Final act of the infamous Bodyline drama, and a look back at how Bradman countered the menace : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

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Bradman’s method was to counter-attack Bodyline bowling.

There was still a Test match to be gone through, and that face-off at Sydney was remarkably similar to the fourth. Australia batted first again and put a strong total of 435 at more than four runs an over. England went ahead by only 19. But the home batsmen let themselves down once more in the second knock. Bradman played a fine hand in both the innings, and at a fair clip, though not in the Bradmanesque vein that he did before and after this series. With the rubber already lost, and much bitterness still around, there was little glory to play for.

Richardson’s dismissal – caught Jardine bowled Larwood for a duck off the fifth delivery of the game – told an eloquent tale. Bradman was in, and again stroking brilliantly. Larwood bowled Woodfull for 14, but Bradman seemed irrepressible. He crossed 3000 runs in the 33rd innings of his 23rd Test. He had scored 48 out of 64 with 7 boundaries when that man Larwood struck again, knocking his stumps as he attempted a leg-glance. The middle-order fired, but a happier sight was Bert Oldfield striding in and scoring a splendid half-century before being run out.

Jardine was caught behind by Oldfield for 18, but Hammond settled in. When Sutcliffe was O’Reilly’s second victim just before stumps on the second day, Larwood was sent in as nightwatchman.

After a good night’s rest, Larwood came out next morning and swung his bat around. Hammond, meanwhile got his hundred and departed. Larwood slammed 10 fours and a six, and was rapidly closing in on his century. He fell for 98, and was cheered all the way to the pavilion. The crowd bore no grudges against him; the object of their ire was Jardine. Larwood, in fact, migrated to this very city of Sydney, where all his five daughters married. He was a simple, amiable soul who did not carry any animosity from the field. The tough miner’s life had given him a body of steel, and allied to the gifts of speed and control, made him a deadly tool in the hands of an unscrupulous captain. Larwood once lamented: “They said I was a killer with the ball without taking into account that Bradman with the bat was the greatest killer of all.”

In one last painful reminder of the mark that he had left on the series, Larwood handed the unfortunate Richardson a pair in the match. This time he had him taken by Allen second ball. Bradman was again superb. To dominate a partnership with Woodfull was no achievement, but Bradman seemed determined to show his tormentors one last time that he was not one to be counted out. Jack Fingleton wrote in Cricket Crisis, echoing what Hammond had also stated: “Cricket has not known a more Alice-in-Wonderland innings than that played in Sydney by Bradman in the final Test. When Larwood was still two or three yards from delivering the ball, Bradman was on the move. First he went to the off, then to the leg. Bradman made 71 and barely a stroke he made was known to the textbook. It was the riskiest and most thrilling batting imaginable, and that in a limitless Test in which the sum total of risks, ordinarily, would be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

“Bradman’s stumps were left wide open not once but a dozen times,” Fingleton continued. “An ordinary straight ball from Larwood would have been sufficient then to end Bradman’s innings, but it really seemed that the stumps were of minor concern to both Bradman and Larwood. It seemed that Larwood was anxious to claim a hit on Bradman in this final Test – a thing that Englishmen had not done previously. And Bradman seemed just as determined Larwood shouldn’t. Larwood got a hit, late in Bradman’s innings, with a stinging blow high on Bradman’s left arm.” For one last time the vengeful English wanted to leave a permanent scar on Bradman – if not on his person, then at least on his psyche. They had won this series but were to regret their diabolical actions over the next decade-and-a-half. “It was certainly not cricket,” Fingleton lamented, “for as Hobbs once said when Bowes bowled short-pitch stuff at him, ‘If this goes on, someone will be killed’.”

Bradman cracked 9 boundaries in his 69-ball stunner before being bowled by Verity. The stand was worth 115. Woodfull plodded on but Australia could set a target of just 164. Wyatt and Hammond ushered in an eight-wicket win.

Contrary to popular belief, therefore, Bradman played several fine knocks in the series apart from that exhilarating match-winning hundred in the second innings of the Melbourne Test. He scored at least a half-century in each of the other three Tests. Sure his prodigious run-getting had been contained by his own extraordinary standards, but he was still one of the best batsmen in the series. That was not all. He had decided that the way to tackle Bodyline was through attack. He knew that by merely defending against the dangerously bouncing deliveries, the bowlers would dominate and there was risk of being dismissed anyway. So he went on the offensive and scored at almost 4.5 runs per over (4.49 to be exact). When one considers that, in the four Tests that Bradman played, Australia’s run-rate was 2.97 runs per over, boosted of course by his own quick scoring, and England scored at an average of 2.23 runs an over, the true picture emerges. Bradman’s 75 runs per 100 balls were 15 runs higher than any of his teammates in the entire series. Doubtlessly, Bradman was striking the ball well but not getting the really big scores that set him apart from other top-class batsmen. Things did seem to be weighing heavily on his mind. Maybe he was suffering uncharacteristic lapses in concentration, perhaps distracted by his differences with the Australian Board of Control and disturbed by the tactics of the opponents.

Even so, only Sutcliffe and Hammond, with 440 runs each, scored more than his 396 runs, but they played five Tests. Just Paynter averaged higher at 61.33, helped by two not outs in his five innings. Bradman’s series average of 56.57 would make any great batsman, apart from himself, proud. The next best Australian was McCabe at 42.77.  In this series no batsman scored mountains of runs as Hammond did in 1928-29, and Bradman in 1930. There were five centuries, all except Bradman’s in the first innings of the series, two great ones by Australians – McCabe and Bradman – and one each by Sutcliffe, Hammond and Pataudi.

Obviously, the bowlers enjoyed themselves more, Larwood’s was clearly the standout performance with 33 wickets at 19.51 apiece, well supported by his fast bowling partners, Gubby Allen (21 wickets at 28.23) and Bill Voce (15 wickets at 27.13). For Australia the great leggie Bill O’Reilly was brilliant with 27 wickets at an average of 26.81. The paceman Tim Wall (16 wickets at 25.56) and left-arm spinner Bert Ironmonger (15 wickets at 27) plugged away manfully.

In all first-class cricket during the season, Bradman scored 1171 runs at an average of 61.63, not without a customary double century – 238 against Victoria at Sydney. What was perhaps the most controversial season in the game’s history had come to an end, but the ramifications were to be felt for years to come.

Hobbs had been disgusted with Bodyline but was discreet while the tour was on. Not any more. On May 6, the day the team arrived back in England, the headlines in the London Star screamed ‘Hobbs Condemns Bodyline – Contrary to the Spirit of Cricket – Bodyline Dangerous and Not Good for the Game’. Australia put in place a special law to tackle Bodyline, and eventually MCC came up with one that was agreed to by all the Test-playing nations. Law 41.2 was adopted whereby not more than two fielders were allowed on the on-side behind the popping crease at the point of delivery. Law 42.8 under ‘Unfair Play’ stated that “The bowling of fast-short-pitched balls is unfair if, in the opinion of the umpire at the bowler’s end, it constitutes an attempt to intimidate the striker.”

All this happened because Jardine deployed leg-theory to stop Bradman’s unabated run-scoring ways. Leg-theory was not an entirely new concept as it had been used by Frank Foster for England and Warwick Armstrong for Australia on either side of the First World War. But the attacks had not been lethal because the bowlers were nowhere as fast or skillful as Larwood. This also reinforces Bob Wyatt assertion.

Sadly, Larwood never played Test cricket again. He had sustained a serious foot injury in the final Test, but it was the aftermath of Bodyline that really consumed him. It is, indeed, unfortunate that a great fast bowler should be remembered more for the diabolical method his captain resorted to, rather than for his superlative feats with the ball. The West Indies pacemen Constantine and Martindale bowled Bodyline at Jardine at Old Trafford in the 1933 series, but to his credit he faced up to it manfully, making 127 runs. He led England in the 1933-34 series in India, but on return announced that he would not turn out against Australia that summer, preferring the press box. That eased tensions all around. Even otherwise it had taken much reassurance on the part of the MCC about the manner in which the game would be played before the Australian Board of Control acquiesced to the tour.

Soon, Bradman would be back.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

‘Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0.

Distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110 001, Phones + 91 11 23417175 and 23412567.

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