Sobers tips Nevis as upset champs

Gibbs was paid $2 a day

The greatest cricketer of all time reckons that one of the small islands – especially Nevis – could be the surprise winners of this year’s Stanford 20/20 tournament.

Sir Garfield Sobers thinks Nevis could be the unlikely winners, partly based on them getting to the semi-finals last time.

The tournament at the Stanford ground in Antigua has a total of $2.2 million prize money, including $1m for the winners.

Sobers feels that Nevis could be the small side that could upset the odds and take home the massive cheque. They surprisingly beat Antigua and Barbuda and got to the semis, losing to Trinidad and Tobago in the inaugural tournament. Nevis are a pro team this time and should demolish Montserrat next Friday before taking on the winner of Jamaica v Bahamas on 16 February. Sobers is convinced Nevis can get to the final.

‘Last time Nevis were like a lamb thrown into a lion’s den because they didn’t know what to expect,’ he said. ‘They were looking forward to it but now they’ve got the experience of playing last time.

‘With their improvement now as a pro team I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take the trophy. Anguilla too are good, as well as the US Virgin Islands. Bermuda is a team that disappointed me last time because I’ve been going in and out of there for many years and been watching them develop.’

The first Stanford in August 2006 was won by Guyana who beat the Trinis in the final. The latest tournament started on Saturday with the St Lucia Pro Team beating Cayman Islands by 46 runs. Dominica beat British Virgin Islands on Sunday and Montserrat demolished Turks and Caicos on Tuesday.

The big teams dominated in the inaugural tournament but Sobers, 71, feels it is more open this time. He is one of 14 Legends – great West Indies players from previous eras – who are backing the tournament financed by Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford.

‘I think we’ll see a far better tournament this year because the teams now know what to expect,’ Sobers said. ‘This is a good tournament for West Indies selectors to look at a new set of players. It doesn’t matter that it’s 20/20, you can still see the ability of the young players and as it goes on they will get a lot more exposure and they will learn a lot more about the game.

‘This Stanford 20/20 is very important for West Indies cricket and when all the pro teams come on stream we hope within a year and a half, we’ll have all the teams in the Caribbean playing professional cricket. This is something we’ve been looking for, for many, many years.

‘Years ago we discussed that West Indies should have their own pro circuit so that we could keep our own at home and develop our youngsters. We as Legends are looking forward to it.’

But Sobers is not convinced West Indies are fully out of the doldrums just yet. ‘As far as turning the corner in Test cricket, one swallow does not make a summer. We won one Test against South Africa and we start shouting for murder. ‘We have to look at the consistency of West Indies cricket but I haven’t seen that much improvement. It does look that way on the field. They seem to dive around a lot more. What has prompted that, I don’t know but I still feel we have a long way to go. The players must recognize that consistency, hard work, delegation and playing as a team are the most important ingredients especially at Test level. ‘We’ve only had one player with consistency and that is Chanderpaul. Gayle has been very unfortunate, he’s been injured. Sarwan has not been in the team. When Australia and Sri Lanka come here we will learn by how much we’re improving.’

Lance Gibbs is another Legend impressed with the Stanford vision. ‘This is the greatest thing that’s happened to West Indies cricket,’ he enthused. ‘Sir Allen is financing a lot of the islands which is something that has never happened before. It is without doubt the best thing that’s happened to us. In England it went from 40 overs to 50 now it’s 20. People who are coming from work can stop, see a game, then go home. It’s enlightening and very entertaining.

‘The prize money is unbelievable. When I was playing there was never that sort of money floating around. All of us are saying we would like to come back, but it’s too late now!’

Back in the early Sixties when Gibbs, 73, first broke into the West Indies side, on tour to India he earned US$2 a day. ‘It was just about enough at the end of week to buy a bottle of Scotch!’

Apart from the money, the main difference between then and now was that Gibbs’s generation had a burning passion to be Test players. ‘I was particularly dedicated. I wanted to be a West Indian cricketer and used to run for miles. Look at the injuries we’re having. None of my team-mates were experiencing that in their day. The Legends never used to break down. I agree they’re playing a bit more cricket but we still played all over the world throughout the year.’