More recently, Australian captains and their fast-bowling batteries have attacked opposing tailenders in a way that isn’t for those with weak stomachs. The idea is to cause down-the-order batsmen to lose interest in the task at hand.
Never, however, have any of these methods been supplemented by field placements to parallel the Bodyline strategy of Douglas Jardine in 1932-33. Indeed, laws limiting leg-side fields were introduced as a consequence of Bodyline making it impossible to duplicate.
It’s also fair to add there has never re-appeared the relentless motivation of Jardine. As he refused Harold Larwood’s request to be rested for the final Test of the that series (the Ashes having already been won), Jardine – according to Larwood – pressed and twisted his thumb on a table-top, saying: “We’ve got the bastards down there and we’ll keep them there.”
Which brings me to my book of the moment: Mike Brearley’s On Cricket. The former captain of England, known for his astute man-management but also respected as a tough leader, expresses what to some will be a surprisingly unfavourable assessment of Jardine. Surprising because changing attitudes and practices in high-level cricket through the years have generally brought a more positive view of the icy English skipper of 1932-33.
Brearley analyses the book Jardine wrote about that series and is clearly unconvinced by various of
his explanations and justifications. Brearley writes: “The charge that any of the English bowlers in 1932 or 1933 had another aim – that of threatening physical harm to the batsman – he (Jardine) ridicules as patently untrue and stupid. In my view this is disingenuous.”
Brearley adjudges Jardine’s book as revealing “something of the hatred and contempt he had for the
common Australian, at least for the latter’s incarnation within a Test cricket crowd.”
Hatred and contempt are strong words and Brearley isn’t inclined to hyperbole. He also makes a pungent observation regarding Jardine’s reversion to his leg-side, Bodyline field immediately after Bill Woodfull was stuck on the chest in Adelaide. “If he (Jardine) found the Australian crowds
provocative in their barracking, they had reason to find him provocative both in his timing and in his attitude.”
Brearley goes on to tell a story conveyed to him about an occasion when blood seeped from Jardine’s boot after he was struck on the shin by a full-blooded Stan McCabe hook. A suggestion that he go off for treatment was rejected with: “What? And let 90,000 convicts know I’m hurt?”
As for his own bearing, often perceived as aloof on tours of Australia, Brearley tells of receiving friendly advice from future prime minister Bob Hawke: “Give them a wave, laugh a bit, relax. They
see your stiffness as colonialist arrogance.” Brearley adds: “I have the impression that Jardine placed
himself a good few degrees to the colder end of the scale than I did.”
The first Test of the current series in Perth has prompted use of the word “Bodyline”, most conspicuously by Australian captain Tim Paine.
Of course, neither Paine nor his rival skipper, Kane Williamson, is a Douglas Jardine. A school cricket master of Jardine, upon hearing he’d been made captain of England, astutely predicted he was likely to win the Ashes but possibly lose a dominion. It’s hard to imagine that sort of prophesy being made of Paine or Williamson.
However, the sustained use of leg-side bowling and field-placements from both captains in Perth was like nothing I’ve previously seen on an Australian Test ground.
Not that the parry and thrust was without interest, but the average rate of scoring across four days
was 2.89 runs per over. That computes to 260 runs per day across the regulation 90 overs. And bear
in mind that an extra half-hour of play is almost mandatory now for those 90 overs to be achieved. Which means, on average, 260 runs were scored through each 390 minutes. This on a quick pitch and fast outfield.
The Perth match wasn’t painfully dull, but neither was it fast-moving. While the strategies employed by the rival skippers brought an unfamiliar dimension, the potential existed for more. As for the short-pitched bowling of both teams, it can confidently be said that the more it occurs – particularly against tailenders – the greater the likelihood that one day someone will again be badly hurt.
As for Christmas, Brearley’s book is a collection of essays and newspaper columns of rare insight and empathy. If you’re seeking a gift for a cricket tragic, or even someone who’s not, you could do much worse.
Tim Lane is a columnist for the Sunday Age.