Barbados promises a hectic carnival jump-up this weekend in celebration of Sir Gary Sobers’s 70th birthday. I trust the island takes it easy on the literal backslapping of their favourite son. When the Queen knighted him at Bridgetown racecourse that heady day in 1975, the jubilations became too hearty even for the convivial new knight himself, so with the fireworks popping and the calypsos hammering on, the good fellow himself had to steal away unnoticed and duck for sanctuary into a dingy sidestreet bar. Outside, the celebrating son et lumière still raged but inside, nursing a beer, was just one Brit codger, alone on his winter break. Adjusting his eyes to the light, Gary recognised him. It was gnarled old trouper and English county umpire Tom Spencer. Oblivious of both the day and the din outside, matter-of-fact Tom greeted the cricketer, ‘’Ello, Gary lad, what are you doin’ w’ y’self these days?’
Sir Gary will chuckle as he remembers that this weekend. Of course, there are anniversaries wherever you care to look, aren’t there? For instance, Sobers’s three-score and 10 yesterday means he was just two days past his bonny 30th when England’s footballers won their only World Cup final, at Wembley. From sublime to whimsical as well, because cricket’s current Test match at Old Trafford marks the 40th anniversary of the very first entry in BBC Radio’s scorebook at the 1966 Manchester Test by ‘bearded wonder’ boffin Bill Frindall — when he inked into the legend in his (still) peerlessly legible hand: ‘McMorris c Russell b Higgs 11 (as it happens, it was to be all of 24 hours later until he could log ‘Sobers c Cowdrey b Titmus 161’).
Come to think of it, how many of the throng at Old Trafford this weekend were also there half a century ago in 1956 when upright, studious and scrupulous spin bowler, nice Jim Laker, took nine Australian first innings wickets (30 July) and then, outrageously, all 10 in the second (31 July) while his fuming compatriot at the other end, the indignantly combative and livid Tony Lock, took just a single one? Not too many, I fancy. To this day, disgruntled Aussie ancients swear England doctored the pitch for spin on the orders of MCC bigwig Gubby Allen, although, compared with Laker’s 19 for 90 the two greencaps, Johnson and Benaud, scraped just six wickets for all of 274 when England batted. For certain, anyway, is that any in today’s crowd would have been in short trousers if they boast being witness to another all-time Test record 70 midsummers ago. ‘588: Most Runs in a Single Day’s Play’ would have headlined every newspaper backpage in the Empire on the very day Sir Gary was born in Barbados. Old Trafford, 27 July 1936: England 398 for six (Hammond 167, Hardstaff 94, Worthington 87, Gimblett 9, Fishlock 6, etc.), India 190 for 0 (an unbroken opening stand by their champions Merchant and Mushtaq Ali). For all today’s big talk, big egos, big bats, and baloney ballyhoo from coaches, it is a record (like Laker’s) which remains gleamingly unsurpassed.
So does, this doodle reminds itself, another imperishable cricketing first-and-last, set 60 years ago this very day. On 29 July 1946 the youngest player ever to appear in a match at Lord’s, an unboxed 13-year-old, scored 75 of Tonbridge’s all-out 156 against Clifton, then took eight wickets with his leg breaks to win the match. A sprog by the name of Colin Cowdrey.