With two tests in 2013-2014 Ashes test series between traditional rivals England and Australia done and dusted with the question to be asked is which one of the Ashes series played between these two great nations over the years has really had a deep impact on the history of cricket? The answer to this question is the 1932-33 Ashes series or more popularly known as the “Bodyline” series. The term “Bodyline” was coined by an Australian journalist Hugh Buggy which he used as a substitute for the sentence “In the line of the body” while sending a telegram to his newspaper in Sydney. This term basically describes the tactic of the fast leg theory used by the then England captain Douglas Jardine to prevent the Australian batting line up from scoring heavily particularly a batsman called “DON BRADMAN”.
The story of this so called “Bodyline” series like seen in most movies consists of a villain i.e Jardine and a hero i.e. Bradman. The seeds for this acrimonious series first began to be planted soon after the Australian team successfully regained the Ashes in England in 1930. It was during this series also that a young Don Bradman finally fulfilled his true potential by scoring 974 runs in 5 tests at an incredible average of 139.14. It is a real fear pertaining to Bradman’s prolific scoring that forced England to employ such a tactic that could restrict Bradman’s scoring if not completely stop it. It was the appointment of Douglas Jardine as the captain of the England team that set the ball rolling for what was to become known later as “Bodyline” series. As soon as Jardine was appointed as captain he realized the threat that Bradman could pose and hence decided to detect the weakness in Bradman’s batting. It was while Jardine was studying a footage of Bradman’s innings of 232 at Oval test in 1930 Ashes series in England that he found that Bradman was seemingly uncomfortable playing a fast and rising delivery directed towards his body. It was after watching this footage that Jardine was supposed to have shouted in excitement “I’ve got it He’s yellow”. With the discovery of Bradman’s apparent weakness against the fast and rising delivery Jardine began to work on a plan that would expose this weakness and thereby restrict his run scoring.
So for this reason Jardine then began gathering all the information he could get about the Australian batsman through letters that his dear friend and Surrey captain Percy Fender received. He also invited the then Nottinghamshire captain Arthur Carr and his two fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce(both of whom ended up playing a big role in the bodyline tactics later) at the Piccadilly Hotel in London to discuss the tactics of intimidation that he intended to use against Bradman and the rest of the Australian batting line up. It is during this meeting that Jardine asked both Larwood and Voce if they could bowl fast and rising deliveries around the leg stump which they agreed was not only possible but could prove effective as well. What Jardine also did was to discuss field placing required for the leg theory with Frank Foster who had himself used the leg theory during an ashes tour to Australia in 1911-12. It was after his discussion with Foster that Jardine decided that a cordon of close in fielders packed on the leg side would be the appropriate field placing and, thereby giving the batsmen the option of either getting hit or play the ball.
So with the plan of using “Bodyline” set and bowlers such as Larwood prepared to be part of this plan Jardine finally decided to test this tactics during a tour match against the Australia XI held at Melbourne, although Jardine himself decide to rest himself and handed captaincy to Bob Wyatt. With the success of the bodyline tactics in the tour game the stage was finally set for Jardine to unleash it on the Australians especially Bradman in the first Ashes test to be held at Sydney.
The Australian team faced a huge setback just before the start of the first test at Sydney when Don Bradman was ruled out of the test partly due to health concerns and, partly due to the Australian board not giving him permission to play unless he stopped writing columns for “Sydney Sun”. So with the great Bradman unable to play England’s spearhead Harold Larwood took ten wickets in the match which included the use of the bodyline tactics and completely destroyed the Australian team. With the calls for the inclusion of Bradman for the second test to be held at Melbourne growing Bradman was finally included in the test. With a record 63,993 in the attendance on the first day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground(MCG) and the anticipation that Bradman will have all the answer to the bodyline tactics the stage was perfectly set for an intense battle. Unfortunately for the crowd though Bradman fell for a first ball duck (a rarity in his career) dragging the ball on to his stump while trying to hook. Although, Australia did manage to get an important lead and in the second innings a counter attacking century by Bradman (103 off 146 balls) helped Australia set England a target of 251 runs which England were unable to chase and thus Australia finally managed to defeat the bodyline tactic at least to some extent.
Although, it was in third test at Adelaide where the use of the controversial bodyline tactics reached its climax. With a record crowd of 50,962 in attendance the match began on a sour note with Australian captain Bill Wodfull being struck by a fast delivery on his chest although the field set was a conventional one and not the leg theory field. It was apparently at this very moment that Jardine praised Larwood when he remarked “Well bowled Harold” and, also immediately ordered the leg theory field to be set for the use of bodyline which certainly enraged the hostile home crowd. The controversy of the bodyline during this test had reached such huge proportions that a possible minor riot between the enraged crowd and the players was prevented in time by the alert policemen. This test match also saw Australian Bert Oldfield retire hurt with a fractured skull. Although, Australia went on to lose this test the English manager Pelham Warner who did not agree with Jardine’s bodyline tactics visited the Australian dressing room to speak with captain Bill Woodful who supposedly responded by famously stating “ I do not 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”. With Jardine continuing to use bodyline tactics Australia lost the remaining two tests held at Brisbane and Sydney to lose the series 4-1 and, to bring to an end not only an acrimonious series but also one of the most controversial series in the history of cricket.
As a direct result of this controversial series the MCC in 1935 decided to implement some new rules to the laws of cricket so as to curb the menace of bodyline tactics. What this series also revealed to the world was a villain in the form of English captain Douglas Jardine who used the bodyline tactic ruthlessly and successfully too and, a hero in the Australian great Donald Bradman who defied these tactics and yet managed to score 396 runs at an average of 56.57. Above all this series which very nearly caused serious diplomatic issues between England and Australia shall forever be remembered as the series that help change the history of the game that is known the world over as the “Gentleman’s game”.