Surrey County Cricket Club’s Young Writers’ Competition offers young fans the opportunity to have their work published on the Club website, learn more about working in cricket media, and interview a player. Adam Snook won the first 22-25 age-group category for his piece on a Surrey and England legend.
Sunlight bathed the morning in a golden glow, white clouds drifting across an azure sky as spectators filed in to the cricket ground. They generated a cheerful hubbub of chatter. The sign outside the entrance read:
Old Trafford Cricket Ground
May 28th 1934
Lancaster County Cricket Club vs Surrey County Cricket Club
A man and his child wound their way through the turnstiles and along the stands, searching for a good vantage point.
“Daaad, why did we come all the way here, when The Oval is round the corner from our house?” sighed the eight-year-old. He looked around, curious despite himself as they trudged further in to the main grand stand.
The pavilion stood majestically at one end, its changing rooms, balcony and clock a timeless monument to the triumphs and terrors of cricketers. The wicket ran an abrupt brown line between rows of lovingly striped green grass. Two sets of stumps awaited the players.
“Who knows when Jack Hobbs’ last match will be, the old boy is playing less and less these days. I don’t want to miss any last glimpses of genius,” the father said, taking a seat and carefully putting down their large picnic box.
“But this is Lancashire! It’s so. Far. Away.” Grumbled the child, still grousing about the lengthy early morning trip north from London.
“Lancashire, England, Melbourne, Australia, Johannesburg, South Africa… wherever in the world he goes, Hobbs carries a part of Surrey County Cricket Club with him, and furthers its glory.” The father said with enough authority to silence any contradictions.
Before long the Lancashire team wandered on to the field, to polite applause from the stands. Soon after the man himself stepped out of the pavilion with his opening partner. Hobbs sauntered towards the wicket, resplendent in brown Surrey cap, crisp white shirt and trousers. His bat idly swung from one hand, more so an extension of his limbs than a piece of equipment.
“Play,” said the umpire, and Hobbs followed his command in a way no other could. A fine-cut here, a neat leg-glance there. A stout defensive block followed by a booming cover drive. Power married to precision with potent effect.
“Go on Hobbs!” Shouted the child as the ball rocketed to the boundary yet again. The overs ticked by and the score rose ever higher. Lancashire’s bowlers tried variations and trickery, but Hobbs merely adapted and continued to thrive.
One perilous moment came when a delivery bounced, deviated wildly off the seam and whistled just over the bails. The crowd ooh’d and aah’d obligingly. Hobbs stepped aside, wiped his brow with a wry smile, adjusted his gloves, then moved back in front of the stumps, undaunted. The next ball was despatched to the boundary with a minimum of fuss, just a languid swish of the bat.
“One wonders how many more runs he might have scored if it wasn’t for the Great War,” mused the father. He tried to squash down the harsh, traumatic memories of his own military service. Instead, he let the timeless cricketing scene unfolding before him fill his heart, cleanse his mind and offer some contentment.
The man glances eastwards, spotting a few grey clouds clustering. He sighed softly. The newspapers reported troublesome rumblings from the continent. Anger, fear and threat stalked the world again. Who knew how long this blessed innings of peace could last, with a ferocious bowling attack arrayed against it.
Hobbs batted on. The crowd watched an artist at work, the cricket bat his paintbrush, the field his canvas, each shot that sends the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground is a moment of creative genius brought to life. “Mesmerising. Forget the old masters, Hobbs is The Master.” The father murmured, causing his son to look up at him.
The child spent a moment trying to decipher what that meant, then gave up with a shrug. Watching bat smack ball with a sweet clonking sound was satisfaction enough for his young mind.
Before long, Hobbs had rattled through the nineties. With a sweetly timed clip off his legs, he coasted through for the single to bring up another century.
Father and son rose together, clapping wildly and grinning at each other. “197 first-class hundreds!” Shouted the man, shaking his head in amazement. A tear slipped from his eye silently, but not secretly enough to go unnoticed by his son.
“Dad! You big baby, why are you crying?” The child asked, laughing, then was startled to realise his traitorous eyes were crying too. The man said nothing, just ruffled his son’s hair.
All around them upright, wizened men with usually serious demeanours were clapping, wiping their eyes, waving their hats with unbridled joy. Surrey supporters, Lancashire supporters, for a moment all were simply fans of the game and seeing it played at its best.
Lunch and tea came and went, as did various batting partners for Hobbs as wickets fell. Eventually the umpire called stumps and the players began leaving the pitch. Many spectators had left, but those who remained clustered towards their heroes, clapping them off the field and calling out encouragement and gratitude.
The child yells “M-mister Hobbs, how can you be so good?” The nearby adults chuckled politely, not willing to admit they were wondering the same.
A wry smile crossed the batsman’s features as he paused. “Watch the ball, then hit the ball. The rest is decoration and distraction.” He nodded, then strode onwards to the pavilion, billowing waves of applause crashing all around from spectators who knew they’d borne witness to a special day.
The batsman paused at the door, glancing over his shoulder. He raised his bat to the fading evening sun, lips following up into a smile, eyes taking in a last look at the scene that had been his life for decades, and the bat that had written the name Jack Hobbs into history forevermore.