Douglas Jardine (born October 23, 1900) was a brilliant captain who is also infamous for the most questionable and dangerous tactic ever used on the cricket field – Bodyline. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the complex cricketer on his 112th birthday.
He is perhaps universally accepted as the villain of cricket – the Machiavellian mastermind behind the biggest controversy that ever hit the game. The man, who in his quest for Ashes, brought the physical safety and lives of batsmen into peril. He was the man who made cables – long and explosive – shoot across from the land Down Under to the MCC headquarters, bringing not only cricketing ties, but also diplomatic relations of the two countries into peril.
Lightning quick deliveries, short and honing in for the body of the batsman, with a packed leg side field, was his strategy to restrict Australia, especially a run-machine called Don Bradman. Not even all the members of his own team found the tactics fair and according to the spirit of the game.
But, Douglas Jardine maintained that he had always been on a ‘Quest for the Ashes’, which became the title of his account on the Bodyline series. He said that he did not break any rule and described allegations that the England bowlers directed their attack with the intention of causing physical harm as stupid and patently untruthful.
Making of the cricketer
Jardine was born in Bombay, on October 23, 1900. He was educated at Winchester, captaining the cricket side in his last year. Moving to New College at Oxford, he played against Cambridge three times, and on graduation, started representing Surrey as a middle order batsman.
Not often available to play for England because of his business commitments, he made his debut against West Indies in 1928, when the side played their first-ever Test match. Problems in inter-personal relationships started dogging him early enough in his career. In his second Test match, he was run out for 83, when Maurice Tate, a man with whom he did not quite see eye to eye, refused to respond to a call for a single.
His first tour to Australia, in 1928-29, started with a lot of promise, but unquestionably sowed the seeds of his later frictions with the country. His slow batting and associated success did not really endear him to the Australian crowds, pitchforking him as a prime target for barracking. It was compounded by the Harlequin cap which he wore while playing. A souvenir of Oxford, it was perhaps worn by him due to superstitions, but the Australian crowds found it too snooty. It led remarks such as, “Where’s the butler to carry the bat for you?”
Jardine did score 98 and shared a 262-run stand with Wally Hammond in England’s narrow 12 run win in the fourth Test, but the constant jeering by the crowd ensured unpleasant memories and, according to many, led to the ruthless tactics he would resort to four years later.
Jardine was appointed captain against New Zealand in 1931. In his very first Test, Frank Woolley found himself humiliated by his manner. Jardine also admonished young spinners Ian Peebles and Walter Robbins for displaying amusement during the match.
Not everyone was convinced by his leadership abilities, but he enjoyed the support of some important voices like Pelham Warner and Percy Fender. When he kept his job for the series in Australia, the reactions were mixed. Rockley Wilson, ex English cricketer and Jardine’s coach at Winchester, is reputed to have responded to the decision saying that with Jardine as captain, “We shall win the Ashes … but we may well lose a Dominion”
The Bodyline – plan and execution
Jardine’s main worry, as that of all England, was Bradman.
During the final Test of the 1930 Ashes at the Oval, Bradman had amassed 232. However, during one stage, the wicket had become difficult after rain. As some deliveries had bounced higher than normal at a fast pace, Bradman had shown some signs of discomfort.
Surrey skipper Percy Fender noticed this, and discussed the incident with Jardine. When the newly-appointed English captain later saw film footage of the Oval incident he is supposed to have shouted, “I’ve got it. He’s yellow!”
A meeting was arranged with Nottinghamshire captain Arthur Carr and his two fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce at London’s Piccadilly Hotel. Jardine explained his plan of bowling at the body with packed leg side fields, and asked Larwood and Bill Voce if they could bowl accurately on leg stump and make the ball rise up into the body of the batsman. Jardine also visited Frank Foster, who had toured Australia in 1911–12 and had the batsmen in trouble with an early version of leg-theory. During this meeting, he got some important tips about field placings appropriate for Australian conditions.
The tour that followed has gone down as one of the most infamous in history of Test cricket. England won the series 4-1, but hostile bowling at the body with a battery of fieldsmen on the leg side stamped Jardine’s negative image permanently on the annals of the game.
Apart from the cricket itself, there were a lot of ways in which Jardine rubbed the Australians the wrong way – press, public and cricketers.
Jardine made no secret of his immense hatred for Australia and Australians. Early during the tour, the side was on a tour around Sydney Harbour. As they passed near the newly- constructed bridge, some RAAF fighter planes flew overhead. Jardine remarked to Warner: “I wish they were Japs and I wish they’d bomb that bridge into the harbour”.
The custom in Australia was for captains to name teams early so that the journalists could flash them in the papers, but Jardine refused. Claude Corbett of The Sydney Sun insisted that he reveal the eleven for the tour opener against Western Australia, and Jardine replied: “We didn’t come here to provide scoops for yours or any other bally paper. Tell Sydney and Melbourne they can damn well wait.”
On the third day of this match, Jardine turned up 20 minutes late for pitch inspection and refused to apologise. Local papers reported that he was out shopping at the time.
Jardine continued to refuse to name the final elevens until the last moment, even for the Tests. Larwood later wrote that he did it, “To annoy the press and to keep up the pressure on the Australians.”
One of the sparks that lit the fire of animosity in the series was Australian captain Bill Woodfull being hit over the heart by a Larwood thunderbolt, dropping his bat and clutching his chest. The aghast Adelaide crowd, already vocal against the Bodyline bowling in earlier matches, jeered loudly. Things were not helped when Jardine, in a largely audible voice, exclaimed: “Well bowled, Harold.”
Till then Larwood was bowling to a conventional field. As Woodfull recovered and returned to the crease, Jardine calmly signalled for his men to switch to a leg-side field. It almost a declaration of war, moving forces to begin shelling at the opponent. The enraged spectators could hardly believe their eyes.
Keeping with the fashion of the times, large numbers of fans had turned out to watch the teams in the nets ahead of the third Test in Adelaide, but Jardine was roundly jeered and abused as he batted. The captain responded by insisting that the South Australia cricket association bar the public from the final net. “The display of hooliganism made the practice a farce,” he commented.
Jardine also largely avoided making public statements, and when he did, was abnormally brief. After the nasty Adelaide Test, he commented, “What I have to say is not worth listening to. Those of you who had seats got your money’s worth, and then some. Thank you.”
He even fell foul of his own players with his tactics, and manager Warner wrote that he never wanted to see Jardine again. Nawab of Pataudi (Senior) remarked, “I have been told he has his good points. After three months, I am yet to see them.”
The hugely unpopular tour was successful, but it led MCC to think about revising the laws of cricket. Wisden noted, “Most of those watching it for the first time must have come to the conclusion that, while strictly within the law, it was not nice.”
In 1934, restrictions were brought in place to prevent future instances of Bodyline bowling.
Nevertheless, Jardine received an official hero’s welcome, and was retained as the skipper.
Aftermath and retirement
The next year, when England played West Indies, Jardine was himself subject to Bodyline by the hostile Learie Constantine and Manny Martindale. The English captain, going back to the bouncers and often standing on tip-toe and taking the bottom hand off, gave an excellent account of himself, scoring his only Test century. There was general agreement that he played Bodyline bowling better than anyone else in the world.
Jardine led England to the first Test tour of India in 1933-34, and there too ruffled a lot of feathers by playing too hard and to win. Under his instructions, Nobby Clarke and Stan Nichols sometimes resorted to hostile bowling – resulting in quite a few injuries – and were responded to in kind by Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh. There were clashes with the Viceroy as well, about the inclusion of Maharaja of Patiala in the MCC side.
By this time, there were numerous voices up in protest against leg theory– leading MCC to finally change the laws. The Australians were not very keen on playing against Jardine again. Plum Warner, who had earlier backed him to the top job, now commented that he should not lead any more. However, some other important people, like Lord Hawke, hesitated, not too eager to let the English captain down.
Jardine himself stepped in to save any possible deadlock. In March 1934, he told Surrey that he would be unable to play regularly anymore because of business commitments and resigned as captain. Next, he announced in the Evening Standard : “I have neither the intention nor the desire to play cricket against Australia this summer.”
It may have been due to the pressure over Bodyline or due to genuine financial concerns, but after that he played no more Test cricket, and turned out for only three more First-class matches.
His 22 Test matches for England brought him 1,296 runs at an average of 48.00. He was known to be a classical batsman with excellent onside strokes, but Bill O’Reilly once compared his circumspect and sluggish approach to that of an “old maid defending her virginity”.
For all the negative shades that Bodyline and his many altercations brought him, he is remembered as one of the most brilliant English captains. Even players who did not support his tactics backed him loyally. Jack Hobbs rated him the second best captain ever, after Percy Fender. Plum Warner paid him the ultimate tribute saying: “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.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix