An opening batsman, he scored more first-class runs and more first-class centuries than any other cricketer, records which are unlikely to be beaten since modern cricketers now play fewer first-class matches. Over half of his career total of centuries were scored after he had turned 40 years old; in 1929, aged 46, he became the oldest man ever to score a century in a Test match. He also scored over 1,000 runs in a season of English County cricket on 26 separate occasions. Only four men have ever scored over 1,000 in more seasons.
He established famous opening partnerships for England with Wilfred Rhodes and then with Herbert Sutcliffe, and for Surrey with Tom Hayward and then with Andy Sandham. Hobbs and Sutcliffe had no fewer than 11 century partnerships for the first wicket in Tests against Australia. The most famous of these was in the Fifth Test at The Oval in 1926. After four draws, the timeless Test would decide whether England would regain The Ashes. Australia had a narrow first innings lead of 22. Hobbs and Sutcliffe took the score to 49-0 at the end of the second day, a lead of 27. Heavy rain fell overnight, and next day the pitch soon developed into a traditional sticky wicket, and England seemed doomed to be bowled out cheaply and lose the match. In spite of the very difficult batting conditions, however, Hobbs and Sutcliffe took their partnership to 172 before Hobbs was out for exactly 100. Sutcliffe went on to make 161 and in the end England won the game comfortably and regained The Ashes.
Hobbs toured Australia five times during his career, and was voted one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1909. He was also named as Wisden's only Cricketer of the Year in 1926, when he was 44, the fourth and last time that a single player has been selected. As a result, Hobbs is one of only two cricketers named twice as a Cricketer of the Year (the other being Plum Warner, who was also the sole Cricketer of the Year in 1921).
Hobbs's selection in 1926 was the result of a great season in 1925. He scored over 3,000 runs and 16 centuries, the latter an English season record until it was beaten by Denis Compton in 1947. Hobbs carried his bat to score 266 as captain of the Players, the highest score achieved in a Gentlemen v Players match. Press attention had been following him most of the season as his career total of centuries approached W.G. Grace's record of 125. When his tally reached 124, he was followed to Hove by a massive and anticipant media entourage. "England is waiting with an almost expectant hush," observed The Times's editorial. The public, too, flocked to the ground in its droves (even though it was a weekday), but Hobbs, his equilibrium disrupted, missed a straight ball when his score was just one. As Surrey took the match by an innings, there was no second opportunity.
"I am feeling very restless," Hobbs conceded to the Manchester Guardian. "I am being weighed in the balance and I am afraid lest I be found wanting." Against Kent at the Oval, his fears were confirmed once more: he managed just 22. At Gloucester, he had two starts with 52 and 38, and followed with 54 — "Hobbs Falls Again," declared the Evening News, just a little ironically —, one, 49, four and 31 at home against Nottinghamshire, Middlesex and Leicestershire. He and his media following caught the late train to Taunton, where they with a vast Saturday crowd, which was almost universally disappointed when the hosts won the toss. They were all out by tea, however, and Hobbs, after surviving a dangerously-lofted legside stroke early on, batted solidly through to the close.
He relaxed over a tense Sunday on 91 not out, leaving his hotel only to go to church. As he dined that night, he saw from his window the arrival of even more pressman on the late train. On Monday, 16 August, with Hobbs's consent, the play delayed by 25 minutes to allow everyone in a half-mile queue to get into the ground. When play finally began, he bunted three singles and then cover-drove a no-ball to the fence. At last, at 11.37am, after another single, he worked Jim Bridges to leg and clipped through for his Grace-equalling century. As the Somerset players shook his hand, Percy Fender, Hobbs's captain, brought out a glass of ginger ale — it was thought initially to be champagne, but Hobbs was a teetotaller — with which he toasted the crowd. A young Douglas Jardine was batting at the other end.
On the following day, freed from the press pressure, Hobbs drove his first delivery for four and was caught off a no-ball shortly afterwards. Two hours and twenty minutes later, after a missed stumping by Mervyn Hill, he took the record outright with another 101 not out — he had been dismissed for the same score in the first innings — as Surrey chased down 183, Sandham having slowed down for the purpose.
It seems to be on account of beating Grace's record, which had been thought unsurpassable, that Hobbs was elected sole Cricketer of the Year by Wisden Cricketer's Almanack. From the pavilion after the match, before a crowded throng, Hobbs gave the demanded speech: "I am very happy to have achieved a lifelong ambition. I would dearly have liked making these two hundreds at The Oval, but next to that there is no county I would have preferred to score them against but Somerset.
Riding on the back of his increased fame, he was given a second benefit the following season (having already had one in 1914). Many were his sponsorships and endorsements: he was even cast as the lead actor in a silent film. During that 1926 season, Hobbs passed the record for Test runs scored in Ashes contests, formerly held by Clem Hill. An amusing incident ensued. "When Jack Hobbs passed 60 against Australia in the Leeds Test, 1926, he waved his bat towards a stand where his wife was sitting in front of a group of Australians. One of them, Clem Hill, asked: "Ada, why is Jack waving his bat like that?" Mrs Hobbs: "You should know, if anyone does, he has beaten your record of most runs in Test matches".
When Surrey played Middlesex at the Oval in August 1930 there was some confusion as to whether Hobbs needed 16 or 26 to pass W.G. Grace's record career aggregate of 54,896. Just to be on the safe side Hobbs doffed his cap to acknowledge the crowd's applause at both scores and scored 40.
He published a short memoir, Playing for England!, in 1931, scored his 16th hundred for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1932 and retired in 1934. He had played 61 Test matches between 1908 and 1930, with a career batting average in first-class cricket of 50.70. This was despite a four-year interruption to his cricket career due to the First World War, during which he served in the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic, and missing most of the season in 1921 due to first a thigh injury and then appendicitis.
After retirement as a player, he took up cricket journalism. In 1953, he became the second cricketer to receive a knighthood for his services to the game as a player (two cricket administrators and Don Bradman had previously been knighted). He died in Hove, Sussex. Gates at the Oval were named the Hobbs Gates in his honour, and the Hobbs Pavilion (now a restaurant) is situated on Parker's Piece, Cambridge.
Each year on his birthday, the Master's Club meets at The Oval for a lunch in his honour. The menu always consists of roast lamb followed by apple pie, as this was his favourite meal.
In 2000, Hobbs was named by a 100-member panel of experts as the third of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. Hobbs received 30 votes, behind Sir Donald Bradman (100 votes) and Sir Garfield Sobers (90 votes). Shane Warne (27 votes) and Sir Viv Richards (25 votes) took the fourth and fifth places. Respected cricket commentator and former Australian captain Richie Benaud selected Hobbs in his Richie Benaud's Greatest XI. Sydney Barnes was the other English cricketer selected by Benaud. In 1997 the noted cricket writer John Woodcock ranked Hobbs as the fifth greatest cricketer of all time.
There has been controversy over the exact number of first-class hundreds scored by Hobbs, with figures of 197 and 199 both being quoted. The two disputed hundreds were scored on the 1930-31 visit to Ceylon by the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram's team. Hobbs himself maintained that these matches should not qualify. 'Don't include those,' he told the late John Arlott. 'They were exhibition matches. Vizzy wanted to list our hundreds on the walls of his pavilion. We knew we'd got to score hundreds - so did the bowling side. They were not first-class in any sense.' Wisden Cricketers' Almanack has never recognised these two extra centuries as first-class but other authorities, such as Cricket Archive, do. The figures quoted in the table above conform to the higher figure. For a full discussion of the point see note 3 below.