Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bodyline - What it was all about

Sports Classics Review No. 1

Possibly given what New Zealand's batsmen are going to face in the second Test in Perth it is worth looking at the fast bowling phenomenon that was 'Bodyline'.

Missing until recently from my cricket library was a copy of David Frith's Bodyline Autopsy that is surely the definitive book on the controversy that threatened relations between Australia and England in the summer of 1932-33.

What gives Frith's treatment an advantage is the benefit of time. One of the finest books by one of the participants was undoubtedly Jack Fingleton's Cricket Crisis. It had some distance between the events of those days and publication, but Frith has been able to draw on a much more extensive resource base to weave his story.

His account is largely chronological but it has a context that makes it a fascinating look into the events.

Bodyline was the method of bowling deemed appropriate to deal with the scourge of all bowlers of the era, Don Bradman.

The villain of the piece, England's captain for the Ashes tour to Australia, Douglas Jardine had exclaimed while watching film of the 1930 Ashes Test at The Oval where Bradman struggled with a damp pitch, "I've got it! He's yellow!" And he wasn't referring to the one-day uniform so common in the modern day.

He believed Bradman was afraid. Hence the development of the leg-theory that would be labelled 'Bodyline', the result of a newspaper reference by former Australian batsman and AFL footballer John Worrall to Bill Voce's 'half-pitched slingers on the body line'.

Jardine developed an armoury capable of meeting his tactical requirement, the Nottinghamshire bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, backed by the slower but accurate Bill Bowes.

Bradman said from Canada, where he was touring, when the England team was named that an 'avalanche of bumpers' would be on the menu for the Australian batsmen. What he didn't foresee was the packed leg-side field to cope with the chances that would come their way.

Jardine hadn't played in the 1930 Test where Bradman was seen to be troubled, but he soon found out about it and had a meeting with Larwood, Voce and their Nottinghamshire captain A W Carr to discuss possible tactics.

Larwood later wrote that Jardine asked him if he could bowl leg stump and make the ball come into the body forcing Bradman to play to leg. Larwood said he could.

The stage was set for two supreme contenders, Bradman with the bat and Larwood with the ball, to go at it.

What followed occupies much of Frith's tale, augmented by contemporary and subsequence observations by participants and journalists. It is woven into a fine tale not confined to the pitch, but to the halls of power in both countries as diplomatic skills are required to resolve the situation.

Jardine in the end got his way and secured the Ashes, but at what cost? For whatever reason the main contenders from the England side, Jardine and Larwood played very little cricket in the future.

Hovering, sometimes in the foreground and often in the background, was one of the team's two managers Pelham Warner, whose place in the whole affair had an aspect of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

The postscript is almost as intriguing as the on-field action and lends a completeness to the story as Frith follows the story to the end.

Was Bodyline a success? Well England won the Ashes for the short-term success but in the longer term it would have to be said that Australia's fury at the tactic made life easier for their players. And Bradman still finished second in the averages for both teams at 56.57 while his strike rate of 74.85 was still superior to all the other recognised batsmen in the series.

What is a success is Frith's treatment and a book worthy of a place in any sports library.

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