Jack Hobbs Biography
Jack Hobbs was perhaps the greatest batsman the world has seen bar Don Bradman, and certainly the most pleasant and charming persona to ever take guard with a willow.
When Wisden chose him as the third of their five cricketers of the century after Bradman and Garfield Sobers, panel member Gideon Haigh remarked, “Hobbs challenged the assumption that no professional could bat as well as the thoroughbred amateur.” Sir Lankan correspondent Gerry Vaidyasekera voted for Hobbs because he was a “batsman with a charming smile and a kind heart”.
John Arlott, an ardent admirer, had noted, “He was the kindest, gentlest, most generous of men… I would say this even if he never made a run.”
Hobbs mastered the Edwardian art of front-foot drives, but also added to it sublime and sure back-foot artillery. Classically orthodox when defending or driving, he was at his audacious best while indulging in the glorious cuts and pulls. He often pulled balls wide of the off-stump through mid-wicket with casual nonchalance. He could hook calmly and often beautifully, but only if certain of the safety of the stroke.
His back-lift was high, ever ready to start on its straight downward swing, similar to the ones employed decades later by Garry Sobers and Brian Lara, but unlike theirs, his bat came down straight in line with the stumps. Perfect timing gave his strokes power and speed, while the wrists added placement without apparent effort. And there was not a more magical sight in pre-war cricket than Jack Hobbs dancing down the wicket to loft slow bowlers straight back over the head. His batting was as supremely effective as aesthetically pleasing. Every movement at the crease spoke of poise and fluency. Neville Cardus gushed, “A snick by Hobbs was a sort of disturbance in the cosmic orderliness.”
He was so adept against fast bowling that Jack Gregory once asked umpire Frank Chester whether he was losing speed. Chester replied that he was quick enough for the others, but not for Hobbs.
And all this without ever receiving professional coaching.
Figures may not reflect the fascinating visual pleasure that the batting of Hobbs offered, but they do underline the undisputed greatness. Hobbs scored 61,237 runs at 50.65 with a whopping 199 centuries in three decades of First-class cricket. In 61 Tests, he amassed 5,140 runs at 56.94. Given that a major part of his career was spent during the first two decades of the century, with unpredictable wickets which had not yet undergone standardisation, the numbers are remarkable — more so because 2,440 of these runs (at 58.09) came after he turned 40.
A brilliant cover-point in his prime, Hobbs was also a supreme runner between the wickets. With Herbert Sutcliffe he formed perhaps the greatest ever opening partnership witnessed in the game. They mastered the art of playing with soft hands, often ran without calling, and were nimble and fast enough by today’s standards. Their partnership tally read 3,249 runs at a 87.81.
Being a professional cricketer, he never led England. But his sound judgement added to the plot of many success stories of the team in the latter years.
Harold Laski, the British Labour politician, said: “I think Mr. Hobbs is the typical Englishman of legend. He has shown as finely as any living man what is meant by playing the game.”
Hobbs became the first professional cricketer to be knighted for his services to the game.