Robin Hobbs Writes

An article Robin was kind enough to write for the Club's Centenary Handbook is reproduced in full below:

I suppose it was only natural that I would have an inborn love for the game of cricket. My uncle had played for the Club Cricket Conference and also for Essex 2nd XI and my father, Reg, played for Chingford and the Chinghoppers. The first club I played for was Chadwell Heath where I spent two years. My father then sold the business we owned in Dagenham and we moved to Walthamstow, so it clearly followed that I should join Chingford, which I did in 1957.

Looking back, this gray day, these were the happiest days, such happy days, always dreading it woukd rain on a Friday, washing out the two days one had looked forward to all week.

I got great encouragement in my early days at Chingford which hopefully has held me in good stead during my twenty years as a professional cricketer. To Ken Dowding, my captain during many of my years at Chingford and Cliff Crafer, who captained me in the 2nd XI, I owe a great deal. I was very lucky in 1959 to find the Chingford wicket thoroughly responsive to spin and managed, with help from the fielders and dear Reg Rowlands as wicket keeper, to obtain over 100 wickets on Saturdays and Sundays.

Essex County Cricket Club seemed interested in taking me on the staff at that stage but with already eight spin bowlers at the County, I felt that I should approach Kent who were virtually devoid of any spinner. That winter I attended the nets at Eltham and Kent applied through Leslie Ames, the Kent Secretary, enquiring as to whether they could sign me. Suddenly Essex decided to make it nine spinners on the staff, and there I was in 1960, playing 2nd XI County Cricket, something I had only dreamt about. To give you some idea of how strong competition was, during that season I took 6-34 against a very strong Kent 2nd XI at Chelmsford, and was left out of the next match at Wanstead to give other bowlers a chance.

When one looks back now, it seems quite extraordinary that Essex, whose attack was based on seamers with Trevor Bailey, Roy Ralph, Ken Preston and Barry Knight, should ever have entertained having so many spinners on their staff. These included Peter Lindsay, who many will remember playing for Buckhurst Hill, a great spinner of the ball and someone who I thought would go all the way to the top grade, Ronnie Carr, a South African, Terry Kent, a slow left armer, Peter Spicer, an extremely talented cricketer, David Daniels, Paddy Feeland, Bill Greensmith, Alan Hurd .... one could go on and on. The outlook looked very bleak indeed for my getting into the 1st Team, and then suddenly it happened.

In 1961 I made my debut at Ilford on one of the greenest wickets I can ever remember, against Leicestershire and the game was over in two and a half days. Needless to say I did not bowl a ball in the match but I shall never forget my next game which was against Gloucestershire at Stroud. We lost by two wickets, but I was asked to bowl over 40 overs and managed to get a few wickets. Then to Harrogate and I was on my way. In 1962 I made no first team appearances for Essex, but continued to learn my trade in the 2nd XI and at Chingford. In 1963 I made a few first team appearances, but did not have a very happy season. If my memory serves me well, it was a very wet summer and I was in and out of the first team and averaged over 40 with the ball. I was most disappointed.

I was, however, very lucky to be picked to tour East Africa with an MCC side led by M.J.K. Smith and bowled as well as I ever have, but must admit that I was greatly helped by bowling on matting wickets laid on concrete, so that the ball bounced nearly chest high. I also went to Jamaica with Trevor Bailey and the Rothmans Cavaliers and continued to learn and improve my trade.

I suppose it all came right in 1964, capped by Essex, a full season in the side as Bill Greensmith had retired, and selection to tour South Africa with the MCC. Trevor Bailey, although a difficult skipper to understand at times, gave me every encouragement a young spin bowler could wish for - I owe him a great deal.

With the retirement of Trevor, Roy Ralph and Ken Preston it was natural that the Essex pitches would become less green, and during the course of the next ten years I played in almost all the county games, greatly encouraged by dear old Tonker Taylor. In 1967 I made my test debut against India and managed to get away most winters on some sort of tour, being at that time not only the best leg-spinner in England, but virtually the only one they could pick from.

In 1975 I decided to retire from first class cricket as my winter employers, Barclays Bank, were putting a little pressure on me to decide my future. I could also see that if I stayed with Essex my chances of appearing regularly in the side were virtually nil. Orthodox spinners have always been less costly than wrist spinners and the county were being well served by my two very good friends, David Acfield and Ray East.

Like so many other sportsman I decided in 1979 to take the plunge again, taking up the offer to captain Glamorgan. In retrospect I have no regrets at all over that decision but shall remember David Acfield's words when he said "Rob, the game's changed. You'll not enjoy it like you used to". He was, of course, right. he game has changed, money has seen to that, and every county seemed to possess someone who could produce balls at one hundred miles per hour. In 1981, at the end of my three year contract, it was time, finally, to call it a day. My wife had stood by me for three summers while I was enjoying myself in Wales, and she was now also pregnant. The time had come to act like a forty year old.

Cricket has been so very good to me, twenty years of doing a job I love so much, a benefit, countless friends, traveling the world free at someone else's expense and a thousand wickets in first class cricket. Memories will include the lovely Chingford ground where I have spent so many happy hours, before League cricket was introduced I must add. The brilliance of players such as Barry Richards and Javed Mianded, the sheer power of the Viv Richards, Clive Lloyds and Mike Procters of this world and lastly, but possibly the most important, playing with my father and putting on 168 against Barnet 2nd XI before I ran him out. I only hope I shall still be donning the whites when my son is fourteen years old.