Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Complete quote: “I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not. It is too great a game to spoil. It is time some people get out of the game. The matter is in your hands. Good afternoon.”
By: Bill Woodfull to “Plum” Warner, afternoon, January 14, 1933, outside home dressing-room, Adelaide Oval.
We have already seen how Don Bradman’s batting at the fifth Test of the 1930 Ashes had planted the initial seeds of Bodyline in that amazing brain of Percy Fender. The discovery was passed over – with meticulous supporting details – to Douglas Jardine, Fender’s deputy at Surrey.
The blueprint for Bodyline had been prepared before the Englishmen left for Australia in 1932-33. Jardine would let nothing come between him and the urn – and that is not an exaggeration. He had a battalion of fast bowlers at his disposal – Harold Larwood, Bill Voce, Bill Bowes, and a Bodyline-reluctant “Gubby” Allen.
So strong was the pace attack that Hedley Verity went almost unutilised (he bowled significantly less than both Larwood and Allen, and just more than Voce and even Wally Hammond), while Maurice Tate did not get a single Test.
The idea was to bowl very fast at the batsman’s body with an arc of six to eight fielders on the leg-side, mostly behind square. It was a perfectly legal ploy given that laws of the era.
The tactic was first deployed by stand-in captain Bob Wyatt in a match against an Australian XI featuring Bradman at Melbourne. MCC included all four fast bowlers in their attack.
The field was used only against right-handers (why bother with southpaws when Bradman wasn’t one?). Larwood hit Bill Woodfull (captain of the home side as well as the Test team) on the chest shortly after the hosts resumed. Play was held up for ten minutes. The tour would witness more of such incidents.
Larwood, Voce, and Bowes all bounced without inhibition throughout the innings. The leg-trap stayed put. The injured Allen did not bowl in the first innings.
Bradman was particularly ruffled. He hopped around the crease, hurrying to evade the bouncers. He was hit on the shoulder. He hit some cracking shots off the back-foot, but these looked more desperate than calculated. This included a tennis-forehand shot that soared over the empty wide mid-on area; they ran five.
MCC took a 64-run lead but they collapsed against Lisle Nagel (8/32), who bowled unchanged, moving the new ball around despite an injured elbow. MCC were bowled out for 60.
Only half an hour’s play was possible on the final day – but that involved another Larwood vs Bradman duel. This time Bradman exposed all three stumps, trying to cut, and lost his off-stump. After the match, Wyatt duly submitted his reports to Jardine, who had been away fishing.
Bradman missed the first Test, at Sydney. The official reason was a dispute with the board over his contract with The Sun (Sydney) – though some, including Jardine, suggest that the Melbourne contest might have shaken him up.
England used a Bodyline field anyway. Stan McCabe’s astonishing 187 took Australia to 360 as Larwood took 5/96 and Voce 4/110. Then Herbert Sutcliffe, Hammond, and The Nawab of Pataudi Sr all scored hundreds. Then Larwood took 5/28, and England won by 10 wickets.
Bradman returned for the second Test, at Melbourne. He walked out at 67/2 to face Bowes, who hatched a plan. “The thought flashed through my mind, ‘He expects a bouncer – can I fool him?’” he recollected in Express Deliveries.
He bowled on a good length. Bradman tried to adjust his shot but the edge crashed on to the stumps. And Jardine, too quote Bowes, “clasped both his hands above his head and was jigging around like an Indian doing a war dance,” – an act that clashed horribly with the image of the man.
But Bradman counterattacked his way to an unbeaten 103 in the second innings, Bill O’Reilly took 5/63 and 5/66 in the Test, and Australia won by 111 runs to level the series.
Then came the Adelaide Test.
“Well bowled, Harold!”
Even at this point, Woodfull refused to give the Englishmen a dose of their own medicine. Eddie Gilbert, the aboriginal fast bowler of Queensland, was by common consensus the fastest bowler in the country. Gilbert had hit Jardine in a tour match, producing a “bruise the size of a saucer”.
Another hostile, very fast bowler was Laurie Nash, who had recently moved from Tasmania to Victoria. He had broken the jaw of South Africa’s Eric Dalton the previous season.
But Australia went in with three spinners and a solitary pacer, Tim Wall. Maurice Leyland, Wyatt, and Eddie Paynter lifted England from 30/4 to 341. Wall took 5/72, but more significantly, he was generous with his bouncers. Hammond, for one, was not too comfortable.
Jardine opened with Larwood and Allen. Bradman arrived after Jack Fingleton was caught-behind off Allen for a duck. The fifth ball of Larwood’s second over missed Woodfull’s head by a whisker. The next hit him just over his heart.
Woodfull dropped his bat and doubled over in pain. The anxious English fielders gathered around him. Allen rushed to fetch a glass of water. But Jardine yelled – in a voice audible enough for both Woodfull and Bradman – “well bowled, Harold!” He was in no mood to let Larwood feel guilty.
When play resumed, Allen bowled the next over entirely to Bradman. And now, when it was Larwood’s turn to bowl, the fielders adjusted to Bodyline positions – for the first time in the Test.
At this stage, the Adelaide crowd could take no more. Woodfull had been hit several times on the tour, even in the Tests. Even here they grumbled audibly (but not viciously) when Woodfull was hit. Larwood might have hit Woodfull, but the field placement had been conventional. But to plan to hit an already injured batsman was to cross a limit.
Things started to get out of control. They started barracking Larwood after every ball. Dick Whittington saw “Adelaide’s octogenarians in the members’ enclosure rise to their feet, flush scarlet of face, and with their Adam’s apples throbbing, count Jardine and his team out.”
One must remember here that the Adelaide Oval crowd is usually considered more sedate than their counterparts across the country. One shudders to think how the Sydney Hill would have reacted.
“Don’t take any notice of them,” Hammond extended his support towards Larwood. He might not have liked being bounced at, but here was a man threatening the dominance of Hammond’s nemesis, Bradman. And anyway, there was a Test to be won.
It was needed. Larwood knocked the bat out of Woodfull’s hand, had Bradman caught at short-leg, and McCabe at mid-wicket off a mistimed hook.
Woodfull was finally bowled by Allen for 22. Shortly after he returned, MCC managers “Plum” Warner and Dick Palairet (brother of Lionel) went to the Australian dressing-room to express sympathies to Woodfull.
But Woodfull was curt in greeting them, uttering words that would be echoed almost verbatim by Anil Kumble 75 years later. Warner left (in tears, according to some sources). He confided in Jardine, who was in little mood for such conversations.
The exchange was published in leading newspapers the next morning (a rest day). The versions varied, especially the ones recalled years later. Fingleton wrote that Woodfull was on the massage table when the visitors arrived. Leo O’Brien remembered Woodfull meeting Warner and Palairet at the door with a towel wrapped around his waist.
As for the quote, different variations surfaced, but the gist was more or less the same. But a bigger question surfaced: who leaked the exchange to the media?
Warner raised fingers at Fingleton, at that point the only active journalist at the spot. Years later Fingleton would write Cricket Crisis, where he blamed Bradman for leaking the story to Claude Corbett of The Sun.
Fingleton’s animosity towards Bradman would last a lifetime. Bradman had his share of teammates with whom he was not in the greatest of terms. But Fingleton’s criticism of Bradman reached ridiculous levels.
But let us now return to the Test, where Bill Ponsford and Vic Richardson returned as Australia finished the day on 109/4.
“It wasn’t your fault, Harold”
The pair was hit all over when play resumed after the rest day. Ponsford adopted a curious approach, often turning around to bring his body between ball and bat – but it worked. “Ponsford suffered more than anybody in this match and showed he could take a hiding,” Larwood would later admit.
After Richardson fell, resistance came from Bert Oldfield. Ponsford top-scored with 85 before his awkward approach resulted in his dismissal. By turning a bit too much he exposed his leg-stump to the left-handed Voce. Then Allen removed Clarrie Grimmett.
The score reached 218/7. Then Larwood bowled one short. Oldfield, aiming to cut, changed his stroke to a pull at the last moment. The ball took the top edge and hit him on the temple. And Oldfield dropped his bat and staggered towards point, clutching his head…
It was evident that this was no ordinary blow. The English fielders rushed to Oldfield, as did umpire George Hele. And amidst all this, when Larwood rushed to him, Oldfield assured him in no uncertain terms: “It wasn’t your fault, Harold.”
For once even Jardine did not mind.
Woodfull, clad in a suit, walked on to the ground. With Oldfield’s bat held firmly in one hand, he guided his wicketkeeper back to the pavilion.
The crowd almost exploded. “Critics and spectators had been prophesying that Bodyline would kill someone sooner or later. It now seemed that moment had arrived,” recalled Ray Robinson.
Sensing danger, South Australia Cricket Association called the Angus Street Police Headquarters. A force arrived on motorbikes. Amidst all this, were rumours that some of security members on the ground were even willing to let members of the crowd loose on the ground.
Ironically, just like the Woodfull blow, this one too came while Larwood bowled to a conventional field placement.
The Australians were finally bowled out for 222. Perhaps to the anger of the crowd even more, Jardine batted in a multicoloured Harlequin cap. He took 266 balls for his 56 as the crowd rooted for his blood (“hit him on the bloody head, Tim”).
When he tried to shoo the infamously pesky Australian flies away, a voice came from the crowd: “Don’t swat those flies, Jardine, they are the only friends you’ve got in Australia.” The barracker was supported by raucous cheer.
Hammond was bowled by a Bradman full-toss for 85. Les Ames got 69. O’Reilly and Bert Ironmonger wheeled away but could not prevent England from setting a target of 532 in a timeless Test against a Bodyline field (Jardine would obviously not relent).
Woodfull batted through the four-hour innings and stayed unbeaten on 73. Bradman hit almost everything that came his way for a 71-ball 66. He smashed his first six in Test cricket, off Verity (“I wanted to hit one bowler before Larwood hit me”). He hit the next ball back to the bowler.
Oldfield did not bat. Australia lost by 338 runs. England would win The Ashes 4-1, but at a cost. We will come to that.
Less than two weeks before he turned 68, Woodfull collapsed while playing golf and passed away. His wife Gwen maintained till the end that he had never completely recovered from the blow on his chest.