The iron duke

John Arlott shows Douglas Jardine to be something other than the tight-lipped assassin of the Bodyline campaign

John Arlott shows Douglas Jardine to be something other than the tight-lipped assassin of the Bodyline campaign

Douglas Jardine in his infamous Harlequin cap © The Cricketer International
Say to any cricket follower ` Douglas Jardine' and the invariable reply will be `On, Bodyline.' The tone of that comment, though, will vary from the mildly, sometimes half-apologetic, note of triumph from the Englishman to genuine indignation on the part of an Australian. It is no exaggeration to say that, among Australians, Douglas Jardine is probably the most disliked of cricketers.

The first point to be argued against that attitude is that the 1932-33 England- Australia series in Australia was only a relatively small phase in the career of a highly capable cricketer. Jardine played first-class cricket between 1920 and 1948, though little in the last dozen of those years: during that period, he scored 14,823 runs at an average of 46.90. In his 12 Test matches, however, he made his 1296 runs - and this is the crucial contrast between the ordinary and the truly purposeful Test cricketer - at an average of 48.

Six feet tall, leanly built, with sharply cut features, an aquiline nose, something of an autocratic attitude, and absolutey fearless, Douglas Robert Jardine was physically an impressive figure. As one who knew him well in his later days, it is possible to say that he had a slightly wry but undoubtedly fundamental sense of humour. At the crease, though, he did not joke; he played remarkably straight, was one of the soundest defensive right-hand batsmen in the world; and extremely strong on the leg side. He rarely bowled, but Sir Jack Hobbs, who saw much of him, thought him an outstanding gully fieldsman. He was of Scottish extraction, both he and his father - to whom he was devoted - were born in India, and he had a number of Scottish characteristics.

The father, M. R. - Malcolm Robert - Jardine went to school at Fettes, where he played in the XI for four seasons from 1885 to 1888 and was cricket captain in the last year. He went on to Oxford, where he won his Blue as a Freshman and, although in 1892 examinations kept him out of home matches, he took a prime part in the five-wicket win over Cambridge, when he set the then-record for the highest individual aggregate in the University match with 140 and 39. He played a few matches for Middlesex but went on to a legal career in India which led him to become Advocate-General of Bombay. On his return to Britain he followed cricket closely down to his death in 1947; that of his son most intently.

So there was cricket in the blood, and it was soon apparent in the son. E. B. Noel, writing in Wisden on Public School cricket of 1917, referred to the 16-year-old Wykehamist as `a batsman of very great promise'. Noel, noting that it was the year of outstanding individual schools cricketers, listed them and described Jardine (in his third year and as captain of the Winchester XI): `Of all the school cricketers he had, perhaps, the soundest defence, the greatest patience and the best judgment, and he was the most difficult of any to dislodge.' He won his Blue at Oxford as a Freshman and played three years against Cambridge, missing the University match of 1922 through a damaged knee.

He qualified for Surrey and, while with them, was top of the first-class batting averages of 1927 and 1928 with figures of 91 and 87 respectively; and he took over from Percy Fender as captain of that county. He became captain of England in 1931.

He took the MCC side to India in the winter of 1933-34, but, after that, he and Lord's were obviously antipathetic. Above all, it must be stressed that considerable captain as he was, he was worth his place in the national side as a batsman when and while he took over the national captaincy.

Before he took the side of 1932-33 to Australia he had himself gone as a player, on merit, in Chapman's highly successful side of 1928-29, when he played in all five Tests. He also, incidentally, scored three centuries in consecutive innings- against Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Thus he had considerable background knowledge of Australian cricket and cricketers - for he was the sharpest of observers - when he returned to England.

He conferred at some length then with Arthur Carr, captain of Nottinghamshire, the county of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, who were to become his primary weapons in the Tests against Australia. Indeed, that was for Larwood the most successful Test series of his career. Jardine also had other discussions up and down England, as a result of which, as he told this writer, he concluded that Australians, with no genuinely fast bowling in their own country, would be too slow against high-speed, short-pitched pace.

Bill Bowes, who passed from a state of mind in which, from the little he knew of him, he formed a dislike of Jardine, recalls that on that tour, when the captain called a team meeting to discuss his use of fast bowling, `to a man the cricketers were behind Jardine'. After his captain's death, Bowes commented, `To me and every member of the 1932-33 MCC side in Australia, Douglas Jardine was the greatest captain England ever had. A great fighter, a grand friend, and an unforgiving enemy.'

Douglas Jardine ahead of the Bodyline trip © The Cricketer International
Bill was happy to state in his autobiography that he thought Jardine a great captain and liked him as well as respected him. Whether it was his tactical concentration on the leg stump or not, that so-called `Bodyline' series was the only one in which England won or retained the Ashes between 1928-29 and 1953. Without doubt, he sought to checkmate Bradman, and he succeeded to the extent that that great little batsman averaged `only' 56 in the Test series by comparison with his eventual 99 in all Tests.

There is no doubt that Douglas Jardine felt the authorities in English cricket had let him down by failing to defend his use of `fast leg theory' against Australia. It is notable that when, in 1933, the West Indies pace bowlers Learie Constantine and ` Mannie' Martindale employed the same tactic against him in the Manchester Test, he batted some five hours, took some heavy punishment unflinchingly and scored 127, which was, in fact, his only Test century. Some labelled him `the Iron Duke', and he was without doubt a man of high purpose which no-one could disturb. To their anger, he found Australian crowds something of a joke - his Harlequin cap particularly riled them - and he led his side through that tour with a consideration and thought that commanded the team's loyal support.

Although he played a few games afterwards, he effectively left first-class cricket in 1937. To his high delight, he became president of the Oxford University Cricket Club and the first president of the Association of Cricket Umpires.

By training, he was a lawyer, and as an expert in company law, he gave highly efficient service to several companies. In those later days, he was most certainly convivial, jovial, and often humorous. Most good critics would rank him as England's finest captain until Michael Brearley. The Master's Club and its perpetual guest, Sir Jack Hobbs, were happy to take that title of Jardine's coining.

Two of the opinions passed after his death were significant. Sir Jack Hobbs, for instance, remarked, `He was a great batsman - how great I do not think we quite appreciated at the time.' Sir `Plum' Warner said, `In my humble opinion, Jardine was a very fine captain, both on and off the field, and in the committee-room he was also extremely good. If ever there was a cricket match between England and the Rest of the World and the fate of England depended upon its result, I would pick Jardine as England captain every time.'