Twenty-three years ago, I interviewed Sir Garfield Sobers at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The business editor of a metropolitan newspaper, I wasn’t exactly qualified to talk cricket with the game’s greatest ever all-rounder.
But you can only track the Dow Jones Index for so many years, up, down, up, up, down, without going bonkers. Plus, I was a mad cricket fan.
So I begged the sports editor to give me the gig. And for whatever reason he did.
It was a memorable afternoon, chatting to Sobers while Brian Lara carved out his maiden Test century and then some in the background. Certainly a whole lot more entertaining than covering Christopher Skase’s latest attempt to elude justice.
What I remember most from that day — and the party I was invited to that evening — was the aura around the West Indies cricket team.
This was not the fearsome Windies outfit of the 80s. Lloyd, Richards, Garner and Holding had all moved on. But with the likes of Lara, Richardson, Ambrose and Walsh, it was formidable enough.
Individually and collectively, the players exuded self-belief. It went beyond professional pride. You got a sense of it watching them on TV but in person it was so palpable it could’ve carried the drinks.
There are theories aplenty about what has gone wrong with West Indies cricket, from inept administration to a faltering domestic franchise to players more interested in their Instagram accounts and T20 riches than representing their country.
But the real answer is this.
Yes, someone — presumably from the BCCI — has gone back to the 1980s and stolen the Windies’ mojo.
That’s why their bowlers won’t run uphill into the wind and their batsmen baulk at running for singles. And that’s why their wicket celebrations look like this.
It’s the only theory that adequately explains how a team can go from being so dominant to so pedestrian that we applaud their resistance when they take a Test to a fourth day.
Were this the English cricket team, we might be revelling in how far the mighty have fallen. But there’s a grief in seeing the West Indies reduced to this.
Of course, on that January afternoon in 1993, no one could see what was to come.Embed from Getty Images
The thing most people were talking about was whether Brian Lara, on 260-odd, could go on to break Sobers’ 1958 score of 365 against Pakistan which had stood as Test cricket’s highest individual innings for 35 years.
Sobers was not remotely concerned by the challenge. With that West Indian nonchalance, he said: “He’s still got to get another century.”
Sure enough, Lara was run out a few balls later, for 277. It’s the kind of score the entire team struggles to compile these days.
The Sydney match drawn, the Windies went on to win the final two Tests, turning a 1-0 deficit into a series win. That was the last time they lifted the Frank Worrell trophy.Embed from Getty Images
Sobers, relaxed and at peace with his world that afternoon, has since been moved to tears at the state of his nation’s cricket fortunes. He lamented last year: “I don’t think we have that kind of person in West Indies cricket anymore who’s quite prepared to play and to give everything to their country.”
Now this ghost of a team moves to Sydney, a city and ground Lara loved so much he named his daughter after it.
Is there among this outfit anyone who can summon just a fraction of what Lara brought to this hallowed ground in 1993?
Can the Windies find their mojo at the SCG?