bowling.  The batsman actually bats on one knee, with one foot firmly anchored (else he could be out stumped)!  So he ends up playing lots of horizontal-bat shots, generating power using the wrists, arms and shoulders.  It's interesting to see how this influences their batting techniques when they graduate to 'proper ' cricket.  Sobers makes the point that, because it's a soft ball, you learn to play the ball from an early age without the fear of being hit.  Later in the book, he describes getting hit by a hard cricket ball for the first time, and how it changes him from a boy to a man.

The book goes over his graduation from local cricket in Barbados to the Test team, then going on various tours etc.  There is of course plenty of space devoted to his memorable moments in Tests, such as the record-breaking 365*, the tied Test in Australia, etc.  But equally, he tells stories from his days as a professional cricketer in England and Australia.  He talks about playing in the Sheffield Shield for South Australia, how they sponsored his knee operation, etc.  He is clearly deeply influenced by his time playing in the English cricket leagues (for clubs like Radcliffe and Norton).  He gives voice to the professional vs. amateur debate of that time, talking about the time when he and Wes Hall were debating whether to play for the West Indies (for a pittance), or play professional cricket in England or Australia.

Sobers uses the term 'world cricketer' a lot, to mean someone who has reached the 'world class' standard.  How he aspired to be one, how he learnt from his seniors in the West Indies team, etc.  How he doesn't "take his cricket to bed" at night...  He talks a lot about his captain Frank Worrell, the art of captaincy and man management, etc. There is an entire chapter devoted to his close friend and fellow Test star Collie Smith, the car accident that cost Smith his life (Sobers was the one driving!), and how the incident changed him.  He lovingly describes the pleasures (and the travails) of touring, especially in England with the unpredictable weather.  Some of it really seems quaint -- stories of daily exercise routines to keep fit, while on board a ship to Australia for example!

The book is interspersed with several nice photographs, not just from Test match action but also from the English leagues, tour games, etc. -- and a collection of statistics at the end which again features scores from league cricket.  Gives you a good historical perspective, in these days of jet-setting cricketers and IPL and Big Bash and...

Sobers wrote another autobiography much later in life... Now I can't wait to get my hands on that one!