Sir Gary gives Robert Clack pupils lots to think about as new nets are opened
PUBLISHED: 10:00 20 June 2018
Robert Clack School had a special visit from West Indies legend Sir Garfield Sobers, who is widely considered to be the greatest all-rounder in the history of cricket.
The 81-year-old officially opened new cricket nets, named after long-serving members of staff Barry Taylor and Paul Cook, at the lower school site and spoke to pupils after watching them make good use of the £50,000 ECB-funded facility.
And, as was noted by head of PE Pete Goyette, Sobers was quick to extol the values of teamwork and good behaviour when talking about his own career and the schools’ tournament he has proudly hosted in his native Barbados each year since the 1980s.
When I myself was a pupil at the Dagenham school back in those days, we only played a handful of cricket fixtures as rugby and football reigned.
I can recall a few away matches on old astroturf wickets at Eastbrook, Eastbury (where I scored 48 not out!) and Warren, but we didn’t have that luxury for home matches as our wicket was a strip of concrete!
A young Sobers honed his skills in similarly spartan conditions and was impressed by the new nets, which were installed with assistance from Essex County Cricket Club’s Trevor Yorke and Arfan Akram.
He said: “It’s fantastic. I think the kids here are very lucky to have that kind of facility.
“They get something that as a boy growing up I would’ve loved to have had and I’m sure there are lots of others who would love to have something like that.
“We would’ve wished we had those kind of facilities when we were growing up. They would certainly have been used in the proper way. It’s nice to see kids have those facilities.
“When I was 11 and 12, I played with 17 and 18 year olds. It was different conditions completely.
“You’d go to somewhere you’d think was level and play there. You didn’t have anything prepared, you just played on the raw ground and hoped you could negotiate what was happening.”
After cutting the ribbon in a short ceremony to honour my old PE teacher Taylor – who retires next month after 35 years of dedicated service – and Cook, who has worked hard to get more cricket played at the school over the past two decades, Sobers ran his eye over the year seven and eight pupils, including members of the school’s three girls’ teams
And, despite the short time frame, he was quite impressed, adding: “It’s difficult to judge from just 15-20 minutes, you need a lot more time to look at players. There’s one or two.
“They’re probably excited and don’t produce their best, but if you had them on a number of occasions, a week or so, you’d see what the improvements are and who are the best ones.
“There was a spinner who looked quite good, but you don’t really have the time to observe what is happening, it’s a quick look.”
Pupils were then treated to some black and white footage of Sobers in his prime, famously hitting six sixes in one over for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan.
Sobers spoke modestly of just trying to get quick runs for his team, as he sent Malcolm Nash over the rope time and again. One can only wonder what his value might have been in an IPL auction nowadays.
“I’d play any cricket, it didn’t matter to me. Whether it was T20 or whatever. I was a cricketer. I would’ve enjoyed playing any cricket game,” he added.
“It’s good entertainment, the kind of shots you see kids play. You’ve got to get runs and you’ve got to get them quick.
“It doesn’t matter how you get them as you see with the manipulation and variety of shots being played.
“It’s good for spectators as you see with the crowds in India and all over the world where you’ve got T20. It’s strictly entertainment as far as I’m concerned. Test cricket will always be the pinnacle.”
A video presentation about the schools’ tournament in Barbados followed, whetting the appetite for pupils – and staff.
Hopefully Clack youngsters can take part in future, with Sobers adding: “They can expect good conditions, good players, there will be no mucking around.
“The kids, when they come to play in the Sir Gary Sobers tournament, they have very hard cricket. It’s not a friendly atmosphere at all. Everybody is trying to win.
“The tournament has been going for nearly 32 years and we’ve had good reports from most of the teams that come. It’s very well organised and we have people like Wes Hall, Everton Weekes, Cammie Smith and myself, we go and watch them play.
“They are top facilities, the best umpiring, the final is played at Kensington Oval. We look forward to having the kids there and when they do come we hope they have a successful tour and learn something.
“We also have a master class, with Charlie Griffith, Everton, myself and Hall, where we put them in the nets and go through the paces with them.”
For now, the Clack pupils will have to develop their skills in their own nets. If only I had the chance all those years ago!