Friday, August 25, 2006

England's best captain

In view of the current little furore, a little historical trip might seem appropriate here. Michael Vaughan won many plaudits for his relaxed, cool and analytical captaincy in the Ashes victory last summer. He followed a man so highly strung that he vibrated in light breezes, yet undoubtedly made England a harder team to beat. Yet in my opinion the title of the best ever captain to pull on an England jersey has to go to Douglas Jardine, possibly the most unpopular Englishman in Australia ever (though Clive Woodward might run him close).

Why so good? Because he saw an inherent problem for his bowlers (an LBW was impossible then in the ball was pitched outside off-stump - a huge advantage for the batsman) coupled with a specific problem: the brilliance of Don Bradman. Since in Australia the ball swung only for the first hour, it often meant that bowlers were little more than cannon-fodder. Jardine formulated a plan that was designed to combat both these problems.

The idea of leg-theory (as illustrated here) was that fast bowling rising chest-head high left a batsman with three options: to hook, to fend or to duck. As can be seen, six fielders fielded close in on the leg side ("the leg-trap") with another close on the off-side. The remaining two were placed at long leg and deep backward square for an aerial hook shot. Two of the three options were thus made very risky, while the third, the duck, removed the possibility of scoring runs. Beautiful, provided you had the bowlers to carry it out.

The reaction to bodyline was staggering. The first two tests were shared, and it was only in the third Test that the fuss really started. The Australian crowd in Adelaide were incensed at the tactics, but their fury was slightly misdirected. The famous injuries that happened here, to the Australian captain Woodfull, and the keeper Oldfield, both ocurred under normal fields, and were simply the result of the batsman missing the ball, or top-edging it. The question as to why the Australian batsman were hit so often during this series is only partly explicable by the tactics: it is clear that they had developed some very curious techniques. Look at this:

Ponsford was cracked on the hand by Voce and ripped his gloves off in agony. Next ball he swayed out of the way of what he thought would be another bullet aimed at his body, only to see the ball smash into his leg stump.

Larwood hit Woodfull between the shoulderblades, causing a delay as he recovered.

Larwood bowled Bradman, stepping back to leg to cut a ball pitched on leg stump

Ponsford's chosen method of dealing with Bodyline was to turn his back to balls aimed at him, and take the blows on his rump and back. He was thus struck at least a dozen times.

It's hardly surprising they found Larwood a handful: they weren't even watching the ball. If you look at the picture you will see that Larwood is bowling over the wicket. To get hit between the shoulder blades by a bowler bowling over the wicket, you have to have completely turned your back on the ball, not a pose to be found in the manuals.

Bodyline was an intellectual response to an intellectual problem. England and Australia each had one overwhelming strength. England had fast-bowling; Australia had Bradman. England adapted their tactics to deal with their opponents', Australia either could not or would not. It's a bit ironic, given that Aussies love to refer to us as whingeing Poms: it's been 74 years since bodyline, and they're still going on about it!

(Refs from this site)


Blogger dearieme said...

Jardine was born in India of Scottish descent. His parents were Malcolm Robert Jardine.. and Alison Moir.

Only sort-of an Englishman. Trust the Aussies to get it wrong.

2:02 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

True enough, but a Wykehamist through and through!

12:06 pm  

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