The Bloody Ashes

The season of 1932-33 (significant as a vintage year for cricket memorabilia), saw one of the most significant events in cricketing history, an event which would strain the Anglo Australian relationship to the very limit.
It all began with a conversation in the Piccadilly hotel London between England Captain Douglas Jardine (Notts), a player who was obsessive in his will to win, Captain Arthur Carr, (Notts), and two skillful fast bowlers Harold Larwood, (Notts) and Bill Voce, (Notts).
Top of the agenda that day was the subject of fast leg theory, a highly controversial bowling technique which involved bowling a short fast pitched ball on the leg stump with a circle of usually at least five fielders set close in on the leg side. The reasoning behind this was that the batsman could usually only play the ball to the leg side often causing legside deflections off the upper edge of the bat, ready to be caught by the quadrant of fielders behind square leg.
The reason behind the meeting was the style in which Australia had toured England in 1930, Don Bradman’s batting had run riot with the English attack, and an average of 140 runs saw Australia win the test series 2-1
Studies from cine film and player opinion had been made of Bradman’s batting and it was noted that he seemed to be uncomfortable addressing deliveries which pitched short, bounced high and rose towards him in line with leg stump, a style of bowling seen by many to be both intimidating and physically threatening.
In an attempt to curb Bradman’s skilful batting prowess Jardine decided to utilise this form of bowling attack in the forthcoming encounter, later to become known as Bodyline series.
The fast leg-theory attack had been tried at Trent Bridge - and also at Kennington Oval the previous August. Not everybody who saw it admired it however Jardine decided it was the very thing to solve the Bradman dilemma
The following two seasons of county cricket saw Larwood and Voce practicing their talents both in the nets and on the pitch much to the discomfort and occasionally fitness of the opposing batsman.
England’s pace bowlers were ready now for the hard fast Australian bowling surfaces.
With the1932/33 Australian test series underway it was not until the third test of the series at Adelaide that the wicket was considered ideal for this form of delivery and the tactics were successfully used by the England team.
Widespread condemnation quickly followed as a number of Australian batsman left the crease either injured or having made disappointing scores, it was after a particularly unsavoury incident in which Bert Oldfield was rendered unconscious by a head strike resulting in a fractured skull, that the crowd became angry and a near riot broke out.
Bradman for his part dealt with the bowling attack in the unorthodox manner of moving around the crease towards the leg side, away from the line of the ball, cutting the delivery into the relatively unoccupied offside mid field.
Bradman averaged 56.57 in the series, an average which although below par for him was still an enviable performance.
The final outcome was a 4-1 England win; the scorecard shows Larwood’s bowling averages 19.51 per wicket having taken 33 wickets.
At the series end relationships between the teams were at an all-time low. The Australian Board of Control were soon to contact the MCC proclaiming their indignation and suggesting relationships between the two countries were in jeopardy as a result of this form of gamesmanship.
The MCC passed a resolution in 1935 that 'any form of bowling which is obviously a direct attack by the bowler upon the batsman would be an offence against the spirit of the game'.
It was a quarter of a century later that measures were taken restricting the number of players allowed to be placed behind square leg to two, this effectively put an end to a potential revival of bodyline tactics.
As time went by relations between the two countries were restored and now the Ashes series is much looked forward to and enjoyed all over the world.
On his retirement from cricket Harold Larwood emigrated to Australia where he lived in Sydney until his death at the age of 90.
cricket memorabilia from the controversial bodyline series is highly sought after and signed scorecards, handwritten letters, advertising material, photographs etc. are always in demand.
Tony Selby

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