A THORNY ISSUE: Sir Garry, a national treasure
SIR GARFIELD SOBERS embodies the pride and industry we hold as our motto.
Nothing is too good for him, having climbed the summit of cricket excellence to become the greatest player of all time.
His 80th birthday party at Kensington Oval tomorrow is a fitting tribute to his achievements and more importantly the best way to show how much we care about him and how much we value his contribution as a symbol of what can be attained even against great odds.
As a nation, we have failed in other instances to show our deepest appreciation for our biggest achievers while they were alive. That gratitude was only forthcoming in eulogies.
Game’s best servant
I think it was cultural practitioner David “Prophet” Clarke who had a project many years ago called Honour Them Before They Die. It sought to reward the efforts of those unsung heroes who crafted their names on history’s page with excellent work but never got deserved recognition.
Sir Garry could have fallen into this category were it not for the social status that cricket commands as the king of local sports. He proved to be the game’s best servant at the highest level for over 20 years, with 86 of his 93 Tests played consecutively. For some of them he was not fully fit, but he put loyalty to country and to the region before health.
That’s why it was controversial when he was asked to prove his fitness before a home series against Australia in 1973.
In a nutshell, what Sir Garry achieved brought tremendous glory and prestige to Barbados and it would have been a cardinal sin for the state not to acknowledge him the way it has, including the highest accolade of National Hero. It is true that our cricket renown and legacy isn’t built around him alone but he’s the flag bearer without question and with it comes special benefits.
Coming from a working class background doesn’t often help your cause in a class0-conscious society but talent has to be tolerated even if not always celebrated with the magnitude it deserves. I believe that because of this factor, initially the red carpet wasn’t rolled out for the King of Cricket, who hailed from the Bayland.
Perhaps draughts icon Ronald “Suki” King hasn’t received full acceptance yet because of similar origins as the cricket legend, but his time may yet come. After all, we are speaking about a genius who was a world champion for over 20 years. Even now people refer to the fact of King having to wash cars to raise funds to travel to overseas tournaments.
Cricket and draughts are not equal on the same social platform but extraordinary performances in any field must be treated with a certain decorum. It takes us too long to remove the cobwebs of class prejudice from our eyes and that can influence decisions which can prevent people like King from getting their due.
It would have been remiss of the committee responsible for the 50th anniversary celebrations, if they didn’t pencil in tomorrow’s activities on Sir Garry’s latest milestone, and they should be congratulated for going that extra mile to make it extra-special for a true national and cricket royal.
Of course, we can choose to divert and speak also of the fantastic job he did as a national football goalkeeper and golfer, and the ultimate sports ambassador he still serves as on behalf of tourism.He has given a typical all-round performance for Barbados.
I often hear of stories how Sir Garry is revered in places like Australia and England not only because of his excellence in all aspects on the field, but his sportsmanship and humble demeanour also come in for the highest praise. A king, after all, has to set the standards for members of his court to follow.
Therefore, if outsiders can recognise these attributes, we can do no less than to lead the way with the pomp and panache planned for the next 24 hours. We have done well to prove that a king can have honour in his own country and that something great can come from Nazareth.
Well played, Sir Garry, and it is a blessing and privilege to have you at the crease, batting strong at the young age of 80!
• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist.