By David Green
The week that just went by was Jack Hobbs’s week on the Reverse Sweep to commemorate the release of a new biography on the Master by Leo McKinstry.
We focus on the best of his many great partnerships for England with Yorkshire's Herbert Sutcliffe - the pair we selected to open in our All-time England and composite Ashes XIs.
Quite simply the pair formed the best opening pair in the history of Test cricket. They amassed 3249 runs in only 38 innings with 15 century stands at a whopping average of 87.81. Individually they rank as two of the greatest batsmen in history, but together they were near impregnable - especially when the odds seemed stacked against them.
In the 1926 Ashes, with the series 0-0, the final Test at the master's home ground of The Oval was timeless. England had lost the last three Ashes series 0-5, 0-3 and 1-4 and hadn't won a rubber since before the Great War. So, much was at stake.
England rung the changes, drafting in Percy Chapman - in place of the unfortunate Arthur Carr - as skipper, the 49 year old Wilfred Rhodes and the young tearaway Nottinghamshire fast bowler Harold Larwood. An expectant nation waited with bated breath.
Chapman did his first job by winning the toss on what looked like a prime batting wicket, but despite Hobbs (37) and Sutcliffe (76) providing a good start, England could only make 280 in their first innings. Australia then eked out a 22-run lead after recovering from 122 for six, thanks to a quick-fire 73 from Jack Gregory batting at No 8.
The fate of the Ashes lay with Hobbs and Sutcliffe and all looked well as they made steady progress to close the day on 49 without loss. But then disaster struck. Heavy rains overnight meant that the uncovered pitch turned into a treacherous sticky wicket. England were only 27 runs ahead and if they failed to prevent a collapse, then most of the demons would have probably left the pitch by the time Australia came to chase. And that would mean the Ashes would be lost yet again.
But Hobbs and Sutcliffe had other ideas, despite fearing that England would be lucky to even add another 80 runs to their overnight score. They brushed aside the fears and with great skill, resolve and grit tackled the sticky dog and the crafty bowling of Arthur Richardson, Arthur Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett to preserve their wickets and punish any bad balls.
Slowly but surely they grew their stand to 172 before Hobbs was out for exactly 100 just after reaching his milestone to rapturous applause from an excited crowd. Sutcliffe went on to make 161 and England 436.
By the time Australia finally started their second innings, further rain had fallen and they had no hope of getting the 415 they needed to retain the Ashes. Wilfred Rhodes and Larwood took seven wickets between them, but it was Hobbs and Sutcliffe who were the heroes of the hour.
Hobbs and Sutcliffe shared 11 century partnerships in Tests against Australia, but this was undoubtedly the finest. Even more so then when they repeated the trick on another treacherous sticky wicket at Melbourne in 1928-29. That time they added 106 as England successfully chased down 332 to win. Sutcliffe again scored a brave match- winning hundred.
(David Green is the brain behind the irreverent The Reverse Sweep blog and also writes for a number of cricket publications and sites such as World Cricket Watch. You can follow him on Twitter also @TheReverseSweep. David was a decent schoolboy and club cricketer (and scored his maiden 100 the same week that Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test ton) but not good enough to fulfil his childhood dream of emulating Douglas Jardine by winning the Ashes in Australia and annoying the locals into the bargain. He now lives with his wife and two young children in the South of France and will one day write the definitive biography of Hedley Verity)