Alex Massie Alex Massie

80 years ago, Bodyline ended and English cricket enjoyed a triumph

Today, February 28th 2013, is the 80th anniversary of the conclusion to one of the finest – and certainly the most controversial – test series ever played. Eighty years ago today, Wally Hammond and Bob Wyatt put on 125 for the third wicket as England strolled to an eight wicket win at Sydney. This capped a remarkable winter for the tourists and sealed a crushing 4-1 series victory. It remains one of English cricket’s greatest foreign triumphs.

Rarely before and rarely since has pure theory been so completely matched to the needs of applied cricket. No wonder Douglas Robert Jardine is still remembered as arguably the finest captain to ever lead an English side into cricketing battle and Harold Larwood still celebrated as perhaps the finest fast-bowler who ever took the fight to the Australians.

This, of course, was the Bodyline series. No other confrontation has provoked such controversy or inspired such a literature. DR Jardine may no longer be the most hated man in Australia but even 80 years later few Australians are minded to afford him the benefit of the doubt.

Not that the great man would have it any other way. The old Scots Covenanting motto “Christ and no quarter” could be said to apply to Jardine’s approach too. And since Jardine, like so many great Englishmen, wasn’t English at all I like to think his soul was infused with a measure of his Scotch ancestors’ presbyterian certitude and rigour.

The term “Bodyline” demonstrates the power of what political consultants these days call “framing”. Bodyline sounds so much more threatening, so much more venal, so much more not-in-the-spirit-of-cricket than “fast leg-theory”. Be that as it may, fast leg-theory was what it was and leg-theory was hardly a recent innovation. By some measures it had existed for a quarter of a century before Jardine ever unleashed Larwood upon an unsuspecting and easily-offended Australian public.

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