The Wisden Cricketer

Douglas Jardine

An irresistible force

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

Christopher Douglas

May 12, 2011

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Douglas Jardine with his wife
Jardine and his fiancĂ© Margaret Peat in Regent's Park, 1934 © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Players/Officials: Douglas Jardine
Teams: England

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

© The Wisden Cricketer

Posted by arctictern on (May 14, 2011, 0:38 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.

Posted by ygkd on (May 14, 2011, 0:21 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.

Posted by ygkd on (May 13, 2011, 23:34 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.

Posted by   on (May 13, 2011, 19:59 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

Posted by Biggus on (May 13, 2011, 19:36 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.

Posted by Biggus on (May 13, 2011, 19:29 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.

Posted by Grim-Reaper on (May 13, 2011, 16:41 GMT)

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

Posted by BellCurve on (May 13, 2011, 14:30 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.

Posted by BellCurve on (May 13, 2011, 14:00 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.

Posted by gujratwalla on (May 13, 2011, 12:06 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.

Posted by Tom_Bowler on (May 13, 2011, 11:06 GMT)

Leg theory was entirely within both the rules and spirit of the game and had been around for years, Barnes and Foster destroyed Australia with it before WWI. It is a testament to the pitch and volume of Australian squealing that it is no longer allowed and watching mediocre batsmen piling up mountainous scores on flat pitches I wish it still was. Jardine and Larwood were the heroes of Bodyline then and now. That some Australians are still desperately hoping that a contemptuously pompous, self serving quote from Woodfull somehow deflects attention from a 1-4 shoeing four score years after the event must surely make this the longest whinge in sporting history.

Posted by   on (May 13, 2011, 5:36 GMT)

*claps* Douglas Jardine is my favourite English cricketer of all time precisely because his approach to the game was very un-English (as someone else put it here). I concur with the gist of the argument in the article; leg theory was inevitable - heck it seems such an obvious tactic when you play tennis ball cricket - Jardine merely put into practice what everyone was probably thinking.

And bugger the spirit of the game. More precisely bugger the argument people base on this vague notion of cricket's spirit. For too long cricket's been placed on some high moral pedestal. Time we stopped resorting to such foolish nonsense and look to infusing the game with more Jardines and Windies circa 1976 onwards. It'd make the game a lot more interesting to watch than the It's-Raining-Sixes-and-Fours tripe we are forcefed today.

Posted by Vindaliew on (May 12, 2011, 20:30 GMT)

Didn't Jardine get a taste of his own medicine later on? The West Indians set a leg theory field to him to let him know what it was like on the receiving end, and he scored a hundred - he created it and faced it. The West Indians in those days weren't quite as fast as Larwood or Voce, though, but it shows determination on Jardine's part. He was by no means sportsmanlike, but did everything within the rules of the game to win, despite vilification. Something like the Australian team under Ponting, perhaps.

Posted by voma on (May 12, 2011, 17:55 GMT)

There should not be a painting of Douglas Jardine at lords , there should be a statue of the great man ! . Australia were the best team in the world at that time , and they had humilated England in England in the previous ashes series . He did what he felt he had to do , win at all costs . Proud to be English

Posted by shillingsworth on (May 12, 2011, 17:00 GMT)

@Dashgar, good points. 'Jardine is the winner from bodyline, but he is not the hero of bodyline.' Very well put.

Posted by konpal34 on (May 12, 2011, 14:52 GMT)

@sidharth bawa Your skills of comprehension suck.England didnt regain the Ashes this time around.They were the trophy holders from the last series in England and therefore they 'retained' it

Posted by Dashgar on (May 12, 2011, 14:09 GMT)

@Siddharth Bawa, Strauss didn't regain the ashes, he retained the ashes. Slight but important difference. @Clarke, from what I've read there have been some who echo what you say but others (Ian Chappel included I believe) who completely disagree that Australia didn't have the bowlers to implement bodyline. Australia simply refused to lower themselves to that tactic. The immortal words of Bill Woodful, "theres two teams out there, and only one of them's playing cricket." Australia were far too proud to inflict bodyline. One more point, English batsmen had said they would force Jardine to abandon the tactic if Australia took it up in retaliation, because they were afraid for their careers and their health. Jardine is the winner from bodyline, but he is not the hero of bodyline.

Posted by   on (May 12, 2011, 13:52 GMT)

@siddharth : Andrew Strauss retained Ashes in Australia as they had already beaten them in 2009, the other two regained it.

Posted by Biggus on (May 12, 2011, 12:50 GMT)

@Siddarth Bawa-It's a matter of regaining or retaining. Since England already held the Ashes Strauss could not regain them, only retain, or continue to hold them.

Posted by   on (May 12, 2011, 11:38 GMT)

You mentioned Ray Illingworth and Pelham Warner are the only England captains to regain an Ashes in Australia...what about Andrew Strauss in the recent series that completed?

Posted by shillingsworth on (May 12, 2011, 10:32 GMT)

@Dashgar, I'd suggest that the Australians would have retaliated if their bowlers had been capable of doing so. I'm sure England would claim that they tried to win the 1974-75 series in the spirit of the game. Since Willis, Old, Lever etc weren't in the same class as Lillee and Thomson, they had no option.

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (May 12, 2011, 8:02 GMT)

P.S. I realise that if you extend my argument too far a corollary would be that Hitler and Stalin were good chaps as they made for some cracking stories. This is not my intention of course. Cricket is still just a game

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (May 12, 2011, 7:59 GMT)

With 80 years of perspective Bodyline was great for cricket. In the narrative of the development of the game it is one of the unavoidable episodes, with huge characters, heros villains, national sterotypes, patriotism (even nationalism) an anti establishment thread. It is even an imprtant episdaode in the Australian National narrative. Loving cricket, for me is not just about the current batch of cricketers, it is the sum of all which has gone before, both the history and the pseudo-historical legend. Bodyline was all that. Probably not what JArdine had in mind, but well done all the same.

Posted by Woody111 on (May 12, 2011, 7:32 GMT)

Great comments on this one - well done all! Of course should the tactic be employed now (as stated; if it were legal) it would not be so frowned upon because batsmen have helmets! The way batsmen are so readily protected - either by rule changes like bouncers per over or conditions such as flatter, covered pitches - makes it so hard for bowlers to gain an advantage it would be good to see some dramatic effort to bring back the balance to the force. I recall Ian Chappell stated that criticism of Jardine was unfounded because his tactic was within the rules. It's telling, though, that so many Englishmen and players within his team disagreed with his ploy. History will say it was a landmark moment(s) because it prompted a re-think about rules. He at least deserves credit for playing a part in ensuring such negative cricket was not possible ever again. I can't get behind Jardine as a favourite cricketer though; I mean, come on, look at the guy!

Posted by Dashgar on (May 12, 2011, 6:54 GMT)

Favourite cricketer? Surely not. Of all the great names you could bring up you go for a man who's only crowning glory earnt him the hatred of the cricketing world. If you wanted an Englishman who reclaimed the ashes in Australia then go for Ray Illingworth or Pelham Warner. Jardine introduced a tactic that was seen at the time, and has subsequantly been seen as unfair and against the spirit of the game. He originally meant for it to only be used against Bradman but then changed to use it against every Australian batsman. In the face of this the Australians did not retaliate, they instead tried to win in the spirit of the game. How can your favourite player be someone who had such low value for the spirit of sportsmanship or the spirit of the game.

Posted by Valerio_DiBattista on (May 12, 2011, 4:37 GMT)

I don't find the choice of Douglas Jardine as a favourite cricketer to be a perverse choice at all. The Bodyline tour is probably still the greatest tour in cricket history, and Jardine obviously was a large reason for this being so. He is one of my favourite cricketers, even though I am only 38, because of his single-minded desire to win the Ashes and the controversy and culture that he created. As Christopher states, all conditions were in favour of the batsman, so something had to be done, and Jardine did it. What I would give for a Douglas Jardine type character now to stir up some of the pampered Test batsmen of today. Can I say to you Christopher that Douglas Jardine is not a perverse choice, he is indeed a fine choice as your favourite cricketer.

Posted by Biggus on (May 12, 2011, 4:14 GMT)

Ah Jardine.....what a conundrum. Had bodyline taken place in today's era of professionalism (if it were legal, that is) much less fuss would have accompanied it, but given that it occurred in an age of relative cricketing innocence, when gentlemanly conduct was the norm, it was always going to be a drama. For all his 'Englishness' trying to win at the very limits of what would be considered fair was for the time profoundly 'Un-English'. Though I'm an Aussie I don't see him as a demon and Bodyline was as legal as Lillee and Thomson and the Windies pace assault on batsmen was in the '70s and '80s. Of course it's all illegal now, but perhaps Jardine was a man ahead of his time. The main problem with it was that it produced rather ugly cricket from a spectators point of view. The real villains were the MCC bigwigs who condoned it in their desperation to win but disowned Jardine and Larwoon when it became an embarrassment, so much that Larwood came to live with us. Such irony!

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