To my eternal shame I am no Surrey County Cricket Club history buff, anything before about 1990 is something of a mystery to me, partly because of my age and partly because of my laziness. Which is not to say I know nothing of the history of the club, I do know a bit but not as much as I should. One man in particular looms larger than any other in that history, that man is Jack Hobbs.
He is unquestionably Surrey's greatest ever batsman and arguably England's greatest ever batsman. In fact Leo McKinstry's new biography of him proclaims Jack Hobbs as England's greatest ever cricketer.
I will for a moment set aside my feelings as regards Mr. McKinstry's politics which are, shall we say, not in line with my own, and review what is an excellent biography.
The story of Hobbs' career is extraordinary. He started playing first class cricket in the early 1900s, firmly in the shadow, as was the rest of English cricket, of W.G. Grace, a man whose record of 126 First Class hundreds he would eventually eclipse, and then obliterate. The book explains Hobbs' humble beginnings and how they influenced his entire career. There are interesting asides such as the story of how he offered his services to Essex who rejected him sight unseen, the rest is history.
The passage which is set against the background of the First World War gives a fascinating insight into the Britain of the time, and into cricket at the time which was full of conflicted players. Hobbs himself worked in a munitions factory and served in the RAF at home but he never saw action overseas.
It charts Hobbs' career post-war when he really began to churn out the runs aged 36 (he was a late First Class starter, not debuting for Surrey until age 22). Including the 1925 season during which he scored a scarcely believable 3,000 runs and 16 hundreds, and his quest to reach 200 first class hundreds which he never quite managed (not bad to be left in the nervous 190s on that count). Of course it also charts his success with England and in particular his partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe. It tells the story of a great cricketer who was so shy he even worried whether he should accept the knighthood the Queen awarded him in 1953.
The book is clearly meticulously researched, I have difficulty dredging up records from the early 2000s never mind 1905. Occasionally it proved a tough read because of the sheer weight of statistical information, but it would be hard to truly appreciate Hobbs' greatness without them. If you're a fan of Surrey it's a must-read, but even for the casual cricket fan it is more than worth a look.
I have also very kindly been given two copies to give away by the publishers, but I'm not just dishing them out for nothing. If you fancy a chance of winning one email me the answer to this (pretty easy) question:
How many hundreds did Hobbs score for England?
Email your answer to SurreyCricketBlog@gmail.com, and I'll randomly select a winner in due course (let's say the deadline is midnight June 3rd)! For those that don't win, the book is available from all good book sellers. Well it's on Amazon anyway.