No. 15 April 10, 2010


There was outrage over England's tactics in the 1932-33 Ashes, but in the years that followed bouncers shocked no one


Young folk may challenge the claim, but the 1932-33 series between Australia and England remains the most sensational Test series of them all. People were more easily shocked in those days. Cricket was still a fairly polite game. The code of honour was strictly and readily adhered to by everyone, so when Douglas Jardine unleashed his hostile fast attack of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, who bowled short on and outside the line of the leg stump, there was outrage. Five or six short-leg fieldsmen waited to catch the ball from batsmen's desperate parries, with a couple of leg-side outfielders ready for the imperfect hook.

The principal target was Don Bradman, whose run-making over the previous three years had transformed the record book. "Our Don" was Australia's most treasured asset, a source of pride and a comfort to his legions of fans in desperate times of unemployment and economic hardship. England needed to subdue him. Jardine's strategy was to restrict him by means of fast Leg Theory. (This aloof and somewhat shy man scorned the Australian term "Bodyline".) And succeeded. The Don's average was cut to a mere 56, with only one century.

But the cost to England's image was catastrophic. Here was the revered Mother Country playing dirty. At that time the intimidation and the concentrated field setting were both within the letter of the Laws. But as even some of the English players privately recognised, they were contrary to the spirit of the game. The tourists won four of the Tests, losing only the second, on a slow Melbourne pitch where Bradman coupled a duck with a splendid, hardworking century.

It took a long time to heal the injured feelings, which had even concerned the governments of both countries. Subtle unwritten pledges were extracted that the Australians would not be subjected to Bodyline during the 1934 tour, and in due course the Laws were tightened in an effort to prevent any repetition - though not soon enough to spare India from assault by other England fast bowlers under Jardine's control in 1933-34.

Thereafter, bouncers were widely regarded as unsporting and unwanted - until, that is, the Second World War changed everything. In the late 1940s Bradman had Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller at his disposal, and the bouncers flew again. Yet even those blistering sessions were but an attenuated preamble to what happened in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Then, with four hefty fast bowlers at his disposal, one West Indies captain after another let them loose all day. The survivors of the original Bodyline series marvelled that there was no public riot, for it had come close to that in Adelaide in 1933, when two of Australia's batsmen were felled. Yet now, in a period of 20 years, West Indies fast men sent 40 opposing batsmen to hospital.

To repeat: our fathers and grandfathers were shocked more easily.

David Frith is an author, historian, and founding editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neil on April 13, 2010, 16:38 GMT

    Well said 'Hammond!' Larwood reckoned the whole execise would result in him getting repeatedly whacked to the boundary, in the way McCabe did in the first test. Had McCabe stayed healthy, and Jackson been available, 'bodyline' may well have been abandoned before the end of the second test, other than as angainst Bradman. The fact is the rest of the Australian batmen weren't good enough against fast bowling, full stop. Sutcliffe, who Ian Chappell absurdly reckons was afraid that Australia would retaliate with short piched bowling, once said he would back himself to hit 9 bouncers out of 10 into the gap between the men at deep square and deep fine leg!! In 1931, Sutcliffe and Leyland hit Ken Farnes for 75 runs in 4 overs!! Farnes was at one time reckoned to be the World's fastest bowler. Had England's attack been built round Verity, Mitchell and Robins, then Australia, who played against legspin all the time, would probably have made huge scores!!

  • Geoffrey on April 12, 2010, 23:31 GMT

    David, surely you of all people know that your post was a load of hoo haa..

    The 4 pronged pace attack of the eighties had nothing at all in common with bodyline. Neither did the "bumper barrage" or Miller & Lindwall (even though Lindwall rarely used his bumper)..

    It was the field placings that were the key. Batsman back then used the hook and used it better than they do today because of the back and across footwork they used to cover off stump because of the old lbw laws.

    It was the men on the fence catching the hook, plus the 4-6 men you see in the photo above that the batsman had to worry about when playing a short ball on leg stump.

    There really isn't any antedote to that type of attack.. not everyone can hook a 90mph bouncer from your throat to the ground with ease. The Don tried to back away and hit on the vacant off side but was branded a coward.

    Clive Llyod would be upset with the comparison I think Mr Frith.

  • Neil on April 12, 2010, 14:57 GMT

    A few historical points to add to the 80 years of hype! 'Bodyline' was aimed at a leg stump line, not the batsman's body!! There is some footage on youtube which shows the batting technique the Australian batmen were using, taking advantage of the lbw laws in force at the time. It was recommended technique at the time to stand in front of the stumps, so 'the line of the body' is actually leg stump. Leg theory was a well established tactic at the time. Warwick Armstrong - the Australian captain, had previously used it in test cricket, as had Frank Foster. Fast, short pitched bowling wasn't new either - Numbers vary as to how many batmen Macdonald and Gregory, the Australian opening bowlers, injured in one tour of England. Frank Foster and Fred Root had previously bowled fast leg theory at Australia. Pataudi was not dropped for objecting to Bodyline!!In the 2nd test he scored 20 in 118 deliveries without a 4. Australia did try to retaliate in the 5th test through Alexander.

  • P Subramani on April 12, 2010, 14:11 GMT

    That is just it. Bodyline was an ugly underhand trick when Bradman was the recipient. That it is common place now is what makes cricket a game that has truly evolved beyond recognition. In fact, before Larwood, the bowling greats from England Maurice Tate and Alec Bedser were medium pacers. Tate made his debut in 1923 and Alec Bedser in 1946. Bradman made his debut in 1926 and retired in 1948. Sir Alec died recently and in the tributes that flowed to him he mentioned having got Bradman 6 times without scoring. On his part Bradman was unflincing in his praise of Bedser.Maurice Tate was in fact an off spinner to begin with. It is just that one day he bowled medium pace of the same action and run up and proved to be deceptivly quick. The point I am trying to make is that there was just one unplayable Larwood in those days unlike today when you have so many around.Bodyline was a heinous offence when it happened to Bradman and because the game was a metaphor of gentlemanly conduct then.

  • Matthew on April 12, 2010, 5:34 GMT

    Hahaha. I love how misguided some of you Indian supporters are that you try to attack Australia over a story from the 1930's. nirvanam, it gets constantly rehashed but go and check the records and find out which country has the worst disiplinary record and you'll see it's your beloved players - you have team mates that even hit each other with cricket bats. I think you'll find that a lot of Indian incidents occur against nations other than Australia too, so your your argument of 'playing down' to Australia holds no water either. Back on the article; it is strange that it created such a problem then, but you really do have to put yourself in the age to understand it. Although the TV series is quite old now too, I felt it really captures what went on (although a little embelished). Might have to hunt it down and watch it again.

  • rko on April 12, 2010, 2:52 GMT

    "Yet even those blistering sessions were but an attenuated preamble to what happened in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Then, with four hefty fast bowlers at his disposal, one West Indies captain after another let them loose all day." Haha so funny, but really, i wish i could find a time machine and go back to those days to see that true fast bowling by West indies foursome, that everone talks about including my father, coz i was born in 1985

  • Bennett on April 12, 2010, 2:27 GMT

    @Vikram, to retaliate in kind, one has to have the means. And Australia did not have the fast bowling attack to reciprocate. They did have a quickie in Eddie Gilbert, but he was an aboriginal and in those days, aboriginals were not picked for Tests. Also, if Aus attempted to retaliate, Jardine could have raised the stakes and chillingly unleashed Larwood on non-batsmen. In any event, Woodfull was a principal and his famous comment said it all. Now, if I.Chappell was captain with Thommo straining...that would make things interesting

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2010, 19:34 GMT

    Thank you gentlemen.You were more or less right about this.Wikipedia expands thus..efore the Second Test in Melbourne, Woodfull had to wait until minutes before the game before he was confirmed as captain by the selectors.[39] This caused the toss to be delayed and fomented speculation that the Australian Board of Control were considering the possibility of removing Woodfull because of his absolute refusal to allow his bowlers to use retaliatory tactics.[40][41] His deputy Victor Richardson had advocated retaliation along with several other players.[42] Richardson recalled Woodfull's private response: There is no way I will be influenced to adopt such tactics which bring such discredit to the game. I know Tim could do it but I am not going to participate in actions that can only hurt the game.[42] Weird this coming from an Aussie.

  • Doug on April 11, 2010, 19:23 GMT

    Another couple of comparisons with the West Indies of, say, 1976. Bodyline rested on the shoulders of two bowlers, Bowes present but used for only one Test and that to little effect, Allen bowling to an orthodox field throughout. AFAIK the over-rate throughout was normal for the time, Larwood and Voce bowled as much as they could and the rest was the duty of Allen, Verity, Hammond and others. There was no foot-draggingly slow over-rate to ensure that when one bowler began to tire anotherof the quartet could take over. And Jardine made no bones about his responsibility for the tactic. Clive Lloyd's response when Holding, Roberts and Daniel worked over Edrich and Close with a couple of hours' worth of half-trackers? "Our boys got carried away".

  • Damien on April 11, 2010, 16:17 GMT

    As a 'squealing' Australian, I also have to note that the 'Bodyline' series did amazing things to increase the interest in the great sport that is Cricket. As someone who now lives in France, I do whatever I can to catch any glimpse of a live cricket match. Sadly, not all cricket enthusiasts are as committed. In a time when Cricket is growing in interest around the world, and when all other sports are madly trying to attract interest, I have no qualms with the players and administrators trying to be innovative in order to grow the market. If it means pink balls for a day/night test, promotion of the Twenty20 version, or changing the score for a boundary during the slower overs of an ODI match; I'm all for it, if it increases interest in this great game. For the record, I despise Jardine for his role in the 'Bodyline' series, but I also respect and admire him for adding such an interesting element to Cricket's great history.

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