(23rd July 2012,Cricturf) : Scoring 2960 runs on a tour and scoring 974 runs in a 5 match Test series at an average of 139.14 including scores such as 139,255,334 (309 of this was scored in a single day) & 232. This man had to be stopped at any cost. If not the ASHES are gone for the next 15-20 years.
Such was the stature, class of Sir Donald Bradman no one could stop him from scoring runs. Cricket which has always been a team sport but it had become Australia = Bradman so in order to defeat Australia in a test series England(MCC) had to find a way to defeat Bradman.
On Jardine’s appointment as England’s skipper Rockley Wilson, the master-in charge of Cricket in England was asked about his views on Jardine’s appointment as England’s skipper & he replied “We may win the Ashes but we might lose the dominion”
Jardine watched films of Bradman’s innings of the 1930 tour and during his innings of 232 at the Oval he saw a moment when Bradman flinched while facing the Nottingham fast bowler Harold Larwood. When Jardine saw this film he’s supposed to have said “That’s it he’s yellow”
Jardine studied the strategy applied by English fast bowler Frank Foster to tame Victor Trumper in the 1912 series. It was known as “Leg-Theory” where a fast bowler would pitch the ball outside the off-stump and with the help of late-swing trap the batsman on his thighs shutting his off-side strokes. All the close in fielders would be placed on the leg side to take a catch of a mistimed stroke.
Jardine described his strategy as “Fast Leg Theory” where the bowler would bowl short rising deliveries at the batsmen pitching the ball on the line of the leg-stump. The field would be set with six close-in fielders on the leg-side (Leg Trap) to be ready to catch any unsuccessful defensive stroke or a mistimed hook shot. If the batsman was able to play a hook shot and pass the leg-reap then two fielders were placed at the boundary to take the catch. In those days if a captain wished he could set his entire field on the leg side. (Only post the 1932-33 tour the rules changed regarding the numbers of fielders to be placed on the leg side.)
In order to make the “Fast leg theory” work Jardine needed a pace battery.He went on to make a squad whose bowling style would be fast bowling. His two lethal weapons were the opening bowling pair for Nottingham Bill Voce & Harold Larwood. Cricket historians and writers believe Larwood was the fastest bowler, without a speed meter they could bet he was bowling at a speed of 97mph consistently.
Jardine had seen how England suffered under the hands of Bradman in the 1930 Ashes held in England and at any cost he wanted to win the 1932 tour. The intensity was such that he told his team that we gotta hate them & from here on Donald Bradman wouldn’t be called Don or Bradman he would be called the little bastard.
The Australian skipper for the 1932 tour was Bill Woodfull, a school teacher by profession was a man of stern principles & gentle nature. At the end of this tour his love for the game is what many still believes saved cricket.
Before the test series began the MCC played a warm up game vs an Australian XI which also featured Bradman & they deployed their bowling tactics in this game. Post the match Bradman was quick to speak out his concerns to his New South Wales team members on his return to Sydney. As per Bill Brown, his NSW team-mate Bradman told his state team members “You have no idea what this summer is gonna be like”
The man to whom Jardine planned to tame wasn’t gonna feature in the 1932-33 series due to his contractual dispute with Board of Control. Bradman used to write for the Sydney sun & Cricket Australia had objected his writing during the tour which led to Bradman coming to a stage where he said he would never play cricket as he has signed a contract to write for the Sun.
An Ashes encounter without Bradman, considering how he played in the 1930 series was a next to impossible thought. So his employers from the Sydney Sun relieved him from his contractual obligations making him free to play cricket. On the eve of the first test Bradman was declared unfit to play as he suffered from a throat infection. He did miss the first test which was played at the SCG.
The crowds witnessed the fury of the English bowling attack from the very first test. People didn’t know what to call this form of play. Those days test matches were timeless tests so one had to score but with rising deliveries being bowled and a leg-side field was making survival difficult forget scoring runs.
The crowds, media, Australian players were finding words to describe what they were facing. Some called it direct attack, shock attack. The Australian cricketers called it scorners. A journalist named Jack Waroll who used to write for a weekly named Australasian talked about this form of bowling “being on the line of the body”. This made other people thinking and Hugh Buggy who wrote for the Melbourne Herald stated this as “on the body line”, Then Ray Robinson a sub-editor in the Herald office joined these two words and gave the name for what cricketing history always remembers this tour as “BODY-LINE”.
The Sydney test had a star performance by a 22 year old Stan McCabe who played an innings of his life. While the Australian openers were battling Voce and Larwood, McCabe was padding up to bat next he told his dad “If I get hurt out there dad, promise me that mum won’t jump off the fence”. When McCabe came to bat he began to counter attack. The faster and shorter they bowled the harder McCabe hooked them making the close-in fielders of the “leg trap” duck. McCabe went on to score 187* an innings which many believe as one of the best innings in Test History. Despite this heroic effort England went on to win the First-Test.
Had McCabe not scored the runs he did, there might have been a cancellation of the tour but he proved with a bit of luck and aggressive style of play one could score runs & had Bradman played the first test & scored runs maybe England would have stopped this form of play.
Post the first test match there were discussions whether Australia would apply the same tactics against the English batsmen? Bill Woodfull didn’t agree to this as he believed it was stooping low in the game he loved whereas
Victor Richardson vice-captain of the Australian team (Grandfather of the Chappell borthers) wanted eye for an eye. Its believed that he overheard a few English players saying, if Australia bowls Body-Line then they are gonna ask Jardine to stop this right there. Bill Woodfull never agreed.
Had there been retaliation by the Australians it may have stopped the BODY-LINE, may have distanced England-Australia cricketing relations for don’t know how many years. It would have also put a question mark on where would the future of Test-Cricket be? This was Woodfull’s greatest contribution to the game.
Bradman returned for the second test. A record crowd was seen at the MCG. The crowd went on roaring his name when he came to the crease. He was cheered till the wicket. The cheers went on and on making Bill Voce who was eager to bowl moved a fielder around towards the square leg fence in order to pass his time, waiting for the crowd to settle down. Bradman noticed the change in the field and sensed it right away Voce is going to bowl a bouncer.
The first ball Voce bowled to Bradman & Bradman was bowled. The crowd went numb, silent their savior was out the first ball. The only man screaming & ecstatic was the English skipper Douglas Jardine who was hopping all around. After all those months of planning Jardine had got what he wanted.
It was a different story in the second innings. Bradman came to bat again it was Bill Voce bowling but this time a determined Bradman went on to make a 103* helping Australia achieve a 111 run win.
Bradman privately lobbied members of Board of Control to make a complaint to the MCC but it was ignored. Those were the days of the Great Depression & an Ashes tour would generate revenue for the nation plus Bradman made a unbeaten 103* against this bowling so Cricket Australia didn’t find any reason to take this matter seriously. The people felt now that Don has tamed Body-Line, England will give up such tactics and test cricket will be restored.
Third Test of the tour, which is remembered as one of the darkest days of Cricket began January 1933 at Adelaide Oval. Coincidently it was Friday the 13th. It was a working day and a huge crowd of 39300 was present on that day, which went on to a record crowd of 50962 on the Saturday. The people of Adelaide love their cricket. Adelaide is often described as a gentle crowd & thus what happened there was shocking.
Larwood was bowling to a conventional field with a new ball and he struck the batsman on strike Bill Woodfull a nasty blow over his heart. Woodfull fell he was in pain, Jardine went to Larwood patted him on his back and said “Well bowled Harold” Bradman was standing at the non-striker’s end. The subsequent over Larwood bowled Jardine changed the field from a conventional field to the Body-Line field. In the first two tests Larwood would bowl to a conventional field with the new ball & once the shine goes off he would bowl to the Body-Line field setting. In Adelaide Jardine changed to the Body-Line field setting when the ball was still new. This was the blackest moment. It was rubbing it into a wounded man. Crowd began to boo when Larwood ran into bowl.
Bradman got out at 8, Woodfull for 22 both dismissed in the Leg-trap. At the end of the day’s play the English manager Sir Pelham “Plum” Warner( played with Frank Foster in 1912) went to meet Bill Woodfull as a courtesy visit he expressed his apologies. Bill Woodfull gave into his emotions and out came the words which have been immortalized (We heard Kumble speak them after the Sydney 2008 test)
“There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket and other is making no attempt to do so”. Next morning all the newspapers published that Bill Woodfull wasn’t happy with the England’s tactics, this upsetted Woodfull more as the news was leaked from the dressing room & Woodfull the man he was though he was unhappy at the same time it was unethical to tell the English that they were not playing in the spirit of Cricket, a game they created.
Within the Australian team started the blame game of who leaked this news out. Some thought Jack Fingleton who was a member of the Australian team and a professional journalist had leaked this news he strongly denied his involvement. Then there were also rumors that the news was leaked to Claude Corbett of the Sydney Sun for whom Bradman was a columnist.
“The Adelaide Dressing Room Leak” as it gotta be known as is still a riddle no one knows who leaked the Warner-Woodfull conversation but what it did then was it revealed to the Australian public for the first time that their skipper unapproved England’s way of playing the game. So whoever did leak this information was a blessing in disguise and did a good thing for Cricket.
The next day on the field a Harold Larwood bouncer struck the Australian wicket keeper Bert Oldfield on his skull, after which he was taken off the field by Bill Woodfull. He had his skull fractured.The Adelaide crowd had reached its boiling point. The authorities & the English players feared that the crowd might jump off the fence and attack the English players.
This urged the Cricket board in Australia to take this matter seriously and they wrote a cable to the MCC regarding how this type of play is creating a sense off ill-feeling among the players & how it’s affecting the cordial relations between the two nations. In the cable they mentioned a word which neither the lords nor Jardine liked. They said such style of play is “unsportman like”.
The reply of MCC stated they believed in their team, manager and captain. They don’t think any move by the team on the field would tarnish the spirit of the game and by keeping the good relations between the two nations if Cricket Australia would wish then they could cancel the remainder of the tour.
This was next to impossible for Australia to do as they needed the money. There were cables exchanged between the two nations at the highest level of diplomacy. At the end of the third test Jardine called a meeting of his players to discuss whether it was time to abandon Body-Line as it was having such an adverse effect on the crowds but even the ones who disapproved this strategy believed that if they step back now then it will be an acknowledgement to the accusation that they were playing “unsportman like”.
The success of the English team was largely due to the success, skill of Harold Larwood. To be able to bowl accurately, consistently quick pace and long spells in the Australian summer showed how determined he was to do well for his country and captain. The Australian crowd appreciated Larwood’s efforts as in the first innings of the Fifth Test he was sent into bat as a night watchmen and he made a 98. The crowd cheered him & they acknowledged his bravery and applauded his score. Jardine couldn’t understand what was happening.
In the second innings Larwood had bowled a long spell and at a start of an over he broke a bone and collapsed. He could barely stand running into ball was out of the question. He requested his skipper if he could go off the field but Jardine told him “bowl the over Harold”. Woodfull was on strike, Bradman at the other end. Larwood couldn’t run so he stood and turned his arm over Woodfull could have hit him at any part of the ground but he defenced all the five balls bowled by Larwood. At the end of the over Larwood again asked Jardine if he could go off the field but Jardine denied him asking him to field at cover point so that Bradman could always see him & he can go off the field when Bradman gets out.
Bradman got out shortly after this and Jardine told Larwood he could leave. A symbolic moment it was when the two warriors left the arena together.
England won the series 4-1. The Ashes were regained. Jardine on his return knew that the tides have turned against him hence he submitted his resignation. He did feel abandoned as he was given the sole blame for what was mutually agreed by the MCC.
Harold Larwood was made to write an apology letter, which the MCC had drafted for him to sign but he didn’t sign it. As he was just obeying the orders given to him by his skipper. Larwood’s mother too asked him not to sign such a letter and if he does sign it then she would never see him again. So he quit cricket & with his family migrated to Australia, where he spent the rest of his life
Was Bradman tamed? He averaged 56.57 in the series way below his career average of 99.94 or his average in the 1930 Ashes, but still an average which is respectful. At the end of his career and till date he is regarded as the best batsman across eras.
This is one chapter of cricket history which has always made me curious to know what had happened. It amazes about the class of Sir Donald Bradman to tame whom only such a tactic could be deployed. It makes you feel sorry for the warrior Harold Larwood who bowled his heart out for his captain. It makes you wonder could Jardine have tried something different.
Hopefully have done justice to this post on a series which has re-defined Modern Cricket, for example the field setting norms, the number of bouncers in an over, the protective gear etc.
We love this game, Its difficult to define i have always believed Cricket symbolizes life & this quote defines Cricket the best. ( You may think He’s not the best man to define)
“Cricket is battle and service and sport and art.” - D.Jardine
Copyright © 2012 Cricturf | Anurag Rekhi