Friday, February 25, 2005

Bodyline and Bradman: Why the Australians hate us

The Australians have more than enough reasons to hate the English.

Naturally, a nation founded on forcibly-exported convicts is bound to feel some resentment for the Mother Country that so coldly rejected them.

And despite the fact that nearly all of them want to remove the British Monarchy from their constitution, for some reason they keep shooting themselves in the foot by voting to keep it (to the great delight of England’s ‘Barmy Army’ of cricket fans, who love nothing more than to regale their hosts in Perth and Sydney with chants of “We Own Your Country” and “God Save Your Queen”).

Australians are the most-travelled people on Earth, and pay for their globetrotting by taking jobs from across the whole spectrum of employment, from bartending and waiting on tables in restaurants, right through to waiting on tables in bars and tending bars in restaurants (and everything in between).

Of course, an Aussie will claim that this mass emigration is explained by his countrymen’s innate sense of adventure. But when you remember that he comes from a country where 50% of the surface area is covered in venomous spiders the size of your head, while the other 50% is on fire, it is little wonder that the passport office in Melbourne is the busiest in the world.

It is also little wonder that your average Bruce so loathes and envies the inhabitants of England, with our rolling greenery, our mild and oh-so-brief summers, and the gentle caress of our spring-time drizzle.

But these aren’t the real reasons for the Australian’s detestation of old Blighty. No, that can be traced to one source, and one source only: the ‘bodyline’ cricket series of 1932-33...

How Bodyline nearly Created an International Incident and Still causes Bitter Resentment and Whingeing to This Day

In the early 1930s Australia had in their side the best batsman in the history of cricket. Don Bradman’s Test career average of 99.94 has yet to be beaten and may never be, and on the previous Ashes tour to England in 1930 he had walloped the hosts virtually single-handedly.

Consequently, England captain Douglas Jardine, along with his fast bowlers Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Bill Bowes came up with a fiendish but lawful tactic, called ‘fast leg theory’ to counteract him, which they put into action on their tour of Australia in 1932-33.

The idea was simple: bowl very fast, violent short-pitched deliveries aimed not at the wicket but at the batsman’s body. Repeat ad nauseam.

The intimidatory tactic was devastatingly effective, England eventually winning the series 4-1. Bradman, being a genius, was cramped by the vicious bowling but coped, averaging a very creditable 56.

His team-mates fared less well, and the Australian crowds watched the carnage unfold with increasing indignation and fury, while the Australian press poured vitriol on what they called England’s ‘Bodyline’ tactic.

Matters reached crisis point in the third Test at Adelaide. Larwood – the most dangerous of England’s battery of bowlers – struck Aussie captain Bill Woodfull on the heart and followed it up by fracturing Bert Oldfield’s skull.

Only a thin blue line of police stood between the crowd and a full-scale on-pitch riot...And then things got political.

After four days of the third Test, the Australian cricket authorities sent a cable to London stating:

“Bodyline bowling assumed such proportions as to menace best interests of game, making protection of body by batsmen the main consideration. Causing intensely bitter feeling between players as well as injury. In our opinion is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations existing between Australia and England.”

The British public, thinking that the Aussies were a bunch of whining sore losers, reacted indignantly to being called ‘unsportsmanlike’ and Jardine threatened to withdraw from the tour unless an apology was issued. In the subsequent impasse, Australian politicians discussed boycotting British imports, and were only dissuaded when their Prime Minister pointed out the awful ecomonic implications of a mutual boycott of Aussie products by Britain.

An apology was duly made, and the tour continued, but the ill-feeling between both nations continued to simmer, trade did suffer and ripples were felt around the world.

Bizarrely, Chinese newspapers wrote pro-bodyline editorials, condemning the Aussies as bad losers and many a proposed Australian business deal in Asia suffered as a result. A statue in Sydney of Prince Albert was defaced, with an ear smashed off and the word ‘bodyline’ daubed on it.

To this day, Aussies still whinge tediously about Bodyline, despite the fact that intimidatory fast bowling is now an accepted and hugely entertaining part of cricket, and that in the meantime they have given the game ‘sledging’ (personal verbal abuse designed to upset and unnerve opponents).

But logic and reason play no part in Albion-loathing, and Bodyline is still the fundamental reason why the Australians hate England.

You can read more about Bodyline and the subsequent fall-out on the site 334notout and a potted history on Wikipedia.


Duck said...

It is also little wonder that your average Bruce so loathes and envies the inhabitants of England, with our rolling greenery, our mild and oh-so-brief summers, and the gentle caress of our spring-time drizzle.Highly doubtful. It must be the cuisine that draws them there.

I thought that cricket was for the refined and gentlemanly side of British nature, and all the rowdy types opted for footbal or rugby.
So "beanball", as we would call the baseball equvalent to bodyline, is legal, eh? So a pitcher can just hurl the ball at the batter with no regard to any delay of game penalties? It should be outlawed if only to speed up the game.

Of course a game where a batter can have a 99% batting average is in need of some defensive adjustments.

Hey Skipper said...

Well, in baseball, if you actually hit the batter, then that acts against interest, since getting on base is so difficult.

As opposed to cricket.


Have you ever thought of getting paid for your writing? You really are quite good at it.

Brit said...


Cricket is gentlemanly and refined, but like most traditionally gentlemanly and refined sports - rugby, hunting, boxing - it is also violent and dangerous.

Batting averages in cricket work differently to baseball.

A typical score for a whole team in a baseball game might be, what, between 4 and 9?

In cricket Test matches (two innings per team over 5 days), a decent score for the whole team in one innings might typically be 350, 500 is a good score and 600-700 is not unknown.

A player's personal batting average is calculated by the number of runs he's scored divided by the number of innings played. Decent players might average in the 30s. World-class players average around 50. Bradman was a freak genius, and his 99 will probably never be beaten. Nobody's ever got close.

'Bodyline' - fast, agressive bowling where the ball is bounced and aimed at the throat, head, chest of the batsman has long been an accepted part of the game, to the extent that all fast bowlers do it occasionally, and nobody bats an eyelid or even uses the word.

A good 'bouncer' is praised all round, but the number you can bowl at a single batsman is limited, and batsmen are now so good at playing them that it is just one weapon in the bowlers' armoury, best used as a surprise.

Of course, unlike in the 1930s, batsman now have protective equipment - helmets, padding etc, so fractured skulls are rare.

'Beamers' (what you'd call 'beanball'?) - where the ball is aimed at the batsman's head or body without bouncing, are illegal.


Very kind. I do get paid for writing, but it is on topics far less interesting than these!

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Anonymous said...

We don't like you because most of you a so stupid you think that we've convict blood. It's not in the genes brits.

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