Bodyline: The Greatest Cricketing Strategy Ever? Or The Ugliest?

“I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not.”

Given the history between the two countries, it is perhaps no surprise that England and Australia got embroiled in what can be said as Cricket’s first great controversy. Test matches between the countries always had the extra edge with them, dating back as far as the first test in 1877 when a spirited Australian side beat a worn out England who had suffered the trouble of coming around the Pacific to Australia and then were in the receiving end of a knock from a certain Charles Bannerman who scored a small amount of 165!


The Leg Theory!

Cricket matches between Australia and England have been defined by their uncompromising and competitive nature, born out of their colonial history and compounded by the wish of every Australian to be seen as equals towards their Mother Country.

If 1877 was the year the former Penal colony showing their supremacy to the world, a couple of years later, England led by Ivo Bligh reclaimed what was rightfully theirs-the Ashes. While the story as to the formation of the small ‘trophy’ that we see nowadays is rather amusing, it led to one of the most fiercest rivalries in the World of Sports.

The Australians have been the team to beat since the very inception of the Gentleman’s game and England have been at the other end when many a cricketing wonder from Down Under has had his say on the 22 yards.

The seeds of probably what is known as cricket’s greatest controversy were laid by a professional who wanted to win at all costs and a genius whose achievements during Australia’s tour of England in 1930 meant that devising a strategy to neutralize his batting prowess would be key for the English to have any chance of regaining the urn.

Douglas Jardine

The Evil Genius!

During the tour of England the preceding season, Douglas Jardine found out that Bradman and the Australians were susceptible to short bowling on the leg side. They had four options: to duck, to use their body, to hook or to fend the ball off. The last two were off the charts if the leg side was to be crowded with fielders and that’s exactly what Jardine decided to do.

His plans were ready but he needed bowlers who would bowl with fearsome pace and do that consistently and accurately at the opposition’s body. He found two of them in Bill Bowes and Harold Larwood-Jardine’s chieftain in execution. Those two, alongside Bill Voce and Gubby Allen, formed a lethal attack and in the pitches in Australia, they were surely a force to reckon with.

The first sight of the leg theory (later termed as Bodyline) was in a group game the English played in late November. The first test soon followed and it ended in some fashion with England winning by 10 wickets at Sydney. Bradman missed it through illness but that was still some win for the touring party. Stan McCabe was the only person who played an innings of some sorts and he salvaged the Aussies’ pride.

The second test at Melbourne was a story different altogether. Bradman got out for a duck in the first innings (to a non-Bodyline delivery it must be mentioned). But he later returned in the second innings to remain a 103 not out as Australia sealed a great victory winning by 101 runs.

Harold Larwood

Jardine’s Most Lethal Weapon In Action!

The third test was at Adelaide:perhaps the most beautiful ground in the world! It witnessed what was to be the most hostile bowling ever seen in the history of cricket. It was the continuation of what happened in Lords a year or so ago and it’s after effects are seen even today- a rule applied that there can be a maximum of five fielders on the on side and only two bouncers per over in test cricket and only one for the over in limited overs cricket.

A record crowd of over 51,351 came out to watch the Aussies play the Pommies at the Adelaide Oval. The people who came out on that fateful day expected a day of good cricket but what they saw was something that even the staunchest of English supporters would have appreciated.

After ending at 341, England, led by Douglas Jardine executed a strategy originally devised to neutralize the batting prowess of Sir Donald Bradman whose imperious form the previous year had caused some serious problems for England and they did that in some fashion.

Harold Larwood and co ensured that the Australians were in for a shock. Opener Jack Fingleton soon fell to Gubby Allen. Out came the man who thwarted the Englishmen the previous summer. Don Bradman came out to a thundering applause. Bradman joined his captain William ‘Bill’ Woodfull on the crease. The bowler, Harold Larwood found out that he was able to swing the ball in to the batsman when he generally swung it away from the batsman.

Larwood came running in and bowled with venom. A few moments later, a rising ball hit Woodfull on the heart. While the fielders were concerned about the well being of the Australian captain, Jardine remarked ‘Well bowled, Harold!’ A remark that caused disbelief to the rival captain and something Jardine had always defended himself that he said that just to motivate the bowler.

After a couple of deliveries, the field was being changed and the infamous leg theory was set. While the English fielders were left to gasp about their captain’s tactics, Jardine was in his element. Jardine was the chief antagonist for the Australian crowd. He was the Joker to Batman, the Apollo Creed to a Rocky Balboa, the Mandarin to Tony Stark, he was the evil to the good. He was Douglas Robert Jardine who was a man who by any means wanted to stop Donald Bradman.

Sir Don Bradman

Even The Great One had failed to negate the Bodyline at first!

Bradman soon fell for a lowly 8. Woodfull got out to a Gubby Allen delivery for a 22 which was by that conditions, probably one of the best innings. Ponsford soon joined the band wagon. After the end of play, the English manager for the tour Pelham Warner went out to meet the Aussies in their dressing room and Bill Woodfull remarked- “I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not.”- often regarded as the most famous quote rendered by a cricketer.

The curtains were drawn for the Aussies as England won the match with rather ease and the they regained the Ashes as they won the next couple of matches which were held at the Gabba and the SCG. Eddie Paynter’s heroics at the Gabba was one of the better moments in the tour. Although the English won the Ashes, it was one series that was to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

The term Bodyline wasn’t coined during the series but it’ll remain in the hearts of cricket fans forever. The series ensured that numerous changes occurred in the game of cricket. The five fielder rule was probably the change that was required the most. The series has been a blot for gamesmanship and it has been one of the lowest of lows in the history of the Gentleman’s game and folks, let us hope that something of that measure doesn’t occur again. And with that being said, I bid adieu.

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