Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bodyline - The series that changed cricket forever

The 1932-33 Ashes series changed cricket forever. There was no gentle half-volleys to the lower-order; no wide full-tosses when a batsmen was in the late-nineties; and finally, no mateship between teams out on the field. This was dubbed the Bodyline series; “probably the most controversial tour in history”, according to Wisden, the world's most famous sports reference book. In an attempt to unsettle and intimidate and dismiss the Australian batsmen—especially Donald Bradman—the England fast-men packed the leg-side with fielders and bowled at the body of the batsmen, leaving them no option other than to risk getting caught by playing a shot towards the eagerly awaiting fielders, or getting hit by the ball often bowled at over 140km. The English repeatedly complained that they did not get what all the fuss was about, as they believed they were using an extension of the leg-theory—something that had been used before.

Australia toured England for five Tests in 1930, winning 2-1. Before the series, Bradman had only played five Tests and his unorthodox batting technique raised doubts whether he could succeed against the swinging ball on slower pitches in England. Before the series, Percy Fender wrote:
“... he will always be in the category of the brilliant [batsmen], if unsound, ones. Promise there is in Bradman in plenty, though watching him does not inspire one with any confidence that he desires to take the only course which will lead him to a fulfilment of that promise. He makes a mistake, then makes it again and again; he does not correct it, or look as if he were trying to do so. He seems to live for the exuberance of the moment.”

However, there were still significant amounts of expectation from the former players and the Australian public. According to former captain Clem Hill, “Australia ha[d] unearthed a champion, self-taught, with natural ability. But most important of all, with his heart in the right place.” [Haigh 2008] Hill was proved correct; Bradman scored a record aggregate of 974 runs at an average of 139.14, including 334 in the Third Test. His scoring was so prolific, on the first day of the Test, he scored 309 runs. No one has since matched or exceeded these feats, and Bradman’s first-class tally of 2,960 runs for the tour was also the most by any overseas batsmen on a tour of England.

England’s captain for the 1932-33 series, Douglas Jardine, with the help of Nottinghamshire captain, Arthur Carr and international fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voice, devised a plan to combat Bradman’s run-scored, as they believed it would be tough to win the series if Bradman continued on from the last Ashes series. During a meeting in London ahead of the tour, Jardine asked the bowling pair if they could bowl a leg stump line, varying their length. They agreed that these tactics might prove effective. They recognised that Bradman looked uncomfortable when he was targeted with short balls during his 232 at The Oval in the 1930 series. He was rarely known to play the hook shot and often jolted to the leg side when he faced short-pitched bowling. A similar tactic known as the leg theory had already been devised beforehand. A bowler would bowl at the legs of a batsman and pack the leg side field, though it was often effective, it made for boring cricket and was frowned upon in cricket circles.

On the boat to Australia, Jardine kept to himself for the most part; however, he had already begun to have disagreements with Plum Warner, one of the two team managers along with Richard Palairet. Still, the England captain gave his team instructions on conduct, when to give autographs and how they needed to keep out of the harsh Australian sun. Reportedly, Jardine also told his men they had to hate the Australians in order to be victorious, and to refer to Bradman as “the little bastard”. It is believed that it was on this boat trip that Jardine had settled on Bodyline or the leg theory as his man tactic.

England first tested their new tactic in a first-class game against an Australian XI in Melbourne on November 18-22. Although Jardine was rested (replaced by deputy Bob Wardle), several balls struck Australian batsmen—angering spectators, who would become more volatile as the series progressed. This was the only time they employed Bodyline before the Test series. Bradman warned local administrators after the match that there would be trouble would be in order if these tactics continued. The Australian public also had their concerns on the form of Bradman, who averaged just 17.6 in his three first-class games leading into the Tests. He then withdrew from the First Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, causing many to believe he had a nervous breakdown. Australia’s premier batsman had been in a dispute with the Australian Board of Control before the series because he had a contract with the Sydney Sun. The board would not allow players to write in newspapers unless journalism was their full-time profession. Bradman then threatened to withdraw from the team unless he was allowed to write for the newspaper. Nevertheless, England still employed the Bodyline tactics intermittently in their victory in the Test, much to the crowd’s displeasure. The tactics, however, did not upset everyone in Australia, and the country’s former Test captain, Monty Noble, praised the English bowling, despite administrators expressing their concerns amongst each other.
Bradman returned to the team for the Second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, when newspaper employers released him from his contract. The public believing he was the one batsman skilled enough to conquer Bodyline. The teams were greeted by a record crowd of 63,993 on the first day, and Bradman came to the crease with the score at 2/67. The crowd delayed play for several minutes when they gave him a standing ovation. Despite their lofty expectations, Bradman was bowled for a first ball duck—the only one in his career. Anticipating a short ball, he moved across his stumps, though the ball did not rise as much as he expected and dragged it onto his stumps—causing the crowd to fall into stunned silence. Australia was still able to record a first innings lead, and Bradman scored an unbeaten 103 from 146 balls in the second innings. Bill O’Reilly and Bert Ironmonger then bowled Australia to victory, therefore levelling the series at 1-all. A significant portion of the public was now under the misconception that Bodyline was defeated and Australia would go on and record a series victory. However, the pitch for Test was the slowest for the series, slightly nullifying the effectiveness of Bodyline. Larwood was also suffering from problems with his boot, thus affecting his bowling.

The series reached boiling point on the second day of the Third Test in Adelaide. In front of a record ground attendance of 50,962, Australia opening batsman and captain Bill Woodfull faced an intimidating over from Larwood—the third over of the innings. The fifth ball of the over just missed Woodfull’s head en-route to the wicket-keeper, and the sixth and final ball struck the batsman over the heart. Once hit, Woodfull staggered away holding his chest and bent over in significant pain. Despite England players surrounding him and offering sympathy, Jardine yelled out “Well bowled, Harold!” to Larwood. The comment—which was later discovered to be directed to unnerve Bradman—disgusted Woodfull. When Larwood was set to deliver to Woodfull again, the field was changed into Bodyline positions. Larwood claimed that Jardine made the move, and Jardine said that Larwood requested the change. This caused the crowd to protest loudly and hurl abuse at English players. Later, Jardine wrote how he wished he did not make the field change at that moment; however, he expressed how Woodfull should have retired hurt if he was injured. Soon after, a Larwood delivery knocked that bat from the hands of the Australian captain, unsettling him further. He suffered further blows in his ninety minute innings, before he was bowled by Allen for 22.

When England tour manager, Pelham Warner, came to express his sympathy for Woodfull’s injury, the captain famously remarked:
“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.”
Woodfull also reportedly said, “This game is too good to be spoilt. It’s time some people got out of it,” therefore hinting that he may withdraw his team from the series in protest. The comment which was leaked to press infuriated the Australian captain because he expected his comments to remain private. Speculation ignited on who in the Australia camp leaked the comments. Most of the team blamed Bradman, though the man himself strenuously denied the claim. The team’s lone journalist, Jack Fingleton, was blamed Warner, but Fingleton denied this in his autobiography and believed Sydney Sun reporter, Claude Corbett, received the information through Bradman.

The crowd become even more agitated the next day when Bert Oldfield suffered a fractured skull from the bowling of Larwood—even though England was not using Bodyline tactics at the time. He mishit a hook, which took the top edge of the bat; Oldfield later admitted that the injury was his fault. Nevertheless, it was feared at this point, that the crowd would riot onto the field and attack the English players. Mounted police were deployed around the ground as a precaution, though the crowd remained behind the fence. During England’s second innings, Jardine batted extremely slowly for 56, and was consistently hurled abuse by the crowd who were further infuriated by his slow scoring. The Australian Board of Control for cricket sent a cable to the (MCC) in London outlying their displeasure for the tactics used by England:

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.

The MCC, however, was still of the opinion that their (England) tactics were harmless; this was supported by most of the British public. They also took offence of being called “unsportsmanlike” and wanted a retraction. The team threatened to withdraw from the remaining two Tests in protest, unless the Australian Board withdrew its unsporting behaviour accusation. Because Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, told board members the economic struggles the country would have to endure if the British public boycotted Australia trade, the board withdrew its allegation two days before the fourth Test. Jardine, himself, was adamant that Bodyline was not designed to cause injury and he was leading England in a sportsmanlike and gentlemanly manner, also saying that Australian batsmen needed to perform better. In an act of good will, Jardine sent a telegram of sympathy to Oldfield’s wife and organized for presents to be sent to his young daughters.
The controversial circumstances had no affect on the English team and they continued to bowl Bodyline for the remainder of the series, thus winning 4–1. There were no more serious injuries, though many batsmen were struck. The fourth Test saw further clashes, most notably when Jardine asked Australian bowler, Harry Alexander, to not run on the pitch because he was damaging it. Infuriated, he preceded to bowl a barrage of bounces at Jardine, before eventually hitting him to the delight and roars of the crowd

Bradman’s batting tactics also caused controversy; often backing away hitting the ball to the off side with tennis-like shots. For most, 396 runs at 56.77 would normally be classed as a very good series, but his series average was just 57% of his career mean. And although he was the leading run-scorer in the series England were satisfied that they nullified him sufficiently. The rest of the Australian batting line-up fared significantly worse, however, with Stan McCabe the only other batsman to score a century.

The series created profound changes to cricket, and is still regard by many as the most controversial series of all-time. It was voted the most controversial period in Australian cricket by a panel of the country’s more prominent cricketing identities. In a poll of cricket journalists, commentators, and players in 2004, the Bodyline tour was ranked the most important event in cricket history. Numerous authors and players released books on the series, each expressing different views about Bodyline. Remarkably, the MCC asked Larwood to sign an apology to them for his bowling in the series, something he refused because he was following orders from his upper-class captain. He therefore never played for England again.

Bodyline also caused relation difficulties outside sport. For the most part, citizens in each country preferred to boycott buying goods manufactured in the other. The North China Daily News published a pro-Bodyline editorial which claimed that Australia were sore losers. It was reported that several business deals in Hong Kong and Shanghai were lost by Australians because of local reactions. Tensions between English immigrants were also severe, with tourists and immigrants to each country being persecuted. In 1934-35, a statue of Prince Albert in Sydney had its ear knocked off and the word “BODYLINE” painted on it. Vilification towards Larwood in England became so severe he immigrated to Australia in 1950 to escape it. When the television mini-series Bodyline was aired on Network Ten in Australia, he received several threatening phone calls.

Bodyline’s effect on cricket is also everlasting. Now in Tests, a bowler is only allowed two balls an over to bounce between the shoulder and the top of the batsman’s head. Only two fieldsmen are allowed behind square leg at any one time, limiting the chance of a batsman fending a short pitched ball to a fielder behind square. There is a lot more and better protection for the batsmen. Batsman very rarely used chest guards, arm guards or thigh pads, and never wore helmets; now, nearly every international batsman wears them.

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