Keating names Sobers Sportsman of century

Stabroek News
January 1, 2000

Bridgetown---BARBADOS' national hero, former West Indies captain and all-rounder par excellence, Sir Garfield Sobers, was yesterday named as Sportsman of the Century by celebrated English sports writer Frank Keating. Writing in his column [please note: link provided by LOSP web site]in the Guardian newspaper, Keating chose Sobers from his shortlist of five candidates that also included the Australian batsman and captain Sir Don Bradman, Brazilian footballer Pele, American golfer Jack Nicklaus and Australia tennis player Lew Hoad.

Giving the guidelines for his selection, Keating explained that while "utter and unparalleled achievement is taken for granted...charm and chivalry, a clear and glistening inborn spirit and nature for fair play, is the crucial ingredient and yardstick here."

"Sheer fame and a peerless mastery at a pursuit is one thing, but this judge and one-man jury dwells on aspects more ethical and pure than solely super-eminence at sustained performance," he added.

He noted that only "irreproachable sportsmanship" made his shortlist.

"Nobility is our gauge," he wrote. "We seek the century's very best performer, but the most gallant and courtly too: Le preux chevalier."

On those grounds, he eliminated heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, recently voters by viewers of BBC TV as Sportsman of the Century.

He said Sobers who was "born peasant and pauper, was to become the glistening monarch of a game which supposedly rooted its whole existence in fair play and chivalry."

He added: "For at batting and bowling and fielding, for sheer d utter presence and sense of theatre, history's nonpareil has to be Garfield Sobers, of little Barbados and all the big wide universe.

"He began laying down his markers in the game when West Indies still had to have a white man as captain - and then for 15 years from the late 50s he was, simultaneously, the world's best batsman, best fieldsman, best left-arm swing bowler, best left-arm spin bowler - as well as the best foe-honouring and smiling ambassador any institution, let alone a game, could possibly wish for.

"Sir Garfield Sobers, gallant knight, played his ravishing cricket with a radiance which transcended the simple boundaries of games-playing. He was beloved and esteemed as much by those he played against as with."

"Expressing this theme, many years ago in these pages the Guardian writer Alistair Cooke wrote an obituary of his hero, the shining American amateur golfer Bobby Jones:

"What we talk of here is not the hero as sportsman, but that someone the world hungered for and found - the best performer in the world who was also the hero as human being, the gentle, chivalrous, wholly self-sufficient male. Jefferson's lost paragon: the wise innocent."

Sir Donald Bradman... Jack Nicklaus... Lew Hoad... Pele... all hail... Step forward - with a smile and that unforgettable feline gait - the Sportsman of the Century: Sir Garfield Sobers."

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