Jack Hobbs launched his career in the early years of the 20th century, and was soon identified as a special talent. In 1909, he was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
Few batsmen in recent years have jumped into fame more quickly than Hobbs. In his case there was no waiting for recognition, and no failure to show the skill he was known to possess. Like Hayward he was born in Cambridge, his birthday being December 16, 1882, and it was upon Hayward’s advice that he determined to qualify for Surrey.
He joined the staff at The Oval in 1903 and, two years later, having completed the necessary period of qualification, he was tried in the Easter Monday match against a Gentlemen of England team got together by WG Grace. He had given convincing proof of his ability as a batsman, his record for Cambridgeshire in 1904 being 696 runs, with an average of 58.
For Surrey his success exceeded all expectation. Against the Gentlemen, he scored 18 and 88, and 10 days later in his first county match – against Essex – he made 28 and a magnificent 155, his long innings being only disfigured by one chance. These two matches made it clear that Surrey had found a first-rate man, and though as the season advanced he fell off in form, he obtained, in county matches alone, 1,004 runs – a remarkable achievement for a first year.
From that brilliant beginning he has never looked back, and at the present time there is perhaps no better professional batsman in England, except Hayward and Tyldesley. In 1906 – Hayward’s greatest year – he scored 1,972 runs in all matches for Surrey, with an average of 44, and in 1907, 1,982, with an average of 40. In both seasons he was second to Hayward in the averages. His doings last summer are duly set forth in another part of the Almanack, and need not be given here.
When tried for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1907 he failed to do himself justice either at Lord’s or The Oval, but for these disappointments he made amends last summer, dividing the honours of the match at Lord’s with CB Fry. Given a place in the MCC’s team for Australia in the winter of 1907/08, he did not at first find the wickets at all to his liking, but before long he found his form, and finished up as one of the most successful batsmen in a good but unlucky side.
Hobbs makes no secret of his indebtedness for good advice and encouragement to Hayward, on whose superb method his own style of batting has obviously been modelled. From the first he was very strong on the on-side and though with increased experience he has naturally gained in variety of strokes, his skill in scoring off his legs remains perhaps the most striking feature of his play. The one defect in his on-side play is a tendency to be out leg before wicket, but this he is gradually conquering.
Among the many fine innings he has played for Surrey in the last four years I cannot recall a better one than his 162* against Worcestershire at The Oval in 1906. Surrey had 286 to get in the last innings, and four of the best wickets fell – all to Burrows’ bowling – for 112 runs. The issue looked very much in doubt, but Hobbs and JH Gordon finished off the game in two hours and 10 minutes, adding 174 runs without being parted. Hobbs gave one easy chance just before reaching his hundred, but this was literally his only mistake. Even thus early in his career he showed that he had the nerve to face a crisis.
As a fieldsman, Hobbs has during the last two years or so improved out of knowledge. At first he was rather slow on his feet, but now at third man and in the deep field he is almost in the same class as Denton and Tyldesley. In crossing the ball and picking it up he leaves little to be wished for, but he has not Denton’s return. Very keen on the game and ambitious to reach the highest rank, he is the most likely man among the younger professional batsmen to play for England in Test matches at home in the immediate future.
Wisden’s unidentified writer – probably editor Sydney Pardon – was remarkably prescient. Hobbs became perhaps England’s greatest ever batsman, scoring 61,760 runs at 50.70 and 199 hundreds. In 2000, he was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century.