Cricket: Douglas Jardine And The Bodyline Series
Find out what happened in the Bodyline series, the most controversial Ashes cricket tour of all, in which Douglas Jardine was dubbed a villain.
When the England cricket team set off for the Ashes tour to Australia 1932-33, nobody really gave them a chance. In recent years they had come across who most people agree to be the greatest batsman ever to have walked the Earth – Donald Bradman. In 1930 Bradman had almost single-handedly taken England’s bowlers apart.
But those doubters had not taken into account the ruthless planning of Douglas Jardine, the England captain, and his use of what became known as the ‘bodyline' tactic.
Jardine was born in Bombay, India in 1900, and just over thirty years later was to become known as one of the most controversial cricket captains of all time. He was single-minded in his will to win, some would say beyond all reasonable bounds, likening his attitude to that of an Army General at war. But he led by example and was considered a courageous batsman.
Bodyline, or leg theory, as it was known previously, was not a new concept, and had been used by both sides in previous series. The idea was to bowl at or around the batter’s leg stump, hoping for him to be caught at leg slip, leg gully, deep square leg, long leg or forward short leg. The furor was caused because Douglas Jardine instructed his bowlers to pitch the ball short, consistently aiming for the heart, throat and head areas. He believed dealing with this type of ball was Bradman’s weakness and he was indeed proved right. In order for the tactic to be successfully carried out, he required five good fast bowlers, the main one being Harold Larwood.
Larwood had previously been a miner, and this occupation gave him the strength to hurl the ball down at a tremendous speed. Apart from this he was deadly accurate, so if he aimed for your head and you didn’t get out of the way in time, you would be hit on the head. Jardine, in his quest for victory, instructed his bowlers to bowl at the body of the batman no matter where they stood. This infuriated the Australians even further, because they had batsmen standing a good foot aside of the leg stump, yet still short-pitched balls were aimed at their bodies.
The first test did not fully test Douglas Jardine’s controversial theory, because Bradman didn’t play. England won the match, with Larwood taking five wickets in each innings. The second test didn’t confirm anything either, because it was a very slow wicket, unsuitable for the bodyline tactic, and Australia levelled at 1-1.
The argument proper began in the third Test. Two of the Australians senior batsmen, Woodfull and Oldfield, were injured as a direct result of the bodyline tactic. The Australian Board of Control sent a telegram to the MCC implying that the links between the two countries would be severed if the MCC did not condemn the tactic. The MCC refused to do so, however, and the tour was in jeopardy more than once as tense telegrams were sent over the world.
England won the tour 4-1, and Bradman didn’t perform as expected. He averaged ‘only’ 56.57’ for the series compared with a career average of 99.94. At the end of the year the MCC redefined “direct attack on the batsman” as “persistent and systematic bowling of fast, short-pitched balls at the batsman standing clear of his wicket” under the rules governing fair play, and so bodyline tactic was in effect banned. The uproar that had been caused by the tactic was enough to force Douglas Jardine to stand down as captain prior to the next Ashes tour and never captain England again.