Three of the finest batsmen whose careers straddled the First World War were England’s Jack Hobbs and Frank Woolley, and the Australian Charles ‘Governor General’ Macartney, all having been born in the 1880s, and making their first-class debut between 1905 and 1909. Test cricket was disrupted for seven years when they were in their prime.
The terms ‘master’ and ‘great’ are bandied about so often as to be bestowed on several of the undeserving by many who perhaps do not comprehend the true import of such encomiums. If one were to choose one batsman best suited to be awarded the distinction of a master batsman, it would have to be Jack Hobbs. If a batting technique can be perfect, then Jack Hobbs did indeed have the perfect technique for all types of wickets against bowling of every kind. That he was a great batsman follows naturally, whether viewed in terms of the runs and centuries that he scored or the averages he achieved against all the opposition that he faced on every surface.
In one of his letters to me, Bob Wyatt who played alongside
and later captained England,
in my opinion was the greatest batsman on all types of wickets. He was always
so well poised.” In another letter Wyatt elucidated, “Poise is more than balance.
One can be well balanced and badly poised whereas one cannot be well poised and
badly balanced. I would describe poise as being balanced in such a way that one
can assume another position rapidly without losing one’s balance.” Hobbs
Eldest of eleven children, Jack Hobbs was rejected by
It was a decision the county was to rue very soon. In his second match for
Surrey, Hobbs trounced the Essex
bowling in a knock of 155 that was a precursor of things to come.
Wrote Hartland, “Before the war he played a more dashing game, in keeping with the spirit of the age and his own youthful instincts, but his batting was always based on sound orthodoxy and perfect technique.
remains one of the two greatest
English-born batsmen - Grace is the other - his position resting on an ability
to master all types of bowling on any wicket, turf or matting. More than any
other batsman in history can it be claimed that he had no weakness. The more
difficult the circumstances, and the greater the pressure, the more likely was Hobbs to make a hundred,
without taking all day over it.” Hobbs
Exuding the unfailing reliability and class of a Rolls Royce or a Rolex,
turned batting into
a perfect art. E.W. Swanton observed: “Of all the batsmen he was the most
versatile; the glazed wickets of Hobbs Sydney and Adelaide, the matting of Johannesburg
enhanced his reputation.” It must also be remembered that Durban successfully countered swing bowling
that was pioneered during his time by George Hirst. Hobbs
The most prolific scorer in first-class cricket in a career spanning thirty years,
is the only batsman
to score 60,000 runs, in the process notching up nearly 200 centuries. When he
retired in 1934, Hobbs
had amassed 61,237 runs at an average of 50.65 with 197 hundreds and a highest
of 316 not out. No one is likely to score so many ever again. He was no less
impressive in his 61 Tests, logging up 5410 runs, the record at the time, at
56.94 per innings, 15 centuries and a top score of 211, marking a career in
which pedigree and numbers matched to the highest degree. Hobbs
With Hayward, who was renowned as a defensive batsman, Hobbs put on 352 against Warwickshire at The Oval in 1909, and 313 versus Worcestershire at Worcester in 1913. The duo was associated in 40 century stands. Hobbs’ biggest opening partnership came in 1926, when he featured with Sandham in a 428-run saga against Oxford University at The Oval.
In Tests he combined with Rhodes in the then record partnership of 323 against Australia at Melbourne in 1911-12, and with Sutcliffe raised 283 against the same adversary, who had knocked up 600 runs in their innings, at the very venue in 1924-25. Perhaps their most crucial partnership was in the Oval Test of 1926, which played a significant part in regaining the Ashes.
scored a brisk 100 on a difficult
track, rated as one of his finest innings, while Sutcliffe compiled 161.
Earlier in the third Test at Hobbs Leeds, they had
put on 156 in the second innings to help salvage a draw. The famous
Hobbs-Sutcliffe pair put up 15 century stands for the first wicket. In all, ’ century opening
partnerships totalled 166. He was, doubtlessly, an opener beyond compare. Hobbs
On the rungetting prowess of great batsmen, Len Hutton wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket, “Genius is a born talent and a very special individualism. Wilfred Rhodes, who rose from no. 11 to set records as Jack Hobbs’ opening partner, always prided himself on being able to spot leg breaks and googlies. On the other hand, according to Wilfred,
was not able to do
so and preferred to play the ball off the pitch. In a Test with Hobbs South Africa, when the White-Faulkner-Vogler
googly trio was much feared, Hobbs and Rhodes were batting together and Wilfred was
congratulating himself that he was coping better than Jack. Then glancing at
the scoreboard, he read: Hobbs 75, Rhodes 17.”
After the War, when he was already 36 years old, Hobbs scored 132 hundreds. Vic Marks noted: “His footwork was now less ambitious but still totally unhurried, and his ability on rain-affected wickets was the envy of everyone.” In 1924, against
Somerset at Taunton,
W.G. Grace’s record of 126 centuries.
As a cricketer and as a man,
was the ideal role model. H.S. Altham gave a true insight: “A man of natural
dignity, with at the same time an engaging twinkle that revealed a charming and
constant sense of humour, utterly unspoilt by success and always prepared to help
others, especially the young; he soon became and remained throughout his career
the embodiment of the highest standards and values of the game.” Hobbs
It might come as a surprise to many that Herbert Sutcliffe, Hobbs’ ally in one of the most successful opening partnerships in Test history, holder of the record opening stand of 555 with Percy Holmes in first-class cricket - surpassed by six runs only four-and-a-half decades later by Waheed Mirza and Mansoor Akhtar for Karachi Whites against Quetta - and having the distinction of averaging the highest for England - 60.73 for his 4555 Test runs - among many other honours, seldom finds a place in the array of greats. The gentlemanly Sutcliffe was a stodgy, unattractive batsman, better on bad wickets than good, apt to play with the edges of his bat as with the middle, determined and never afraid to hook. If in another era Javed Miandad was the archetypal streetfighter, Sutcliffe was, as Ray Robinson would have it, a ‘dogfighter’. May the case rest there.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh may be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).