1941

Montague Alfred Noble

Hubert Preston

Wisden obituary
MONTAGUE ALFRED NOBLE, one of Australia's most prominent cricketers, died on June 21, aged 67. During his long career, Monty Noble showed exceptional ability in every detail of the game, and by many people was regarded as the greatest all-round cricketer produced by Australia. He excelled as a batsman, bowler, fieldsman and captain, notably in placing his field to block a batsman's favourite strokes. Born in Sydney on January 28, 1873, Noble made a name in junior cricket and went to New Zealand with a New South Wales team in 1893, while in the following season he scored 152 not out for Sydney Juniors' Eighteen against A. E. Stoddart's team. That performance secured Noble a trial in the New South Wales eleven, and he gradually established himself as a cricketer of outstanding merit. Playing in four Tests in the 1897-98 season, when Stoddart's second team gained only one victory, Noble had the best bowling average on either side, and he remained a notable figure in Australian cricket until 1920, when he retired, having scored 14,245 runs and taken 654 wickets in first-class matches.

Already mature on first coming to England in 1899, when 26 years of age, he brought a reputation which he upheld at once with an innings of 116 not out against South of England at the Crystal Palace. The bowlers whom he faced included Lockwood, C. L. Townsend, Brockwell, J. R. Mason and W. G. Grace. From that highly favourable beginning he rose to the accomplishment of bigger and more important deeds at the expense of English cricketers during that and three subsequent tours. Showing versatility as demanded by the strength of the attack to which he was opposed, he varied his methods according to the needs of the occasion. His patience equalled his skill in defence, while at times he used his height and reach with full effect in driving, pulling, forcing the ball off his legs, and cutting either square or late -- a batsman of rare style and execution without any sign of weakness.

From start to finish of the 1899 tour Noble enjoyed exceptional success with the bat, impressing English critics chiefly by his self-control and indifference to fatigue after long spells at the crease. On English wickets he could not play forward with the same degree of safety as in Australia, and the necessity of watching the ball more closely from the pitch involved a considerable change in his methods. Concentrating on this, he triumphed at Manchester in the fourth Test Match; scoring 60 not out and 89, he withstood the England bowling for eight and a half hours. Noble did not get a run during three-quarters of an hour in his second innings, which lasted five hours twenty minutes, his prolonged effort contributing largely towards Australia avoiding defeat. In this way he atoned for complete failure at Leeds, where he was the first victim to J. T. Hearne in the only hat-trick performance in England in matches with Australia.

Noble again was the best all-rounder in the second team captained by Joe Darling. During this 1902 tour he made his highest score in England -- 284 at Hove against Sussex, he and Warwick Armstrong putting on 428, then a world record, for the sixth wicket. He stood out among his colleagues with 1,416 runs, average 32.93, next to Victor Trumper, and 98 wickets at less than 20 runs apiece, Hugh Trumble and J. V. Saunders being more effective with the ball. That was the tour in which Australia became sure of the rubber by a three runs victory at Old Trafford, while England in an equally dramatic finish won by one wicket at The Oval.

Three years later Darling lost the toss to F. S. Jackson, now Sir Stanley, in all five Tests, and England carried off the honours with two victories in the only decisive games. Noble obtained most runs -- 2,084 in the tour, average 44.34 -- but his bowling showed deterioration in a return of 59 wickets, and he did comparatively little in the representative matches.

Under Noble's lead, Australia had lost the 1903-04 series to P. F. Warner's side, but recovered The Ashes with a triumph over the touring team captained by A. O. Jones, and maintained the supremacy in 1909, when Noble, captain of Australia for the third time, proved himself a courageous and enterprising commander by his control of the side. After an indifferent start, two defeats being suffered before England won at Birmingham, the Australians feared an unsuccessful tour.

Then came a great example of bold, shrewd tactics. Winning the toss at Lord's, Noble gave England first innings under favourable batting conditions, and his enterprising venture upset a badly chosen eleven. The England batting was poor, catches were dropped, and Noble practically settled the issue by bowling A. C. MacLaren, his rival captain, with an astonishing break-back in the second innings. Australia won by nine wickets, and from that point all went well.

Victory followed at Leeds, while the remaining Tests, at Manchester and The Oval, were drawn. Noble equalled Jackson's good fortune in winning the toss in all the Tests, so enjoying that personal satisfaction, besides seeing his side retain the ascendancy secured when he led Australia for the second time against an England visiting team. His strategy at Lord's, where astute perception could sense unrest in the rival camp and prompt a breakaway from the accepted custom of seizing the gift of the gods by batting first, the feat of Warren Bardsley in scoring 136 and 130 at The Oval, and his own successful calling in the toss made that series of Tests historic.

No doubt the cares of leadership affected Noble as a player, his 1,109 runs, average 25.79, and 25 wickets at 37.12 each suggesting a decline of skill with both bat and ball; but never can a captain have felt more pleased with the full results of his visit to England. In this way Noble concluded his service as captain of Australia with eight Test victories to his credit to set against five defeats.

His most notable bowling performance for Australia against England was at Melbourne in January 1902. In the first innings of the very strong team captained by A. C. MacLaren he dismissed seven men for only 17 runs, and six in the second innings at 10 runs apiece -- 13 wickets in the match at the very small cost of 77 runs.

Figures prove that there has not been a superior all-round Test player. In 39 matches against England, Noble scored 1,905 runs, average 30.72, and took 115 wickets, average 24.78; George Giffen in 31 matches scored 1,238 runs and took 103 wickets; Wilfred Rhodes in 41 matches scored 1,706 runs and took 109 wickets -- these are the only three performers of the double in Test cricket.

Such facts show Noble's capacity for rising to the occasion, for during his four tours in England he did not once dismiss a hundred batsmen in a season, whereas George Giffen and Warwick Armstrong each accomplished the double three times. J. M. Gregory did this twice; G. E. Palmer, in 1886, H. Trumble, in 1899, and H. L. Collins, in 1919, once each.

Noble always maintained his connection with the Paddington club, and his association of over thirty years with this leading Sydney grade team was celebrated in April 1924 by a banquet in his honour. His record in first-grade matches was given as more than 10,000 runs and 600 wickets. In 1898-99 he had the remarkable average of 273, and in the 1910-11 season 128.80. After his successful captaincy against England, a Testimonial match was played at Sydney in March 1908. He scored 87, and his partnership of 192 for the seventh wicket with S. E. Gregory made the way for an innings victory for his Test eleven over the Rest of Australia. He also took four wickets. The testimonial Fund exceeded £2,000.

Unable to continue a banking career when occupied so much with first-class cricket, Noble qualified in dentistry. As a lecturer on cricket he gained wide popularity in Australia, and his book, Gilligan's Men, gave graphic descriptions of events that happened in the 1924-25 season.

Best Scores by Noble

Of 37 three-figure innings played by Noble in first-class cricket the best were:

284Australians v. Sussex at Hove, 1902. (He and W. W. Armstrong (172 not out) added 428 for the sixth wicket.)
281New South Wales v. Victoria at Melbourne, 1905-06, (with J. R. M. Mackay (194) he put on 268 for the second wicket, and with C. W. Gregory (73) 225 for the third.)
267Australians v. Sussex at Hove, 1905. (He and J. Darling (93) added 275 for the fifth wicket.)
230New South Wales v. South Australia at Sydney, 1903-04.
213New South Wales v. South Australia at Adelaide, 1908-09.
213New South Wales v. Victoria at Sydney, 1908-09. (He and W. Bardsley (192) added 304 for second wicket.)
200New South Wales v. South Australia at Adelaide, 1899-1900.


Most Productive Partnerships

428with W. W. Armstrong (172 not out) for sixth wicket v. Sussex at Hove, 1902. Sixth wicket record.
320with W. W. Armstrong (303 not out) for third wicket v. Somerset at Bath in 1905 (Noble 127).
315with S. E. Gregory (201) for third wicket, New South Wales v. Victoria at Sydney, January 1908 (Noble 176 and 123 second innings).
304with W. Bardsley (192) for second wicket, New South Wales v. Victoria at Sydney, January 1909.
283with A. J. Hopkins (218) for second wicket, New South Wales v. South Australia at Adelaide, 1908.
275with J. Darling (93) for fifth wicket, Australians v. Sussex at Hove 1905.
268with J. R. M. Mackay (194) for second wicket, New South Wales v. Victoria at Melbourne, December 1905.
225with C. W. Gregory (73 for third wicket, New South Wales v. Victoria at Melbourne, December 1905.


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