Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry

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Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry

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Category: Sport
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: It's a rare biography that leaves you wanting to shake the hand of both author and subject, but this excellent portrayal of Jack Hobbs as man and cricketer does exactly that.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Yellow Jersey
ISBN: 978-0224083300

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Back in the early 1920s, there were only three Test cricket playing nations; England, Australia and South Africa. In the summer of 2012, both nations have been on tour; Australia recently beaten comprehensively at one day cricket and South Africa about to start a test series to determine the best Test nation in the world. Given that history is repeating itself, it seems appropriate that a new biography of Jack Hobbs, England's greatest run scorer and a man who repeatedly blunted the bowling attacks of both nations, should become available now.

Blessed with natural talent, there was little hint from Jack Hobbs' early years that he would become a world renowned cricketer. He was born the eldest of twelve children into a poor family in Cambridge and, whilst his father was obsessed with the game of cricket, which was at that time increasing in popularity, he wasn't much of a player. But he managed to pass his enthusiasm to his son and, despite an early rebuff to his attempts to play for Essex, Jack Hobbs was soon invited to qualify to play for Surrey, which he was to do until his retirement, some three decades, 60,000 runs and a record number of centuries later.

Leo McKinstry takes us through Hobbs' career in great detail, unveiling not just Hobbs the cricketer, but Hobbs the man. In a day when some are famous for nothing more than being born into a famous family or having a brief stint on some reality TV show, it is refreshing to read a story of someone who was slightly embarrassed of their fame, despite having every reason to be famous. Instead of someone who embraces fame, McKinstry paints one of a devoted family man and church goer, who just happened to be very good at a sport he loved playing.

Helped by Hobbs' essentially decent nature, the tone of the book could not have been more perfectly matched to the times described. The language and style reflect the age Hobbs lived in and, indeed, the kind of man he was. There is no waste here, no passages given over to unnecessarily flowery language, no use of a hundred words when one will do. Whilst clearly a decent man and an excellent cricketer, Hobbs was not particularly well educated and the language used here is possibly the type he would have used himself. This is a simply written biography of a simply brilliant cricketer.

Perhaps what surprised me the most about the book is that it proved to be lighter reading than I expected. Thanks to the recent advent of Twenty20 cricket, the game has been given extra pace and razzmatazz in recent years, but this was absent in Hobbs' time. Given the slower pace of cricket, where deciding Tests could be timeless and last over a week, and indeed of life in general, it's a surprise to find the book flowing as well as it did. The book builds like many of the Jack Hobbs innings described within; carefully put together and advancing towards something wonderful. Even in the rare occasion Hobbs wasn't playing with his usual fluency, the descriptions of those innings never lost their flow.

The emotions felt by all parties concerned within the book are also wonderfully expressed. Hobbs' nervousness as he neared W G Grace's century record is palpable, as is the relief when he broke it. You can feel the emotion of the crowd when an Ashes Test is won or lost. Most remarkable, at least to me, was the beautifully understated description of Hobbs' final days, which came close to bringing a tear to the eye of one rarely affected in that way.

Many a modern cricket fan may be interested to note the feeling amongst the amateur cricketers of the 1920s that too much money and attention was paid to the professionals; shades of the treatment afforded the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen these days. Devotees of cricket will be entranced by some gorgeous descriptions of how the game should be played and lovers of biographies will enjoy a fine example of the art, even if it is lacking much of the lurid behaviour of many, but such was the nature of Jack Hobbs. Whether a cricket fan or an avid reader of biographies, this is one of the best books in either category I've read in some time.

If you love the game of cricket, The Cambridge Companion to Cricket by Anthony Bateman and Jeff Hill (Editors) is wider ranging, but still likely to appeal.

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Buy Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer by Leo McKinstry at Amazon.com.


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