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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Sobers at 70

By Martin Gough

Asked whether he is tempted to try his hand at Twenty20 cricket, Sir Garfield Sobers says, "I passed that day about 20 years ago".

Sobers and Stanford sign autographs for children
Sobers is full of praise for billionaire Stanford's initiative
Perhaps it is an off-the-cuff comment, or perhaps he is suggesting he could have played the game at a decent level aged 50.

In the week when he celebrates his 70th birthday, Sobers is working as an ambassador for the new Stanford 20-20 tournament in the Caribbean.

It is a fitting role for a man many saw as ahead of his time in a glittering international career that stretched from 1954 to 1974.

In 93 Tests, he hit more than 8,000 runs at an average of 57.78 (bettered by just 10 other batsmen in history) and took 235 wickets with three different bowling styles.

One of the game's best ever all-rounders would have been a natural at the newest format of the game, just as he was at the oldest.

In the week when he celebrates his 70th birthday, Sobers is working as an ambassador for the new Stanford 20-20 tournament
It's good to watch and be involved in it because you try and do something for the future of West Indies cricket

Sir Garfield Sobers
His performance in hitting six sixes in a single over for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan in 1968 grabbed headlines for its audacity.

Twenty20 players try to do it every night.

Try asking Sobers to compare the eras, though, and you will receive a frosty response.

One of the most naturally-talented players ever to grace a cricket field is far less comfortable in the limelight off the pitch.

And he will agree to an interview only on condition we talk about Twenty20, and nothing else.

So there is no discussion of the six sixes and no reference to his Test achievements, not even his 365 not out against Pakistan that stood as a record for 36 years.

Any questions about the wider issues affecting West Indies cricket, with the World Cup visiting the Caribbean next year, get short shrift too.

Sobers in action
Full name: Sir Garfield St Auburn Sobers
Born: 28 July, 1936, St Michael, Barbados
Teams: West Indies, Barbados, Nottinghamshire, South Australia
Batting style: Left-handed
Bowling style: Left-arm fast-medium, slow left-arm orthodox, slow left-arm chinaman
Tests: 93
8,032 runs at 57.78, best 365no, 26x100, 30x50
235 wkts at 34.03, best 6-73, 6x5w
And don't start on the subject of the West Indies Cricket Board, which has been widely criticised for ignoring the stars of its golden era.

But he is full of enthusiasm for the new competition, saying: "Although Twenty20 is not a lot of overs, you can still see some of the up-and-coming youngsters, particularly as far as bowling is concerned.

"If you can do it in those four overs, when you come to play at the 50-over level, you have [learnt] to concentrate in the same way and restrict players."

The new tournament, sponsored by Texan billionaire Allen Stanford, is attracting global interest, mainly for the amount of prize money on offer.

The overall winner of the knockout tournament, which includes teams from the smaller islands as well as the giants of Jamaica and Guyana, will take home $1m (541,000).

The man of the match in each of the 16 games leading up to the final will pocket $25,000.

It is a far cry from 1963, when Sobers was offered 800 to spend an English summer touring with the West Indies team.

And it still dwarfs fees for a West Indies A tour, worth around $4,000 to senior players for the whole trip.

The tournament has been criticised in some quarters for sidestepping the established authorities in the Caribbean.

But Stanford has also stumped up $280,000 in development funding so there is more to this initiative than buying top players.

"Mr Stanford knows the worth of sport in the United States and the value of players," says Sobers, who had a similar ambassadorial role in Kerry Packer's World Series in 1977.

Action between St Vincent & the Grenadines and US Virgin Islands
Stanford 20-20 has brought excitement to Caribbean cricket
"He felt it was time for somebody to bring a game to the Caribbean which gives the players an opportunity to play for a fairly good sum of money."

The entire tournament this year takes place at a purpose-built venue in Antigua.

But Sobers believes new stadiums being built for next year's World Cup will eventually host a tournament across the region.

"Who knows where this could go?" he says.

"All we know at present is that it's very entertaining; a lot of people are talking about it all over the Caribbean.

"People who didn't have any interest in it are now big fans."

After enthusing about the new tournament, there is just a hint of introspection when one of cricket's true greats is asked how much he is enjoying being a part of things.

"It's good to watch and be involved in it because you try and do something for the future of West Indies cricket," he says.

"I'm sure that a lot is going to be extracted from this Twenty20 for the future."

Even as he celebrates his 70th year, Sobers is still looking ahead.

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