In the hot, loud and extremely crowded ExCel London, one man was the epitome of calm, acting like he had seen it all before.
That’s because he had.
Sir Garfield Sobers, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time and without a doubt the best all-rounder to ever play the game, was at the crease for Barbados at the World Travel Market in London.
The event is a frantic trade show where countries all around the world try to sell the benefits of visiting their country. It’s impossible to think of a better candidate for the role than Sobers.
Despite the surroundings, he talked me through why he is always proud to represent Barbados, his views on the current state of cricket and how money has influenced more than just the players’ pockets.
A wonderful little island
Although the Barbadian legend has flown their flag for decades, he still feels the thrill of representing his country.
“It’s a great honour, great honour. This is not something that just happened yesterday. I’ve been doing this now for nearly 30, 40, 50 years and it’s a great honour to come to represent your country.
“Especially a place like Barbados which is a wonderful little island.”
Barbados is home to one of the most famous grounds in world cricket, The Kensington Oval, but despite its standing Sobers doesn’t think it always works in the West Indies’ favour.
“It’s a very good ground. There’s normally a very, very good wicket, a lot of people like playing in the Caribbean.
“Especially the English, the English always liked playing in Barbados. If it wasn’t going right anywhere else it used to go right there.”
The breakout star for England during this summer’s dismal Ashes was Barbadian born quick Jofra Archer.
The fast-bowler is reminiscent of the West Indies’ attacks of the 70s and 80s where pace, power and quite a few bouncers terrified opposition batsmen.
Sobers is a big fan and feels the West Indies’ selectors should be disappointed they didn’t call him before England did.
“I think Barbados must be grumbling now. They hadn’t really had a look at him or given him some opportunities. I think he’s a very, very, very good cricketer. I think he can bat too, that is the problem.
“I think a lot of people would like him in Barbados, I don’t know what happened or what happened before, because I believe that he was looking to come home to play.
“I’m not too interested in what happened. Whatever happened wasn’t good.”
A different era
Sobers scored 8032 runs in 93 test matches for the West Indies, including a score of 365 not out and an average of 57.8 runs per innings.
His bowling was also impressive, amassing 235 wickets whilst keeping his economy to an extraordinary 2.22 runs an over.
Despite the importance of one-day cricket in the sport today, one-day internationals were not a part of the game until the twilight of Sobers’ legendary career.
In fact, he only played in one, but feels the focus on test cricket gave him the opportunity to hone his all-round game.
“We were more fortunate because the Twenty20 and the cricket that they play now, probably if we had that in our day we probably wouldn’t reach the heights that we did.”
The 83-year-old does feel like the short-form games have changed the way current players play cricket.
“You had to learn how to develop your skills to become better. Today you only have to be able to go and hit a few balls around and you can get into a T20 team and you can make value of your money, which we never made as young people growing up, not even at test level.
“We could never make what they make today. The youngsters have got an opportunity to compete. It is two or three different types of games of cricket or one that they want to choose.
“Whether test level or whether they fit in T20, or they can play both. We never had that opportunity. It’s a different era today and a different kind of cricket.”
Money’s always the criteria
When pushed on whether different forms of cricket have affected the quality of the sport today, Sobers is less forthcoming but thinks the increased money in the game has changed players mentalities.
“I can’t really say that because I am not really in the know. To make a statement like that you’ve got to be among.
“I am not in that, but I believe that a lot of youngsters today probably have that ability that they can play at test level.
“Playing at T20 probably gives them more options of making money, and money’s always the criteria.”
Sobers grew up in humble conditions, with six siblings and without a father, who died when he was just five.
Cricket gave Sobers the opportunity for an education, but the motivation to succeed was less about the money and celebrity lifestyle and more about making the best out of the surroundings.
“It was the only thing that looked like something that you can really achieve something by listening as a youngster.”
The boon of commercialisation of cricket happened after he had retired and the sport for him was always about the game, not the distractions off it.
“I might achieve a lot and I put a lot into it. I played the game hard and fair and always looked forward to playing.
“My background was always entertain, look after my country, entertain those who come to watch.”
As Sobers puts it: “Cricket in those days was a kind of present.”
The Barbados cricket legends were at World Travel Market with Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., promoting travel to Barbados to enjoy its rich cricket heritage which includes the famous Kensington Oval which will host the West Indies vs England test match in January 2020 and ODI cricket in February 2020, the Cricket Legends of Barbados Museum and Sir Garfield Sobers’ International Schools Cricket Tournament in Barbados in July 2020.
For more information please visit: www.visitbarbados.org