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Bodyline - When Cricket Divided Nations

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A man sporting a black eye after being hit by a cricket ball.

For those who are not familiar with the game of cricket, the significance of 'Bodyline' bowling is quite easily underestimated. However, this Entry will do its best to explain it. If cricket is a complete mystery to you, by all means skip over the technicalities and concentrate on the impact.

Before you switch off completely, note that in 2004 a poll of cricket journalists, commentators and players put the Bodyline tour top in the list of the most important moments in cricketing history. OK, so what if you think cricket is a dull sport anyway, full of dense terminology and interminable periods when nothing happens, only to end the match in a draw? Well, the effects of the Bodyline affair were felt internationally, outside the sport itself. It had a profound effect on the politics of the day. Clearly the topic must be mildly interesting, but perhaps the game itself needs a little introduction.

In cricket, the ball is bowled (a 'delivery') by the bowler, down a 22-yard pitch to the batsman, who attempts to hit it to score runs. A batsman can be dismissed (get 'out') if the ball hits any of the three stumps behind the batsman; if the ball is hit into the air by the batsman and caught by an opposing fielder before it bounces; or if the ball hits any part of the batsman and is judged by the umpire to have been prevented from hitting the stumps by anything other than the bat (this is called 'leg before wicket' or 'LBW', though it applies to any part of the batsman's body.

Bowling strategy can be simple on occasion, but when you really need a wicket (to get a batsman out) it can become very complex. The fielding side's captain will position his fielders precisely and talk to his bowler to plan how to prise out a wicket. A bowler will bowl a variety of different balls during an over (a set of consecutive deliveries bowled by one bowler - six balls for most of cricket's history).

The Urn and the Don

The Ashes is the oldest contest in international cricket, and consequently one of the oldest international sporting contests of any kind. England and Australia have played Ashes Test matches1 since the late 19th Century, and it is one of the greatest rivalries in world sport. The teams compete to win a small urn which is said to contain the ashes of some stumps or bails, representing the 'death of English cricket'2. It is a competition shrouded in legend.

Between 1928 and 1948 the Australian batsman Donald Bradman (nicknamed 'The Don') struck fear into the hearts of bowling attacks everywhere. He is unquestionably the greatest batsman of all time, and some have gone so far as to say he is the greatest sportsman of all time. This is based on his phenomenal batting average3. In the modern game, where batting is easier due to the changes in pitch preparation and bat manufacture, a batting average of 40 denotes a good international-class batsman. An average of 50 and above is reserved for the very best. Bradman's Test career average is a phenomenal 99.94. As a comparison, England's two best batsmen of the period (and perhaps two of England's best batsmen ever), Herbert Sutcliffe and Wally Hammond, have Test career averages of 60.73 and 58.45 respectively.

In 1930 the Australian cricket team toured England. The teams played five tests, and Australia won 2-1 (with two drawn matches). Bradman scored a colossal 974 runs, including a huge 309 in one day, in these five matches, at an average of 139.14. This tally is still the record for the number of runs scored in a series. Watching Bradman bat was something special. Not only did he score a huge number of runs, but he did so quickly and with such poise and grace. England had to devise a tactic to nullify him, or all hope of winning an Ashes series in the near future would vanish.

Leg Theory

The forerunner of Bodyline bowling, leg theory requires a little introduction. When a batsman is facing a delivery from the bowler, he stands side-on, with one leg further forward than the other. If the batsman is right-handed, this is his left leg. So from the batsman's point of view, the left side of the cricket ground is the leg side4. The other side is called the off side. The three stumps behind the batsman are correspondingly the leg, middle and off stumps.

Bowlers quite often bowl the ball on a line towards the off stump. This line is most likely to provoke the batsman to play the ball rather than just leaving it, and the best way to get a batsman out is to make him play. Leg theory is the opposite. The bowler aims at the leg stump, which, given the nature of the batsman's stance, cramps the batsman up. It means he will have to play the ball with the bat close to his body and without space it is very hard to score runs. It is especially difficult to work the ball to the favoured off side. This means the batsman is likely to become frustrated and try to hit the ball on the leg side, so the bowling captain will pack the leg side with fielders ready to take catches from a mis-timed shot.

The Plan

It seemed Bradman had no weakness - there was no area of the field he could not score runs in. That was until the captain of Surrey County Cricket Club, a man by the name of Percy Fender, noted, during the 1930 series, that Bradman looked uncomfortable with fast deliveries at his body. He tended to avoid these balls rather than look to play a shot off them.

In the aftermath of the beating in the 1930 series, four men met at London's Piccadilly Hotel. They were devising a new tactic with military precision. They were: Douglas Jardine, Nottinghamshire captain Arthur Carr and his two main fast bowlers, Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. The plan was to bowl fast and accurate at the leg stump and target the ball at the body of the batsman. Jardine hadn't played in the previous Ashes series due to business commitments, but he would later be appointed captain for the 1931-32 tour of Australia. He had developed an intense (and seemingly, baseless) dislike for Australians during the 1928-29 tour, commenting: 'All Australians are uneducated, and an unruly mob'.

So Jardine certainly had the motivation. He also had a plan. His idea was that the batsman would either have to struggle to evade all the balls aimed at his body or attempt to guide the ball away on the leg side, producing easy catches (see this diagram showing Bodyline and orthodox fields). Bodyline - or fast leg theory, as Jardine preferred to call it - was born. The key difference from conventional leg theory was the speed at which the ball was delivered. In an era when little protective equipment was worn, a blow to the body - or worse, the head - could be extremely painful, or worse.

Jardine was aided in his planning by the knowledge of Frank Rowbotham Foster, the former great Test-match bowler. The two met often before the tour begun and Jardine received Foster's leg theory field placings.

Larwood and Voce spent two seasons of English county cricket perfecting their technique, as did Yorkshire's Bill Bowes, until they could bow the ball at over 90 mph on the correct line. Then, on 17 September, 1932, they left for Australia, leaving many an English batsman nursing both pride and bruises.

On the boat trip to Australia, Jardine spent a long time getting his players in the right frame of mind. He encouraged a dislike, bordering on hatred, for Australians, and instructed them to never call Bradman by name. He decreed that he would be referred to exclusively as 'the little bastard'.

Australia

You fellas have no idea what sort of summer this is going to be.
- Donald Bradman warns his team-mates after experiencing Bodyline bowling in a tour match at Perth

Ashes tours start with at least one tour match against a regional team so the visiting side can get used to the conditions of the country they are playing in. The English fast bowlers used the match to ensure their bowling was as its best. Several Australian batsmen were hit and bruised by the ball, and the spectators voiced their displeasure. Over in England, people wondered what all the fuss was about. The tactic was simply termed 'fast leg theory' for them. The Australian newspapers came up with the far more evocative 'Bodyline'.

The First Test

When the time came for the first Test match of the Ashes tour, starting on 2 December, 1932, Bradman was out of the team. He was then in the midst of a row with his board and this was probably a contributory factor to the stress-related illness which caused doctors to declare him unfit to play the day before the match was due to start. Some of the Australian batsmen opted to wear chest pads to protect themselves from England's new tactic. Many Australians were outraged at how few balls the English bowlers actually aimed at the stumps.

The Australians managed a total of 360 runs batting first, powered by Stan McCabe's aggressive 187 off just 233 balls. It was during the partnership for the last wicket, when McCabe was smashing the ball to all parts of the ground, that Jardine switched to Bodyline bowling. Still, for nearly half an hour, the last pair resisted before McCabe's partner, the bowler Tim Wall, was caught off Wally Hammond's comparatively gentle pace bowling. By this point Australia had a sniff of a win.

But in reply England piled up 524, then skittled the opposition for just 164. This left them needing one run to win in their second innings, which Herbert Sutcliffe scored off the very first ball.

The win was utterly convincing. The England team had not completely resorted to Bodyline tactics, and sometimes played a more orthodox game, but their aggressive bowling caused a great deal of problems. Harold Larwood took five wickets in both Australian innings, finishing with combined figures of 10 for 124 off 49 overs. His control had been very impressive. At one stage, he had only two fielders on the off side. If any of his deliveries strayed off his leg-stump line, it would be easy to put the ball away through the leg side for a boundary.

The Second Test

The second clash between the two teams occurred at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, starting on 30 December. Bradman was back, having 'recovered from his indisposition', as the Wisden Almanack5 reported it.

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. The Australian captain Bill Woodfull usually stood to receive the first ball of the innings, but he decided this time to give that honour (and heavy responsibility) to his batting partner, Jack Fingleton. Perhaps this was due to a loss of confidence produced by the stress of his position during such troubled times. Larwood, finding little to assist him in the pitch, switched to Bodyline early on, but soon found the seam in the ball had come undone. A new ball had to be used, but Woodfull contested this, saying that this would give the English an unfair advantage given a new ball is harder and travels faster. Things got a bit heated before Jardine said the Australians could knock the new ball around for a bit until it resembled the old one in its condition.

Larwood failed to take a wicket in his first spell of bowling, but Woodfull was clean bowled soon after and his replacement, O'Brien, was run out by a rocket throw at the stumps from the field. Then came the moment all had been waiting for. He strode to the crease with his team on 67 for 2. People wondered how Donald Bradman, the greatest batsman ever, would cope with these new bowling tactics. Perhaps some thought his genius would prove too much for the English. He departed from the crease one ball later, the score 67 for 3, bowled by Bill Bowes. The crowd fell silent. Bowes reacted with the utterance: 'Well I'll be f****d!'.

Perhaps England were shocked into complacency by the ease with which they had despatched the Don. Whatever the reason, they only managed 169 in reply to Australia's first-innings total of 228. Jardine had placed his faith in his fast bowlers, with no specialist spinners in the team, while Australia's attack boasted three fine spin bowlers in Bill O'Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett and Bert Ironmonger. The pitch turned out to be very favourable to spin, and Bodyline bowling was shown to be fallible.

When Bradman walked out in Australia's second innings, he looked shaky. But after a few close calls he appeared willing to risk a bit of pain, and set about attacking. His 103 not out came off 146 balls while wickets tumbled about him - there were only three other batsmen reaching double figures, with a next-highest score of 32. His innings was not particularly audacious. It was more of the grim battling of a batsman fighting to save a Test match and to regain his own self-confidence. Australia scored 191 runs in their second innings, giving England a target of 251 runs to win. It was not an insurmountable target but England collapsed for just 139 with O'Reilly and Ironmonger taking nine wickets between them. The ball turned immensely off the pitch. Spinners do not use much pace, but beat the batsman with a bit of guile and with the change of direction - 'turn' - extracted when the spinning ball bounces off the pitch. In Melbourne, some balls were hitting the pitch outside leg stump and turning to whistle past off, something the English batsmen were not expecting. The victory was immensely important for the Australians, as they saw this as proof that even underhand tactics could not deny them victory.

While some incredibly tense cricket was being played out, tension was also building off the field. The Australian fans and media saw Bodyline as a thoroughly underhand tactic, and some of the English players were also against it. Bob Wyatt (the vice-captain) headed a group of dissenters: Freddie Brown, the Nawab of Pataudi, Gubby Allen, Wally Hammond and Les Ames were the others.

Jardine is loathed more than any German who ever fought in any war... sometimes I feel I should like to kill [him] and today is one of those days.
- Gubby Allen in a letter home to his parents

All this bottled-up anger was bound to come to a head eventually.

The Third Test

Adelaide was the stage for what Wisden called 'probably the most unpleasant Test ever played... altogether the whole atmosphere was a disgrace to cricket'.

It started disastrously for England. Jardine won the toss and decided to bat first on a pitch that looked perfect for batting. It soon became apparent that this was a misjudgement. Sutcliffe, Jardine, Hammond and Ames all fell early, leaving the score on 30 for 4, and it was only some gutsy half-centuries by the English lower-order batsmen, supported by a useful 45 from the bowler Hedley Verity, that propelled England to a first-innings total of 341.

England's leg-side field setting proved too much for the Australian top order. Bradman fell for eight runs after hitting an extravagant boundary and looking in good form. Bill Ponsford's cautious 85 was the backbone of an innings of 222. It was considered a very fine innings despite the relatively modest score, since it was compiled under the most extreme pressure. Harold Larwood was Jardine's prized fast bowler and unleashed a devastating barrage of short-pitched balls aimed at the batsmen. On the last ball of Larwood's second over, Bill Woodfull received a nasty blow over the heart which had the crowd in a rage. Woodfull stumbled away from the crease clutching his chest and took a while to recover. When he took his guard again, Jardine clapped his hands. It was the now well-known signal for a switch to the Bodyline field.

Then the Australian wicket-keeper, Bert Oldfield, was struck a vicious blow to the temple when on 41 and was taken off the field with a fractured skull. Attempting to play a shot, the ball caught the top edge of the bat and kicked up to the batsman's head. Though Larwood, the bowler, had not been bowling Bodyline at this point - Oldfield later said it was his own fault - ill-feeling among the home crowd grew. At one stage, mounted police were mustered outside the ground in preparation for a riot, as Union flags were burned by angry spectators. 'This isn't cricket, it's war,' Woodfull was heard to mutter.

We bade sentimental farewells to each other as each batsman made his way out to bat. We had a genuine feeling they were making a journey from which they might be borne back on a stretcher.
- Bill O'Reilly had the potential of injury on his mind.

When England's tour manager, Pelham Warner, visited Woodfull in the Australian dressing room to make amends and express his sympathy for the injuries suffered by the Australians, Woodfull famously replied:

I don't want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so.

England's reply was also a measured affair, held together by 85 from Wally Hammond, whose resistance was ended, surprisingly, by the part-time spin bowling of one Don Bradman. He would only take one other wicket in his 52-Test career. But through some more circumspect batting England managed to get to a formidable 412, leaving Australia a target of 532 to win. Bert Oldfield was absent through the entire innings, meaning the Australians had to improvise another wicket-keeper. Impressively, Oldfield returned for the fifth and final Test of the series.

Australia were always going to struggle against such a large total, but, apart from some spirited resistance from Bradman - with a very rapid 66 coming off 71 balls - and captain Bill Woodfull - a much more sedate 73 off 208 - they fell apart, with England's two fast bowlers taking four wickets each. One of these bowlers was the ever present Larwood; the other was Australian-born Gubby Allen, who refused to bowl Bodyline. Australia were soundly defeated by 338 runs, but they were not beaten solely by Bodyline.

On 18 January, the fourth day of the match, the Australian Board of Control for Cricket sent the following telegram to the Marylebone Cricket Club6:

Bodyline bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game, making protection of the body by the batsman the main consideration. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players, as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England.

All of a sudden this wasn't just a matter of sport - it was politics. Cricket had long been a way for the imperial homeland and the colony to compete on relatively friendly terms. Australians relished the opportunity to get one up on their 'mother country' without appearing disloyal. But now it was rather more than that.

The MCC was a stuffy institution then - and, some would say, still is now - and was rather prickly when it came to allegations of unsportsmanlike behaviour. In truth, they seemed ignorant of the seriousness of the situation, as were the British public in general. They thought fast leg theory was essentially harmless.

We, Marylebone Cricket Club, deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been unsportsmanlike play. We have fullest confidence in captain, team and managers and are convinced that they would do nothing to infringe either the Laws of Cricket or the spirit of the game. We have no evidence that our confidence has been misplaced. Much as we regret accidents to Woodfull and Oldfield, we understand that in neither case was the bowler to blame. If the Australian Board of Control wish to propose a new Law or Rule, it shall receive our careful consideration in due course.

We hope the situation is not now as serious as your cable would seem to indicate, but if it is such as to jeopardise the good relations between English and Australian cricketers and you consider it desirable to cancel remainder of programme we would consent, but with great reluctance.

The exchange continued, but the Australian Board did not want to be too aggressive because a tour cancellation would result in a large loss of income. However, the matter came through the corridors of power to the cabinet in London, and was also discussed by the Australian government. In fact it was the Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons who told the Australian Board of the economic disadvantages which would result if Britain boycotted Australian trade, and told them to make concessions if necessary in order to keep the British sweet.

It was noted by others in powerful places that Bodyline was in danger of fracturing a relationship, the strength of which had been important during World War I. At this point politicians were also uneasy about the rise of Nazism in Germany and perhaps had half an eye on the future World War II. Australia and England needed a strong relationship, something this fractious cricket series was threatening.

Jardine insisted that he was within his rights to employ such a tactic and that it was not a blemish upon the sportsmanship of the team. It was later discovered he secretly sent a telegram of sympathy to Bert Oldfield's wife and arranged for gifts to be given to his young daughters. Make of that what you will.

Jardine's vilification reached its height after the third Test, and in Australia at least it has never really decreased. While Jardine was fielding, one spectator noticed him trying to swat away a particularly persistent fly. 'Oi, leave our flies alone, Jardine,' he said. 'They're the only flamin' friends you've got here.' Jardine appeared to almost enjoy the confrontation. When drinks came out onto the field, one of the crowd shouted 'Don't give the bastard a drink. Let him die of thirst!' which the England captain seemed to find amusing.

The Fourth Test

England went into the Fourth Test at Brisbane 2-1 up in the five-match series. They won comfortably by six wickets. The English fast bowlers, supported by some good spin bowling from Hedley, Verity and Tommy Mitchell, and some medium-pace from Wally Hammond, proved too much for the Australians. However, it was not all plain sailing. In their first innings Australia made a healthy 340. The main scoring was done by the first three batsmen: Vic Richardson with 83, Woodfull with another slow-paced, anchoring innings of 67 - during which he especially was targeted by Bodyline bowling - and the Don himself with some gorgeous drives in a composed 76. They looked uncomfortable against the English bowling, but they did not give in easily.

Then, in England's first innings, the Australian bowlers set about their task with gusto. England slipped from a strong 99 for 0 at the end of the second day to 216 for 6 during the third. England looked in danger of losing control of the match and setting up a decider in the Fifth Test. Enter one Eddie Paynter.

Eddie did not play in the first two Tests, but in the third the Nawab of Pataudi7 was omitted. The Nawab had scored a century in the first Test of the series, but had refused to take part in a Bodyline field. Jardine had no time for this 'conscientious objection' as he put it, and had him dropped.

During the first day of the fourth Test, Paynter became unwell. A doctor was summoned and sent him to a local hospital after diagnosing him with acute tonsillitis. The Times reported there was no chance of him batting in England's first innings. When he heard of England's batting collapse on the second day he discharged himself from hospital, still in his pyjamas, and arrived at the cricket ground in a taxi. Some said he had been encouraged by some kind words from Jardine. Others said the words were less kind. Some said Eddie Paynter did this entirely of his own accord. Whatever his reasons, he got changed, padded up, and went out as the sixth wicket fell. The conditions were hot and humid - hardly ideal for a man in his condition.

After the animosity of the third Test, the appreciation of Paynter's effort was shown by both sides. Reports said he instantly became a favourite among the crowd, and was 'cheered to the echo' by the Australian fans. Harold Larwood, who was the not-out batsman when Paynter came to the crease, later recalled: 'I'll never forget his face. He looked white and ill. At no time a great talker, he had even less to say that day than usual. He had the shakes. He remained pale throughout but never wavered. I also recall how considerate Woodfull was to him every moment of his innings.'

Eddie saw out the day with 24 runs. They had come at a painfully slow rate; mostly his role had simply been to occupy the crease and not get out. After spending the night again in hospital, he returned the next day and partnered Hedley Verity for the ninth wicket. Their partnership was worth 92 invaluable runs. Given the conditions - at this point the wicket was deteriorating rapidly and offering plenty to aid the bowlers - it was a great innings. In the end Paynter got out for 83. It is considered one of the greatest examples of grit and determination in cricket and was a ray of sunshine in a tour otherwise muddied by controversy. 'It was nowt more than a sore throat,' he said later, shrugging off compliments on his innings under adversity.

Thanks to Paynter's batting, England overhauled Australia's first-innings total, and set up victory with a target of just 160 runs in their second innings. Paynter continued to play in the match in spite of his condition. He fielded during the whole of Australia's innings and then, coming in with four wickets down, sealed the win with six off Stan McCabe's bowling. England had regained the Ashes.

The Fifth Test

In the fifth Test, Bradman once more got off to some promising, aggressive starts, but failed to make one of his trademark big hundreds. Wally Hammond, England's star batsman, made 101. Although Bodyline was still employed, the pitches at Brisbane and here at Sydney were slower than elsewhere in Australia, so no more injuries were sustained. Australian pace bowler Harry 'Bull' Alexander did strike Jardine a painful blow on the hip. Alexander gleefully yelled 'I've killed him! I've killed him!'. Jardine didn't flinch. Although it wasn't bowled to a Bodyline field, Alexander had been persistently bowling at the body for some time - it was the closest Australia got to retaliation in kind.

Harold Larwood, Bodyline's leading practitioner, scored 98 as a nightwatchman8 and was once more consistently among the wickets. England won by eight wickets.

Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe topped the series run-scoring charts with 440 runs each from the five Tests. Hammond scored these at a strike rate of 41.23, Sutcliffe at 37.03 - both about par for the era. Bradman came in third place, scoring 396 runs at an average of 56.57 and a superb strike rate of 74.85. These figures would have been very good for any other batsman, but it is a testament to his genius that these numbers were for him very ordinary. Bradman only scored one century and three fifties, with a high score of only 103. Coming from someone who scored double - and triple - centuries for fun, this was very ordinary indeed.

The lacklustre figures from the Australian batsmen were for the most part down to the English fast bowlers and their Bodyline tactics - there is no doubt about that. Most of the damage was done by Harold Larwood, who took 33 wickets, giving away just 19.51 runs for each. In second place in the wickets list was the Australian spin bowler Bill O'Reilly, with 24 wickets at 26.81 apiece. Finally, Gubby Allen - the English fast bowler - came in third, with 21 wickets at 28.23.

England took 93 wickets in total in the series. The frontline fast bowlers - Larwood, Allen and Voce - accounted for 69 of these, or 74% of all wickets. By comparison, in the spin-dominated Australian attack, the main fast bowler Tim Wall took 16 of 74 wickets, a mere 22%. These figures show two radically different strategies, but also highlight which team came out significantly on top.

Aftermath

With the tour over, the MCC decided the matter was worth further investigation. Jardine, Pelham Warner, Larwood and Bill Voce, among others, were summoned to MCC headquarters at Lord's cricket ground. Warner was the only one there who criticised Bodyline bowling, and no changes were made to the Laws of Cricket.

Frank Rowbowtham Foster, from whom Jardine received leg theory advice and field placings, later said he had no idea these would be used for Bodyline bowling. He had assumed Jardine was planning an orthodox leg theory strategy. He apologised for the part he had to play in the whole business and wrote an article completely denouncing Bodyline.

Bodyline as a tactic was utilised in England following its success in Australia. It was still effective, but less successful because English wickets were slower than the hard, fast Australian surfaces which allowed the ball to rear up at speed into the batsman's body. Still, Nottinghamshire especially retained the tactic, since they had Larwood and Voce in their team. This was the first time English crowds could actually see Bodyline in action and realise what all the fuss had been about. The English internationals also got a taste of their own medicine during the summer of 1935, when the West Indian fast bowlers Learie Constantine and Manny Martindale employed Bodyline tactics. Wally Hammond was struck on the chin, but played on. Jardine played an unflinching innings and scored 127, his only Test century. The English bowler Edward 'Nobby' Clark also bowled Bodyline during the Test match. People were shocked by the cynicism of the tactic and its obvious attempts to cause pain to the batsman.

The England team also utilised Bodyline in India during their winter tour of 1933 - 34. They did not have Larwood or any of the Ashes fast bowlers, but Clark had taken up their mantle following the West Indies series and hit and injured several Indian batsmen.

Finally, after seeing Bodyline first hand, the authorities took notice. The MCC passed a resolution in 1935 that 'any form of bowling which is obviously a direct attack by the bowler upon the batsman would be an offence against the spirit of the game'. Years later - some 25 years in fact - another change to the Laws was introduced. It restricted the number of fielders allowed to be placed behind square leg9 to two. Bodyline fields typically had many more in this region, so, although the change was not specifically targeted at Bodyline, it hampered its effectiveness.

The MCC asked Larwood to sign a letter of apology for Bodyline, which he refused. He argued he had simply been following instructions from Jardine. Larwood never played cricket for England again. He might have been the hero for a short while, but now he was seen as a villain. Many have noted that Larwood was from a lower-class background while Jardine was born and bred upper-class, and that this was the reason Jardine escaped any request of apology. Thus the career of someone many call one of the great fast bowlers of history was over by the time he was 28. Larwood emigrated to Australia - of all places - in 1950 in an attempt to escape his vilification in England. A strange decision, really - he would later receive several threatening phone calls and letters, especially after the airing of an Australian TV miniseries dramatising the events - but Britain was in the depths of a post-war depression and Larwood had five children and a wife to support. Australia would provide them with a new life. Despite the occasional animosity towards Larwood, the English bowler had at least one friend: Bert Oldfield, his old victim from Adelaide, who was never one to bear a grudge.

As a footnote, many have noted that, had Australian captain Bill Woodfull been more active in his captaincy, the series might have been different. Perhaps he could have used Bodyline himself? It would not have been impossible, although Woodfull did not have the same high-quality fast bowlers as Jardine had at his disposal. Woodfull himself later said he refused to be dragged down to the level of using Bodyline himself, and also that it would do no good to international relations to retaliate in kind. He stuck to the ideal of cricket as the gentleman's sport. Though admirable, this lack of tactically astute captaincy almost certainly had a part to play in Australia's defeat.

The gentlemanly aspect of the sport took a battering during Bodyline, although even today there remains a veneer of sportsmanship - represented by the nebulous 'Spirit of Cricket' - behind which a highly competitive, professional edge resides. As more money becomes involved in the game and it becomes more 'modern' in its structure and governance, this veneer is likely to get thinner. Arguably one of the key moments in this change from gentleman to professional sportsman was the Bodyline series.

Wider Significance

Bodyline has continued to be a divisive subject even to this day. Some see it as a stain on the sport, others as an innovative tactic which should nevertheless have been legislated against, others (mainly English, unsurprisingly) as 'the biggest whinge in sporting history' - this in response to yet others (mainly Australian) continually bringing it up as a great injustice.

Such a divisive subject as this was bound to produce a lot of literature. One of the better-known documenters was Jack Fingleton. Fingleton actually played the first three matches of the series for Australia, but was dropped after the third Test where he scored a pair, or got out for nought in both innings. He was also blamed for leaking the dressing room incident between Bill Woodfull and Pelham Warner. Woodfull had kept a stoic public face, but this revealed his true feelings. Among the books Fingleton wrote after his retirement in 1940 was Cricket Crisis - an account of the Bodyline series. One of his most famous statements was an admission, as it were, that perhaps events had been blown out of proportion: 'I think, looking back, the Australians perhaps made too much fuss about it'. This quotation is used in David Frith's incredibly detailed Bodyline Autopsy. Jardine wrote his own account, In Quest of the Ashes, in 1933.

One of the reasons it took so long for anyone back in England to realise what what really going on was that reporting of the series was rather removed from the cricket itself. There were no live radio broadcasts. Reporters out in Australia would cable short, staccato reports to England, where they would be transformed into full scripts and bulletins. One of the greatest reporters of the time - and, arguably, of all time - was Neville Cardus. He was a pioneer in cricket writing, and provided more than just a plain record of events. His reports painted the scene with colour and emotion. The Bodyline series, with its colourful characters and its layered controversies and drama, was an ideal subject. He also wrote Douglas Jardine's obituary in The Guardian.

Although there were no formal changes in the relationship between Britain and Australia, some animosity remained. People from one country avoided buying goods from the other. Other British colonies, especially in Asia, rejected Australian business deals, and the North China Daily News denounced the Australians as sore losers. There were various small incidents, such as the vandalism of a statue of Prince Albert in Australia, with the word 'BODYLINE' painted on it, and numerous satirical cartoons published.

The series is still the cause of some bitterness among Australians. Then, as today, Australians were fanatical about their national sport, and saw the Test match as a place of sanctuary at a time when their country was experiencing a severe depression. Attending Test matches was consequently not cheap, and to see one team completely disregarding any notion of sportsmanship - as they saw it - was an outrage. Even today 'Bodyline' is a word synonymous with unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Bodyline as a whole is considered to be an extremely important episode in the history of Australia, marking one of the key points when the former colony broke with its imperial motherland. In some states of Australia, schoolchildren study it as part of the Modern History syllabus.

Bodyline Today

Interestingly, intimidating bowling is now considered part of the game of cricket. In the 1980s, the West Indies possessed a formidable battery of very fast bowlers who made a living out of short-pitched deliveries aimed to unsettle batsmen. The difference was that helmets had been introduced and the number of bouncers (short pitched balls which go past the batsman at head height) per over limited.

Over time the attitude to Bodyline has generally softened. In 2001, Wisden Cricket Monthly praised the then England captain Nasser Hussain's deployment of a containing leg-side attack again“ ¸”ùR4}F st India as a tactically astute move, and even commented that the move showed 'shades of Jardine'. In the 1980s the West Indies employed four very fast, very aggressive bowlers, and the English four-man pace attack during the 2005 Ashes was instrumental in the eventual English victory; while during the Bodyline tour there were usually only two English bowlers who bowled regularly using fast leg theory. As times have changed, so have attitudes. That said, it is still a sore point among some A“ ¸”ùR4}F ustralians.

It is widely thought that Bodyline bowling if introduced today would never have the effect it had in the 1930s, even if the laws had not been changed. The game has moved on since then, and batsmen are more flexible, more adept at improvisation. England's Kevin Pietersen demonstrated the 'switch-hit' against New Zealand in June 2008. As the bo“ ¸”ùR4}F wler launched into the delivery he would switch from his normally right-handed grip to a left-handed grip, effectively switching his leg and off sides. Although very few batsmen are capable of switch-hitting, batsmanship nowadays doesn't frown upon unorthodoxy in the same way that it did. Such innovation as this would mean Bodyline bowling would have lost its bite. This is especially true with the advent of protective equipment: helmets, chest and forearm pads mean it is extremely rare for a batsman to get badly hurt. Finally, modern bats are far more effective than the older variety. Bodyline relied on the batsman not connecting properly with the ball as he tried to hit it on the leg side - a tricky move - but with modern bats even a mishit can go to the boundary.

Today the Australian cricket team is easily the best in the world. They have achieved this at least partially through a philosophy of tough, competitive cricket, which remained within the rules, but occasionally bent them. It is perhaps ironic, then, that they learned this lesson from an Englishman and his own tough, competitive brand of cricket.

Further Reading

The DangerMouse History of Cricket article on Bodyline.

1International cricket matches played over four innings. Each team bats twice, that is, has two innings (except in certain specific circumstances which we will not go into here). Test matches are currently played over a limit of five days, but in other eras these games had no time limit and could go on for a lot longer.2As The Sporting Times called it in a mock obituary when England lost to Australia for the first time on English soil in 1882.3Calculated as the number of runs a batsman has scored divided by the number of times he has been out.4It is sometimes called the 'on' side as well.5'The Cricketing Bible' - released annually, it is a densely-packed book with a review of all international and English county cricket, as well as articles, awards, statistics and assorted cricketing gubbins from the past year.6At this time the MCC was the governing body of English cricket and also the international board who decided on changes to the laws and suchlike.7It was not unheard-of for players from across the Empire to play cricket for England.8A player of relatively low batting skill promoted ahead of superior batsmen to shield them. This tactic is usually used in the last hour of play in the day, when light is low and conditions hard for batting. Even a good batsman can get out making a mistake in these conditions, and this is considered a waste. By 'sacrificing' someone else the specialist batsman can start afresh the next day, in conditions more favourable to batting.9Remember the leg-side? Well, square leg is the line at a right-angle to the batsman as he faces the bowler. So, for a right-handed batsman, the area to his left and behind him is termed 'behind square leg'.

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