If the events in Australia in 1932-33 had made Bodyline a household
word, once the euphoria of regaining the Ashes had subsided and cold
reality set in, the whole idea of leg theory began to take on rather a
soiled feel. Seeing it in the flesh, many realised that it wasn't quite
what the game was all about.
Ken Farnes: one of the fastest bowlers in the country
© The Cricketer|
The one place that leg theory wasn't expected to be on show was in the
relatively genteel setting of the Varsity Match. For one thing, Oxford
v Cambridge was identified as being very much a gentlemen's contest; for
another, effective leg theory needed good, accurate fast bowling. While
both universities produced countless decent batsmen, fast bowling was
usually the domain of the professionals.
But in 1933 Cambridge possessed Ken Farnes, a supremely fit and
genuinely fast bowler who could cut the ball both ways and produce
alarming bounce. And, crucial to potent leg theory, he was accurate, the
attribute which helped make Harold Larwood so effective. In the weeks
before the match he had been practising trying to bounce the ball over
the wall at the back of the nets at Fenner's. "My bowling relied to a
certain extent on intimidation," he later confessed, admitting that he
had some reservations but that there seemed "little reason not to try to
use a method that had proved successful on an MCC tour."
Farnes was in his final year at Cambridge, collecting his third Blue,
and on the morning of the match one newspaper wrote that he only had to
"bowl a length to reap a harvest of wickets". But he opted for
different tactics. Play started late because of overnight rain, and on
a damp pitch Farnes opened up with three short legs - a slip was brought
across after one over to make it four - and a barrage of short
deliveries. Runs were at a premium, but Farnes went wicketless, although
he cracked David Walker, the Oxford opener, in the ribs - and The
Times dismissed his opening burst as "an arrant waste of time". He
returned later with a conventional field, but was far from threatening.
Two other Cambridge bowlers - Jahangir Khan, Rolph Grant - followed
suit with packed leg-side fields, but both were offspinners and bowling
to an altogether different plan. An unsatisfactory day was brought to a
premature close by the weather, with Oxford 127 for 7. "The spectators,"
The Times said, "were nearly driven mad" by the bowlers' tactics.
On the second day (one on which less than two hours' play was possible),
Farnes continued his strategy. "The pitch was faster than one would have
expected after all the rain that had fallen," reported The
Cricketer, "and Farnes, bowling from the pavilion end, bowled fast
and often made the ball rise high."
He started by having Viv Jenkins well caught down the leg side by Joseph
Comber, the wicketkeeper, but at least he escaped without physical
damage. Farnes then struck Oxford's fast bowler Richard Tindall a blow
which clearly unsettled him, and he was yorked next delivery, and then
Peter Oldfield, the No. 11, was struck on the jaw by the first ball he
faced, which deflected into the stumps.
Ken Farnes in full flight
© The Cricketer|
With so much time lost, a draw seemed inevitable. Cambridge began their
innings on the third morning and although they collapsed in the
afternoon, their 45-run lead should have been insufficient to worry
But Farnes, again opening from the pavilion end, ripped through Oxford's
top order, once again bowling fast and short to a packed leg field.
David Townsend, an opening batsman good enough to be picked for England
on the strength of his university form, was hit in the neck by Farnes
and staggered into his stumps. Within an hour, Oxford were 32 for 6,
still 13 in arrears, with only the South African Alan Melville of the
recognised batsmen left.
However Farnes, who had "bowled like a lion" for his four wickets
according to one report, was exhausted. "I wasn't able to do my part,"
he admitted, and Oxford held on for a draw.
The papers praised Farnes for his skill, but not for his tactics.
The Times referred to a match which had produced "much
controversy and a deal of muddled thinking". And The Cricketer
reflected that Cambridge's tactics "did not meet with general approval,"
adding that Farnes was "a better bowler when he set an orthodox field".
Although West Indies occasionally resorted to out-and-out leg theory
during their tour - most notably against England in general and Douglas
Jardine in particular at Old Trafford - the Bodyline tactic was making
its last hurrah.
Melville, who had seen off Farnes's final burst at Lord's, was subjected
to possibly its last really ferocious outing, at Hove at the end of
August when the West Indians Herman Griffith and Manny Martindale
battered him with vicious bouncers. But on a relatively docile pitch
they were mercilessly hooked and, if they pitched the ball up, they were
driven, and Melville made 114 in two and half hours.
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Ken Farnes - Dairy of an Essex Master - David Thurlow (Parrs Wood, 2000)
The Cricketer July 15, 1933
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1934