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Noble, Montague Alfred (Monty) (1873–1940)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Montague Alfred Noble (1873-1940), by Sam Hood, 1932

Montague Alfred Noble (1873-1940), by Sam Hood, 1932

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 2361

Montague Alfred (Monty) Noble (1873-1940), cricketer and dentist, was born on 28 January 1873 in Sydney, eighth and youngest son of English parents Joseph Noble, grocer and later builder, and his wife Maria, née Collins. Educated at Crown Street Superior Public School, Noble became a bank clerk and then studied dentistry under Henry Peach. Registered on 15 April 1901, he practised in Macquarie Street. In 1902 he was honorary assistant dental surgeon at the Dental Hospital, Sydney. He was president of the Dental Association of New South Wales in 1915 and served on the State's Dental Board in 1916-21.

After scoring 152 not out for a junior eighteen against A. E. Stoddart's English touring team in 1894, Noble played for New South Wales and was chosen for Australia in the second Test against England in January 1898; he took 6 wickets for 49 runs in the second innings. He played in the next 38 Tests against England, touring four times, and in three on the first Australian visit to South Africa in 1902. Known as Alf or Monty (which he preferred) or, from his initials, 'Mary Ann' (which the crowd liked), he was addressed as 'Mr Noble' by many junior members of the teams that he captained.

Playing in the golden age of Australian batsmanship, Noble saw his schoolfellow Victor Trumper as the epitome of a new era. He himself was, as Neville Cardus put it, the classical batsman to Trumper's romantic. Correct and thoughtful, he was not a player of intuition. Noble could hit hard but often found himself playing a defensive role. His only Test century was a patient 133 at Melbourne in December 1903, his first innings as captain, after Trumper, R. A. Duff and Clem Hill had gone for 12 runs. Yet he was a prolific runmaker, scoring 1905 runs against England and 95 against South Africa. In his long Sheffield Shield career his average of 69.38 for 4996 runs remained unequalled until the advent of W. H. Ponsford and (Sir) Donald Bradman. Captain of the Paddington club in Sydney, Noble achieved the astonishing batting average of 273 in 1898-99 and headed the grade averages with 128 in 1910-11. After retiring from Test cricket, he led a team to New Zealand in 1914. In all, Noble scored more than 14,000 runs in first-class cricket with 37 centuries.

As a bowler, Noble was formidable. Of slowish medium pace, he belonged to the new school of 'swerve and spin'. Long acquaintance with baseball helped him to perfect a technique that 'quite puzzled the Englishmen'. His style lost its novelty but never its effectiveness. He took 13 wickets for 77 runs against England in the Melbourne Test in 1902 and, though less successful abroad, his eventual tally of 115 Test wickets was second only to that of Hugh Trumble. With George Giffen, Noble shared the honour of scoring the 'double'—1000 runs and 100 wickets against the Englishmen.

Noble's skills with bat and ball were eclipsed by his reputation as a captain, especially for three Test series against England (1903-04, 1907-08 and 1909). When the Australian Board of Cricket Control was formed in 1905, Noble was prominent in the battle between players and officials and was disqualified from office and playing by the New South Wales Cricket Association in 1906-07. A big man, with large feet and an apparently ungainly stance, Noble did not appear to be a natural athlete but was a 'magnificent and courageous fieldsman at point'. Tall and commanding, he was a talented leader of men—a shrewd tactician with a passion for fair play, a reserved man who could inspire others, a disciplinarian who always defended his team. A. A. Mailey named him captain of his all-time World XI (as others have done), for he 'commanded respect, loyalty and obedience with the easy grace of a king'. He also usually won the toss.

After retiring from first-class cricket in 1920, Noble reluctantly abandoned dentistry to be a manufacturer's representative. He continued as a mentor to young players and administrator, and for a season was sole State selector. He had contributed chapters to two cricketing books as early as 1900 and wrote elaborate accounts of Anglo-Australian Test series, Gilligan's Men (1925), Those Ashes (1926) and The Fight for the Ashes (1929). In 1926 he summed up his cricket philosophy in The Game's the Thing. Noble helped to improve the quality of Australian cricket journalism and he was a pioneer in broadcasting Test matches.

On 14 January 1914 Noble had married Elizabeth Ellen Ferguson; they had four children. A home-loving man, sociable and hospitable, he had a pleasant singing voice and trained in a church choir (his brother Henry was a well-known Anglican clergyman). He was president of the New South Wales Baseball Association. He returned to his profession of dentistry in the late 1930s. He died in Sydney on 22 June 1940 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. His principal memorial is the M. A. Noble stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Cardus, Days in the Sun (Lond, 1929)
  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-40
  • J. Arlott (ed), The Great All-Rounders (Lond, 1968)
  • R. Robinson, On Top Down Under (Syd, 1975)
  • R. W. Halliday, A History of Dentistry in New South Wales 1788 to 1945, A. O. Watson ed (Syd, 1977)
  • Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1896-1921, 1941
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15, 24 June 1940
  • M. Sharp, Sporting Spectacles: Cricket and Football in Sydney 1890-1912 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1986).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Noble, Montague Alfred (Monty) (1873–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/noble-montague-alfred-monty-7854/text13643, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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