David Blackburn

Coming in 2011: Hobbs, our chief of men

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To schoolboys of a probably now passed generation, Jack Hobbs was a hero to rank with Biggles; he also had the added bonus of being real. Leo McKinstry has compiled the first major biography of England’s greatest cricketer, an imperious, greedy batsmen still revered by cricket lovers more than fifty years after he died.

McKinstry has delved into the archive to revive the human that has been obscured by the weight of timeless statistics. Hobbs’ life began in the grim surroundings of a Victorian slum in Cambridge, bleak origins from which talent and application freed him. His cricketing career began in the Edwardian era and ended with the advent of Bradman, his greatest statistical adversary. His legend was interrupted by the Great War, a conflict in which he served with distinction.

There is more to Hobbs’ story than runs, wickets and brylcreem. He was a professional sportsman, looked down on by the gentleman amateurs who played the game at its highest level to prove the upper classes still had the upper hand. But the unassuming Hobbs surpassed England’s innate snobbery to become, through sheer weight of runs, an international superstar grounded in humility. Cricket is game for athletes, mavericks and plodding statisticians. McKinstry’s England’s Greatest Cricketer concerns more than a love for the game; it is social history through sporting biography.