In Quest of the Ashes by Douglas Jardine

Jardine's view not the whole story

David Frith
David Frith reviews In Quest of the Ashes by Douglas Jardine

Publishers' preferences continue to perplex. Of the many books on the notorious 1932-33 Bodyline Ashes series, this one, by England's captain, first published in 1933, had already been reissued in 1984, by Orbis, with a foreword by John Arlott. Now a foreword by Mike Brearley and a tender afterword by Douglas Jardine's daughter Fianach come with a fresh edition for those who missed the earlier ones, that they might sample for themselves this battlefield account written in lawyers' language.

It is predictably prejudiced. Jardine was scornful of his Australian adversaries, whose ranks swelled during this stormiest of cricket tours. From his insistence on referring throughout to the provocative fast attack as "leg theory" to his contempt for Don Bradman and most things Australian, this account is limited by, or, as his supporters might insist, fortified by the bias.

But then all the contemporary accounts of Bodyline - bar perhaps the books by Mailey, Hobbs and Wilmot - were one-eyed. It was not until Jack Fingleton's Cricket Crisis (1946) that visibility around the dispute began to clear. Probably we should forgive Jardine his prejudices, for his obstinacy reflects the very quality that brought England success on those steamy Australian cricket fields almost three-quarters of a century ago. Much of the informed detail here, of course, could have come only from Jardine's pen, such as his tactical thinking, his opinion of the jeering crowds, his perception of Bradman's weaknesses, and the insistence that this mega-runmaker was not intended as the sole target of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce's attack. Jardine's conviction was that if South Australia's Tim Wall could take all 10 in an innings of a Shield match, then surely none of Australia's top batsmen in the early 1930s could be competent against pace.

Wherever possible Jardine summons support from Australians. Arthur Mailey and Jack Ryder were two who didn't mind England's "leg theory", and his concise match descriptions incorporate sympathy of a sort for both Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield after their serious injuries at Larwood's hands in the tumultuous Adelaide showdown. The author also displays the sense of humour so familiar to his close friends. Gleefully recalled is the barracker's cry of "Let the ------- [not batsman!] die of thirst!" when Australia's captain was about to offer England's leader a drink. But Jardine expresses contempt for the mobs who tried to make his life a misery from Adelaide across to Brisbane as his menacing Notts fast men bowled their fast "long hops" (no alarming nouns such as "bouncers" or "bumpers" here).

He would have preferred to have played his cricket on empty grounds. The "unsportsmanlike" charge outraged him more than anything else. Brearley, who knows about personal targeting by Australian crowds, sees Jardine's self-defence as disingenuous, and craves more detail on a number of issues merely touched upon in this volume. A significant book, it still leaves so very much unsaid.