Douglas Jardine May 12, 2011

An irresistible force

Christopher Douglas
Douglas Jardine's desire to win back the Ashes at all costs brought him the urn, and vilification in England and Australia

It's a perverse choice, I know, because DRJ wasn't exactly a crowd pleaser - dour, defensive batting style, awkward, stiff-legged way of moving around the field, and a firm belief that any noise coming from the stands should be punished by an immediate 30-minute suspension of play. He captained England only 15 times (won nine, lost one, drew five) but as time goes by his stature seems to grow. And that's because in 1932-33 he took a side to Australia and regained the Ashes. Ray Illingworth and Pelham Warner are the only other England captains to have achieved this.

Douglas Jardine is the name more than any other that stands for the legendary British qualities of cool-headed determination, implacable resolve, patrician disdain for crowds and critics alike - if you're English that is. To Australians the name is synonymous with the legendary British qualities of snobbishness, cynicism and downright Pommie arrogance.

I certainly don't spend time rereading accounts of matches that Douglas Jardine played or watching old film of him, nor do I have his photo on my bedroom wall. But since writing a biography of him over 20 years ago, I have always had an affection for him, not just as a fearless, single-minded, scary, hook-nosed sort of toff, which I suppose part of me would quite like to be, but because he was partly responsible for my education.

I left school at 15 and the two years I spent in my early twenties researching DRJ's life and trying to express it in coherent form was the nearest I got to going to college. There wasn't much money in it, so I had to subsidise the writing with scraps of TV acting work and doing the horses (I dedicated the book to my five biggest winners). It's safe to say I would have been the very last person DRJ would have chosen for the job.

I was deeply conscious of my unsuitability as I interviewed those who knew him: Percy Fender, Gubby Allen, Jack Fingleton, Bob Wyatt and so on. But having to get to grips with the single most important episode in DRJ's life - Bodyline - with very little prior knowledge still less opinion was probably an advantage.

There was nothing illegal about Bodyline. DRJ had such a profound respect for the laws that he would never have countenanced it otherwise. It wasn't by any means guaranteed to work but he was prepared to risk everything on its success - death or glory

The defenders of Bodyline bowling have all died off and we are all now agreed that it had to end, but the more interesting thing about it to me is that it had to start. It's true that Jardine was the first to implement the strategy of fast short-pitched bowling with a packed leg-side field, but it was a stage in the game's evolution rather than a dastardly one-off plan and it was always going to happen sooner or later. The lbw law, the pitches, the height of the stumps, even the size of the ball, were all in the batsman's favour at the time and something had to give. Even Don Bradman, Bodyline's chief target, admitted as much in a letter to MCC shortly before the tour.

There was nothing illegal about Bodyline. DRJ had such a profound respect for the laws that he would never have countenanced it otherwise. It wasn't by any means guaranteed to work but he was prepared to risk everything on its success - death or glory. He called his account of the tour In Quest of the Ashes (it's just been splendidly reissued by Methuen with a brilliant foreword on Bodyline by Mike Brearley) and he saw the campaign as something noble and knightly. "Fear and be slain" he would quote to his children in later life, and on the Bodyline tour his bowlers would be reminded as they enjoyed a final fag before taking the field that "an hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name".

He wasn't a villain but decades of Australian resentment have lent him a kind of villainous glamour that I find irresistible. Likewise his sense of humour: when Herbert Sutcliffe had a benefit match coming up, DRJ sent him an umbrella for luck.

Until recently his portrait hung in the Long Room at Lord's, appropriately enough underneath Bradman's, DRJ's cool gaze staring directly into the faces of visiting teams as they clattered through the hushed interior on their way out on to the field. He has been moved to the bar now, as has Bradman, which I think is a pity because it always seemed gloriously ironic that the two great adversaries - the master strategist and the game's pre-eminent genius - should occupy the same patch of wall space. But Douglas Jardine has survived many attempts to airbrush him out of history and now his status as a sporting icon seems more secure than ever.

Christopher Douglas is an actor and writer best known in cricket circles as the co-creator of Dave Podmore, the fictional journeyman cricketer who inhabits the Guardian and BBC Radio 4. This article was first published in the Wisden Cricketer in 2005

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  • arctic on May 13, 2011, 23:38 GMT

    @Xolile, Bradman had an avg. of 56 in the Bodyline Test series, with a century as well. This is nothing less than superhuman considering, the new tactic that was developed to counter him, with a stacked legside field, and bouncers upon bouncers being bowled at 90+mph in 8 ball overs, on uncovered pitches, and no helmets. That must have required a different type of courage and ingenuity to counter these tactics. And the avg. and century suggest that it was a commendable job.

    If the same bodyline questions were to be asked of the modern batsmen; shorn of their astronaut paddings, and similar pitch/field conditions, where do you think they would stand? Kindly print it, as it took some effort retyping it, owing to browser issue.

  • Philip on May 13, 2011, 23:21 GMT

    It is well to remember that the events leading up to Bodyline are 80 years old. Britain was a different nation, as was it's then dominion Australia. Aus's captain, Bill Woodfull spoke on camera of touring the "mother country". He was, perhaps, more "English" than Jardine and probably saw himself that way which may have coloured his reactions somewhat. Jardine may have been the Eng captain and he did a pretty good job at it (although it's hard to condone players getting clobbered without protection) but he was hardly at the heart of the English ruling class. So, it could easily be seen as a contest between an Australian captain trying to be "English" in a fair-play sense and a Scot who knew that wouldn't get him anywhere. As for Aus's lack of pace themselves, look at Laurie Nash's career. 2 Tests, 10 wickets at 12. Aus's aces were left in the pack, but that was nothing new. Others had similar treatment at times. That is not to criticise Woodfull, but we shouldn't can Jardine either.

  • Philip on May 13, 2011, 22:34 GMT

    Australia did have fast bowlers too, but they wouldn't use them, and not just in that series. Jardine was not particularly English, but an Indian-born Scot with very real roots in Ayrshire and an accent to match. Not all of Australia's cricket community cry over Bodyline. Good to see Jardine getting a mention and maybe it might help straighten up the folk history of this much-misunderstood time.

  • Dummy4 on May 13, 2011, 18:59 GMT

    bodyline is a big part of test history like it or not. fast-leg theory was deemed to against the spirit of cricket as it put batsmen at such a disadvantage. life threatening injuries did occur. The disadvantage was deemed so profound (even bradman falling victim to it) that cricket administrators of the day felt that the end result was 'not even cricket'. batsmen simply couldnt score runs. jardine always maintained that dogged determination and proper technique was all it took to combat bodyline and MCC later disagreed. fast-leg theory was however dished out to the engish in and jardine scored a 100 proving his point. mentioned match is a key piece of the whole picture and jardine should be judged with it in mind. laws preventing fast-leg are still in there and defies common sense in doing so. batsmen wrapped around in mattresses deserve short balls at their throats. i have nothing but respect for Jardine

  • Richard on May 13, 2011, 18:36 GMT

    Further to my previous comment, when I was young enough to be playing serious cricket (late '70s-no helmet) I once faced a guy bowling at me at 85 or 90 MPH on a wet wicket here in Perth and I can assure you it wasn't for the faint hearted, in fact it was bloody terrifying.

  • Richard on May 13, 2011, 18:29 GMT

    To those bagging Bradman let me suggest that you leave a pitch uncovered, take off your protective gear and replace them with 1930s pads and gloves and get someone to bowl at your head at 90+ MPH with a stacked on side field. There is simply no consistent way to handle it. The players who did face it said you could stay in but scoring was almost impossible, and yet he averaged over 50 in these tests. Big talk from the safety of your keyboard fools no-one.

  • Graham on May 13, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    Fast leg theory - the longest whinge in sporting history. 78 years, and counting.

  • Deon on May 13, 2011, 13:30 GMT

    BTW Bradman was not necessarily out of form or injured in the 1932/33 season. He batted 5 times in Sheffield Shield cricket during this period and amassed 600 runs at an average of 150. It was only in those 8 First Class matches where he was confronted by Jardine and Larwood in which he failed miserably. As metioned earlier, in those 8 matches he batted 16 times and averaged a mere 38.06. Thanks to Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood there will forever hang a question mark over Bradman regarding his ability against high quality pace bowling.

  • Deon on May 13, 2011, 13:00 GMT

    In the summer of 1932/33 the great Sir Donald Bradman faced the touring English team in 8 First Class matches (including 4 Tests). He batted 16 times and was dismissed 15 times (6 of those by Larwood). He scored a mere 571 runs. He scored only 1 century. His average was a measly 38.07. The fact that Jardine outfoxed what is universally considered the greatest batsman in history speaks for itself. Jardine should be viewed as one of if not the greatest cricket strategist of all time. Thanks to Jardine there will always hang question mark over Bradman's ability against high quality fast bowling.

  • IFTIKHAR on May 13, 2011, 11:06 GMT

    It has bee decades since body-line but having seen the Australian mentality in ages i am inclined to think that Jardine was a more of a man than his opponets in that he never complained from getting as good as he gave.If the Australians had similar fast bowlers like Larwood i am sure they would done everything to hit back in like manner.Bradman and his fellow batsmen had they been realy good they would have combated the tactics.But as we well know when the ball s in the othe half the Aussies start crying.The gist of the argument is Jardine did not break the laws of cricket and won his battle fair+square as befits a man of his staure.

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