Jack Hobbs at Taunton

PUBLISHED: 12:02 03 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:50 20 February 2013

Jack Hobbs at Taunton

Jack Hobbs at Taunton

Jack Hobbs (Surrey and England) was, by most standards, the greatest cricketer this country has ever produced. Stephen Chilcott steps back in time to the Taunton Cricket Ground of 1925

Jack Hobbs (Surrey and England) was, by most standards, the greatest cricketer this country has ever produced. Stephen Chilcott steps back in time to the Taunton Cricket Ground of 1925

The statistics alone show Jack Hobbs to be far and away the highest-scoring batsman of all time with 61,237 runs, 197 centuries half of which he scored, famously, after his 40th birthday and a career average of 50.65.

Hobbs was a textbook batsman with perfect, fluent timing and exquisite balance, commanding every shot in the batters repertoire. In his book The Perfect Batsman (Cassell, 1926), AC MacLaren writes: "Everything Hobbs does as a batsman or fieldsman is without fuss, and graceful. He has never departed from sound methods, but has kept his natural free game pure throughout his career."

Lean and fit as a cheetah, his hands were as safe as any the game has seen; taking 317 catches in his first-class career, his throw flat, hard and lethally accurate. Former Middlesex and England captain, (Sir) Pelham (Plum) Warner, wrote of him after the 1911-12 Australian tour:

"In Hobbs we had a cover point the equal of any fieldsman in that position I have ever seen I have never seen a cover point hit the wicket so often."

Hobbs offered spectators one of the most thrilling sights cricket has to offer the lone, predatory outfielder on the hunt.

Hobbs also bowled medium pace, largely outswingers, and in the first, second and fifth Tests of the 1909/10 winter series in South Africa he opened both the batting and the bowling for England.

In 1925, Hobbs, already well into his 43rd year, had racked up in excess of 3,000 first-class runs at an average of 70.32 with 16 huge tons, placing him at the top of the batting averages for the season.

Beginning that year on 113 centuries, he posted, in his first six county matches, scores of 34, 47, 104, 109, 120, 129 and 189, and then in successive innings in June 107, 87, 104, 143 not out, 111, 215 (against Warwickshire, out of 376 and at better than a run-a-minute) and then 140 (Gentlemen vs Players at Lords), and finally 105 against Kent at Blackheath, leaving him perched precariously on 125 centuries and counting one below WG Graces unassailable record of 126 the one no one believed anyone could ever surpass.

On the brink of immortality

Accompanied everywhere by an irksome bevy of pressmen and photographers eagerly awaiting the moment, the huge media attention took its toll on Hobbs, who was ever nervous of crowd and press reaction, and in an agonising run of batters block he faltered short of a three-figure score for four long weeks, teetering on the very brink of sporting immortality.

Saturday 14 August found Hobbs at Taunton for Surreys weekend fixture against Somerset. The ground was packed to bursting, the crowd wedged in shoulder to shoulder and spilling out everywhere onto the grass right up to the boundary rope, hoping to witness history unfolding before their eyes!

To their intense frustration, Somerset won the toss, and batting first, were all out before tea leaving Surrey 135 minutes to bat out until close of play.

Surviving a potentially disastrous run-out early on, Hobbs went to the Sunday rest day tantalisingly poised on 91 not out!

On the Monday, and with Hobbs approval, play was delayed by almost half an hour to allow the half-mile queue of spectators to file in through the turnstiles.

On resumption of play he clipped three singles, drove a no ball sweetly to the cover boundary, and with the second of two scampered singles he equalled Graces record at 11.37am to the accompaniment of thunderous applause, whereupon, as if in relief, he clipped a catch to keeper Hill and walked, characteristically, on 101.

Hobbs, ever the gentleman, famously liked to post his hundred and then graciously depart in order to let someone else have a go.

The pressmen fled hotfoot back to their news-hungry editors in London blissfully unaware that Hobbs would repeat the feat in the second innings, spectacularly, and less than 30 hours later, before only a meagre scattering of determined, diehard spectators, to become the highest century scorer in cricketing history.

Following his triumphant 1925 season, Wisden Cricketers Almanack broke their tradition of nominating five Cricketers of the Year and devoted the feature entirely to Hobbs.

"Great as his successes had been," they wrote, "since he first appeared for Surrey in 1905 when, with scores in his first two matches of 18 and 88 against the Gentlemen of England and 28 and 155 against Essex, he showed himself at once a batsman of remarkable ability, John Berry Hobbs surpassed himself in 1925."

On a roll now for the Ashes summer of 1926, Hobbs unleashed this murderous batting form against the Australians, in tandem with his legendary Test Match opening partner, Yorkshires Herbert Sutcliffe, completing the rubber with an average of 81 from six completed innings.

In the words of John Arlott (Jack Hobbs Profile of The Master) "This was the man who, without believing it was of any importance, made more runs than anyone else Those who played with and against him generally considered him in all conditions, on all pitches and against all types of bowling the finest batsman."

Authors note: In compiling this article I have borrowed selected material from John Arlotts excellent little book Jack Hobbs Profile of The Master (John Murray, 1981), various reputable internet sources relying on corroborative information from the Wisden Cricketers Almanacks, 1925 and 1926 editions and for statistical detail, The Wisden Book of Test Cricket 1876-77 to 1977-78, compiled and edited by the late Bill Frindall (MacDonald and Janes, 1978). Lastly, a fascinating article that appeared in Wisden Cricketer magazine, Opening Partnerships From Blockers to Blasters by Alastair Smart (April 2007). I would like to acknowledge the kind help of the curator and staff of the Somerset Cricket Museum, County Ground, Taunton for their help in identifying the archive pictures and allowing me to photograph them. http://www.somersetcricketmuseum.co.uk

Steve Chilcott is a freelance writer, qualified coach and lifelong cricket fan.

Saturday 14 August found Hobbs at Taunton for Surreys weekend fixture against Somerset... the crowd wedged in shoulder to shoulder... hoping to witness history unfolding before their eyes!

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