The legendary West Indian all-rounder Sir Garry Sobers made his Test debut in a crucial match played between West Indies and England in 1954. This Test was the final match of the five-match series and was extremely important as it would seal the fate of the series.
After losing the initial two Tests, England made an inspiring comeback and won the third Test. In the fourth Test, both teams amassed mountains of runs in their respective first innings and made the most of a flat, batting-friendly wicket. The Test ended in a draw.
The hosts were leading the series 2-1 going into the final Test, but the momentum was with the visitors. The English batsmen were looking dangerous and were causing serious trouble for the Caribbean bowlers.
Extra Cover: Sir Garry Sobers: The five-in-one cricketer
Hence, for the all-important fifth Test, the West Indies management made two changes in the bowling department. They brought back Frank King to the team and handed a debut to a promising 17-year-old bowler from Barbados, Garry Sobers. Sobers made his debut in first-class cricket only a year prior to his debut but had raised several eyebrows thanks to his sublime bowling performances.
He was handy with the bat as well, but the selectors were more impressed with his bowling and decided to give him a chance in the final Test match. He was the surprise element in the West Indies team and was roped in to counter the fantastic batting of Hutton, May and Compton.
The final Test began on 30th March where West Indies’ skipper Stollmeyer won the toss and elected to bat first. But the decision backfired as Bailey ran through the West Indies top order and then came back to dismantle the lower order. On a good batting surface, the Windies only managed to score 139 runs. Fast bowler Trevor Bailey tormented the Caribbean batsmen and ended with figures of 7 for 34.
Garry Sobers, in his first innings as a batsman, came in to bat at number nine and had limited opportunities. He scored 14 runs in his first innings and remained not out.
West Indies, however, hoped for a lot more from Sobers in the bowling department. Sobers started well and got the big wicket of Bailey on the second morning. He made effective use of the early morning conditions and got one to edge the bat of Bailey.
But after that, he had limited success as Len Hutton crafted a brilliant batting masterpiece. In fact, the West Indies bowling attack failed against Hutton who went on to score a double century. The England middle order gave able company to Hutton and took the game further away from West Indies.
May, Compton and Evans stitched crucial partnerships with Hutton while the West Indies bowlers looked helpless. Sobers too was toothless against the visitors and he failed to weave any magic. However, the wicket of Hutton at the team score of 392 opened the gates for West Indies.
Sobers rose to the occasion and bowled diligently to the English tailenders. He gave few runs and got rid of the last three wickets without further delay. He finished with four wickets in 75 runs in his first innings and helped West Indies to restrict England to 414 in their first innings.
West Indies began their second innings with a massive deficit of 275 runs and at one stage were tottering at 4 for 123. But their best batsman of the series, Clyde Walcott, batted with grit along with Gomez and Atkinson to offer some resistance. Walcott scored his third hundred of the series which pushed West Indies to reach 300.
Sobers entered the ground with the score at 293 and batted with patience to postpone England’s victory. However, like the first innings, he soon ran out of partners. Sobers scored 26 runs and was the last wicket to fall for West Indies.
Courtesy of the brilliant century by Walcott and skipper Stollmeyer’s 64, West Indies managed 346 runs in their second innings. England thus had a paltry target of 72 runs to win this Test.
King knocked out the stumps of Graveney on the fifth ball of the innings and created some excitement. But, Watson and May batted with calmness and prevented any further damage. May, in particular, was effective as he took put the bad balls away and smashed seven fours to help England in registering a thumping nine-wicket victory over West Indies.
Sobers was brought in the attack very late and was given only one over as England ran away victorious.
This victory enabled England to draw the series 2-2 while it was the first defeat for West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston. The match was truly remarkable as it gave England one of their famous wins in West Indies.
For the debutant Sobers, the match was a disappointment as he failed to create a huge impact in the game. He did pick up four wickets in the first innings, but out of the four wickets, three came against the tailenders and Sobers clearly struggled against the top order batsmen.
In the batting department, he came a lot lower in the batting order and managed only 40 runs in two innings. However, the team soon realised his batting abilities and in 1958 he scored 365 not out against Pakistan at the same venue.
With four wickets and 40 runs, Sir Garry Sobers made a quiet entry in the Test arena in this Test match.