Sobers sets off furious debate

The cricket world may be marvelling
over Sachin Tendulkar and his fabulous form or late but West Indian legend Sir
Garfield Sobers rates Sunil Gavaskar as the greatest batsman he has ever seen,
simply because of his stupendous success against the fearsome Caribbean pacers
of the 1970s.

Sobers said: “It’s my view
that Sunny Gavaskar is the greatest batsman I have come across.

“He has opened the innings against
genuine fast bowlers like Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel
Garner. He has made more runs away from India – in the West Indies, Australia
and England.”

Gavaskar had a fairytale 1971 debut
in the Caribbean where he amassed 774 runs at 154.80 in the series, which made
him the subject of a Calypso song.

“This is not to belittle players
like Vivian Richards Brian Lara or Tendulkar. When you talk of Sachin he has
done all that was expected of him,” said the 73-year-old Barbadian who is
still widely considered as the greatest ever all-rounder the game has seen.

Sobers feels it is wrong to compare
players of different eras who have played under conditions that vastly

Tendulkar has scored the most Test
runs, passing Brian Lara’s 11,953 and the little Indian has plenty of other

The fact that Lara retired from
international cricket three years ago and Tendulkar is still going strong at 36
means he is likely to amass even more records, but coach Theo Cuffy, Technical
Director of the Cayman Islands Cricket Association, does not totally agree with
Sobers’ assessment that Gavaskar was the best ever.

“I respect and listen to what Sir
Garfield says because of his stature in cricket and how respected he is
worldwide,” Cuffy said.

“But it is always difficult to
compare players from different eras, grounds and opposition. I’ll never stop
admiring the era of the 3Ws (Walcott, Weekes and Worrell) and later on the team
that contained Lloyd, Richards and Haynes. There were other batsman of that era
like Lawrence Rowe and Larry Gomes who were outstanding. George Headley, too,
in earlier years.

“But for me the batsman that truly
stands out came later in Brian Lara. I always say that Lara played at the
greatest level of all of them.

“Lara made big scores of not just
centuries but double centuries, triples and even 400. If you compare him with
Tendulkar, Lara started in Test cricket much later – about four years – and it
is now three years since Lara stopped playing Tests.

“Tendulkar must have played almost
double the number of Tests as Lara to get all his runs.

“Brian never had a strong side
compared to Lloyd and Richards and he often had to carry the team on his

“You’ll notice that Chanderpaul and
Sarwan only really raised their game after Lara had gone because they had to
take their game up to another level.”

Despite his brilliance, Lara, 40,
was widely criticised for being aloof and distancing himself from the less
talented players, which often intimidated them.

But there is no doubting his love
of cricket nor his generosity.

Cuffy has seen Lara donate his
match fees to less well paid players or waived his match fee. A couple of years
ago a group of young Cayman cricketers were in Port of Spain, Trinidad on tour.

They got an invitation to visit
Lara’s mansion and he kindly took them all around his home which inspired all
of them to succeed in life generally, not just cricket.

Cuffy, a former Trinidad captain
and talented batsman himself, was also manager of Trinidad’s youth and senior
teams when Lara was coming through and spotted his genius in those early days.

Additionally, Cuffy has seen many
great West Indies players visit Cayman over the years but only one – Lara – did
not take his match fee.

The coach also witnessed Lara’s
competitive streak which makes the notion that he lacked focus and got out
nonchanantly nonsense.

Cuffy remembers: “Ramnaresh Sarwan
scored 98 at Smith Road Oval. Lara hadn’t intended to play and didn’t bring any
kit but then borrowed Sarwan’s kit and promptly went out and scored a majestic