Bill Woodfull: 16 facts about Australia’s Bodyline series captain who refused knighthood

William Maldon Woodfull, born August 22, 1897, was an Australian cricketer who led the side during the infamous Bodyline series in 1932-33. Despite the uneasiness of the tour, Woodfull maintained his dignified and moral conduct. Suvajit Mustafi points out 16 facts about the fine batsman who is one of the most admired cricket personalities.

1. Religious: Born in Maldon, Victoria, he was the third of four sons of Reverend Thomas Staines Brittingham Woodfull, a Methodist preacher. Religion always played an important role in his life. He once refused to play an interstate match on Christmas Day.

2. Introduction to cricket: It was Woodfull s father who had installed a net in the backyard of his house and taught him the importance of defensive technique. His father laid importance on patience. A strong defence, patience and righteous conduct were the main strengths for Woodfull in the years to come.

3. Prolific run at rural competition: While he was posted to Maryborough High School, it was in the rural cricket competition that made him famous as a cricketer. In 1920 and 1921, he amassed 1335 runs at 225.83 in the local competition.

4. School teacher: Though he made his name as a cricketer, Woodfull always considered himself as a schoolteacher first. In 1919, he gained qualification as a schoolteacher and later had a successful career as a mathematics teacher with Melbourne High School and was a headmaster there for six years. He was qualified as a Bachelor of Arts with a Diploma of Education. Despite thinking teaching as his main interest, he ended with a career batting average of 46 in Test cricket and a staggering 64.99 in First-Class cricket a career that lasted 12 years and 174 matches and produced 49 hundreds.

5. Woodfull s notable students: Woodfull had several notable students like cricketers like Keith Miller, Doug Ring, Jack Wilson and Olympic distance runner Ron Clarke. Later the school s Oval was named as Miller-Woodfull Oval.

6. Reluctant captain: Australian captain Jack Ryder was dropped from the side for the 1930 Ashes tour after the side lost 1-4 in the previous series. Woodfull felt Ryder was the best man for the job and only agreed after a vote was conducted and he won.

7. Woodfull s Kindergarten : Woodfull went to England leading a young side out of which 11 were touring there for the first time. They were described as the weakest side to ever come to England and dubbed Woodfull s Kindergarten. He led the side to a 2-1 win.

8. The infamous Bodyline series: Australia were fortunate that in midst of the infamous Bodyline series of 1932-33, they had a righteous captain like Woodfull, who believed in playing the gentleman s game and refused to retaliate to the tactics of bowling to the body. In the third Test at Adelaide, a riot almost broke when the Australian captain was felled by a blow to his heart by England bowler Harold Larwood. The series had threatened the diplomatic relations between the two nations.

9. I don t want to see you, Mr Warner : The same day, England manager Pelham Warner visited the Australian dressing room to check on Woodfull, but the later unhappy with the England tactics, said, I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not. It became an iconic quote, though Woodfull publically didn t complain of Jardine s tactics. It was later reported that Warner was close to tears after Woodfull s response.

10. Will Wo and Willy Po : For Victoria and later for Australia, Woodfull formed a very successful opening partnership with Bill Ponsford. They are regarded as one of the finest opening pairs in Test history. They were good friends and dubbed Mutt and Jeff by teammates after the famous comic strip duo. They were also called Willy Wo and Willy Po . Later in 1988, Marc Fiddian wrote a book Ponsford and Woodfull: A Premier Partnership .

11. The Unbowlable: For his reliability in crisis situations and solid defensive technique, Woodfull was given several nicknames, such as The Unbowlable , Rock of Gibraltar , Wormkiller and Old Steadfast .

12. Saying No to knighthood: Woodfull was offered with knighthood for his services to cricket and for his actions during the Bodyline series, but he declined the honour stating that he considered his work as a teacher more important than cricket. Later in life, he admitted, Had I been awarded it for being an educationalist, then I would have accepted it. But under no circumstances would I accept it for playing cricket.

13. Order of British Empire: Now, for education it is. He was invested as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to education in the year 1963.

14. Wisden Cricketer of the Year and Australian Cricket Hall of Fame: In 1927, Woodfull was one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year and in 2001, he was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame. He was one of the first 15 inductees.

15. Death: He collapsed and died while playing golf in Tweed Heads, New South Wales, just 11 days short of his 68th birthday. He was holidaying there with his wife and daughter.

16. Greatest man, I have ever met : Woodfull is considered to be one of the finest human beings to have played the game. Stan McCabe, his fellow Australian player, described him as, the greatest man I ever met. Wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield called him the most exemplary character. Bradman called him, He was a great gentleman, a fine citizen and an ornament to the game of cricket. He was also respected by the opponents and English cricketer Herbert Sutcliffe described him as First-class as a man and a great fighter. As a batsman he always took such a lot of getting out and as a captain he was a fine leader.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)