Published on December 2nd, 2017 | by Anindya Dutta0
CS Flashback: Ashes to Ashes – Part 2: ‘Bodyline’ touches its lows and cricket will never be the same again
When the teams reached Adelaide for the third Test, there was little expectation that the match would be anything but what previous matches at the batsman-friendly venue had been – high scoring affairs. Jardine finally won a toss on the tour and elected to bat. He soon discovered, however, that the little rain the previous day had provided the pitch some unexpected life.
A Test Match with a difference
The world would discover that this was not the only thing which would be different from this Test match.
The fourth ball of the innings hit Sutcliffe on the shoulder, and with the score at 4, Jardine was bowled off his pads by a swinging delivery from Wall. A few more short-pitched deliveries and Oldfield took a flying catch off a wild slash from Wally Hammond. Suttcliffe and Ames then fell to the spinners and England were 37 for 4 at lunch. The visitors were in serious trouble.
Maurice Leyland, Bob Wyatt and Ed Paynter (replacing Pataudi – ostensibly penalised by the captain for slow scoring) in the middle order batted with resolve to pull England out of trouble and about an hour after lunch on the second day, the English innings folded up at the score of 341.
Australians come in to bat
Tea was taken early, and soon, Woodfull and Fingleton strode in to bat, but in a few minutes Fingleton was walking back caught behind to Gubby Allen delivery. Bradman walked in.
Larwood ran in for his second over to Woodfull. The fifth ball whizzed past the batsman’s head and the sixth hit him over the heart. As Woodfull staggered around bent double from the pain and the concerned English players rallied around with Allen rushing to get a glass of water, Jardine turned to Larwood, and in a loud voice, undoubtedly for Bradman’s benefit, said: “Well bowled, Harold.”
Jardine was not done yet. The crowd of 50,362 watched Larwood run in, with as much trepidation as disbelief, to a field whose offside resembled an English pasture devoid of life. Voce stood alone at deep backward point. On the leg, there was barely place to stand. Bodyline was in play.
Australian selector Bill Johnson was to later call it “the most unsportsmanlike act ever witnessed on an Australian cricket field.” Jardine would confess years later that he wished he could reverse what was done in those five minutes. And there is no doubt that if either Woodfull or Bradman had been injured seriously at that time by a bouncer, Adelaide Oval would have witnessed a riot, as other cricket venues have done since with lesser provocation.
While that did not happen, the intended impact of Bodyline was being felt out in the middle.
Woodfull had his bat knocked out of his grasp by a rising delivery from Larwood, ran a single only to see Bradman spoon a catch the next ball to Allen at short square leg. Surviving newsreels capture the impact of the moment, as Bradman is embarrassingly seen losing his bearings and walking towards the exit gate instead of the changing room.
The 187 at Sydney seemed a distant memory as Stan McCabe fended off a Larwood delivery straight into Jardine’s hands. Australia 3 for 34. Taking body blow after body blow, Woodfull finally fell, bowled by a ball from Allen that kept low. Australia 4 for 51.
As Bill Ponsford prepared to walk out at the fall of McCabe’s wicket, a friend called out to him: “Where are you staying?”, enquiring about the hotel in all likelihood. Pat came the reply: “Out in the middle for as long as I can.” And so he did.
Over the next three and a half hours, Ponsford would take body blows on his thigh, back and buttocks and make a brave 85 for his team. Australia ended the day at 232 for 6 with Ponsford and Richardson at the crease.
When English Manager Pelhalm Warner visited the Australian dressing room that evening to express his sympathy to Woodfull for his injury and the events that followed, he was met with a response which went: “I don’t want to see you, Mr. Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not.” To make his stand abundantly clear, he added: “If these tactics are persevered with, it may be better if I do not play the game. The matter is in your hands, Mr. Warner, and I have nothing further to say to you. Good afternoon.”
Jardine’s reaction when a shaken Warner returned to the dressing room and told him? “I couldn’t care less.”
The exchange between Warner and Woodfull was leaked to the press and became known as the Adelaide Leak. More on that later.
The Last 3 days at Adelaide
32,000 people showed up at Adelaide for the third day’s play expecting more drama. They would not return disappointed. After Richardson departed, Wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield came in to build a partnership with Ponsford.
Larwood’s second ball in his first spell of the morning went past Oldfield’s ear. The leg trap immediately went into play. The crowd roared its disapproval, but all it got was a wry smile from Jardine. The wickets continued falling at one end while Oldfield survived and kept scoring, including off Larwood. Larwood was now bowling to a conventional field, but then it happened.
Oldfield went to cut, changed his mind to pull the ball, and an express Larwood delivery crashed into his temple. Oldfield staggered towards point clutching his head and the fielders gathered around him. Larwood apologised, and Oldfield answered: “It wasn’t your fault, Harold”.
Oldfield had blood coming out of a fracture of the right frontal bone. He had been critically wounded in the First World War by a shell exploding under his stretcher party (he was in the Field Ambulance Service) and spent months in the hospital and had a steel reinforcement plate inserted in his skull. But Larwood’s ball had almost done what the German shell had not.
Woodfull had run out on to the filed and helped Oldfield back into the dressing room. He would for years regret not having declared and called his team back into the changing room as Bishan Bedi would wisely do 43-years later at Sabina Park in the West Indies with the Indian batsmen being hit by brutal fast bowling directed at their bodies under Clive Lloyd’s instructions.
The Australian innings finally ended at 222. England would come out and score 412 with Jardine, Hammond, Ames and Wyatt contributing handsomely, and Australia was set a virtually impossible 532 to win.
With Australia two wickets down for 12 runs, Larwood having taken both, Bradman faced hostile bowling with a leg trap. This time, his tactics changed. He went on the offensive. David Firth describes it thus: “This prompted Bradman to swing his bat with almost manic intent, and turning his attention to Verity’s slow left-arm he played shots that had oldtimers thinking about Trumper.” Bradman’s penultimate ball was hit into the Member’s Stand breaking a spectator’s arm. It was the first Test match six Donald Bradman had ever hit. Finally, Verity had him caught and bowled for a rapid-fire 66 off 71 balls. On being asked about his spectacular innings on his return to the dressing room, the Don nonchalantly replied: “Oh, I wanted to hit one bowler [Verity] before the other [Larwood] hit me.”
Australia was dismissed for 193, losing the Test match by 338 runs.
The Adelaide Leak causes a diplomatic crisis
It became a diplomatic incident when the two boards exchanged acrimonious cables that threatened to disrupt the tour.
Australian Board of Control to MCC, January 18, 1933:
“Bodyline bowling assumed such proportions as to menace best interests of game, making protection of body by batsmen the main consideration. Causing intensely bitter feeling between players, as well as injury. In our opinion is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations between Australia and England.”
MCC to Australian Board of Control, January 23, 1933:
“We, Marylebone Cricket Club, deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been unsportsmanlike play. We have fullest confidence in captain, team and managers, and are convinced they would do nothing to infringe either the Laws of Cricket or the spirit of the game. We have no evidence that our confidence is misplaced. Much as we regret accidents to Woodfull and Oldfield, we understand that in neither case was the bowler to blame. If the Australian Board of Control wish to propose a new law or rule it shall receive our careful consideration in due course. We hope the situation is not now as serious as your cable would seem to indicate, but if it is such as to jeopardise the good relations between English and Australian cricketers, and you would consider it desirable to cancel remainder of programme, we would consent with great reluctance.”
The matter escalated to the two parliaments and other members of the two governments.The standoff was settled when the Australian prime minister, Joseph Lyons, met with members of the Australian Board and outlined to them the severe economic hardships that could be caused in Australia if the British public boycotted Australian trade.
Following considerable discussion and debate in the English and Australian press, the Australian Board sent a cable to the MCC which, while maintaining its opposition to ‘bodyline’ bowling, stated “We do not regard the sportsmanship of your team as being in question”
The crisis had temporarily blown over and the series continued.
The Rest of the Series and the Aftermath
England continued to use the Bodyline tactic in the last two Tests, but with Voce missing the fourth Test, Larwood waged a lone battle with the leg trap, Gubby Allen once again refusing to bowl to the field as he had done since the start of the series. England won by 6 wickets.
Voce came back for the last Test, but along with Larwood’s continuing barrage, it was Hedley Verity with 8 wickets who spun England to victory.
England had won the series 4-1 but had done irreparable damage to their reputation with a tactic that would forever continue to taint their effort.
Larwood would be made a scapegoat on his return and never play Test cricket again. He would eventually run a sweetshop in Blackpool, and be persuaded to move to Australia. He would settle in the Sydney suburb of Kingsford where he would surprisingly be made welcome and live out the rest of his life working at a soft drinks firm. He would be welcome into Australian dressing rooms from the 1960’s, and stay happier than he had been in England after he returned from the Bodyline series as it came to be called.
Jardine would forever remain a pariah for the cricketing world and be forever associated and held responsible for a reprehensible strategy that had to have had the blessings, or at least the backing of the powers that be of the MCC at the time.
Bodyline would remain a bad word forever in the cricketing parlance. And 85-years on, we would still be talking about events that played out in a very different world, in the hope that the lessons learnt would help us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.