86 years ago during 1932-33 Ashes tour of England in Australia the 22 yards witnessed few unforgettable moments in the history of cricket that almost gave birth to a war.
Australian cricket was on the rise and they beat England at their home with a 2-1 scoreline in the previous Ashes series in 1930. The young Australian sensation Don Bradman scored 974 runs with a triple century and 2 double centuries and was a nightmare for all the English bowlers.
Douglas Jardine, the prolific batsman from Surrey was given the responsibility to lead the England team in the return Ashes tour in 1932-33. His first target was to hatch a plan to stop Bradman’s run scoring. Being an intelligent and pragmatic captain, Jardine with his mentor Percy Fender formed a plan to bowl fast, short balls attempting towards the body to create discomfort for Bradman and other Australian batsmen. Post a famous meeting in a hotel in Nottinghamshire, Jardine got his two main weapons in Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Larwood was extremely quick with great control and leading the fast bowling pack in the tour.
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The test series started with much excitement at Sydney and the bowling towards batsman’s body or ‘Bodyline’ was visible from the first day with huge disapproval from the general Australian crowd. It turned into a heated environment with constant ‘boo’s targeted to Jardine and Larwood. Although England won the first test easily, Australia won the second test match to make it 1-1. But much drama was in store for the third test at Adelaide.
On 13th Jan, Jardine won the toss and decided to bat. England were in early trouble with the score at 30/4 but got some late order support from Leyland (83), Wyatt (78), Paynter (77) and Verity (45) and reached 341 on the stroke of tea on 2nd day, 14th Jan.
For Australia, their Captain Bill Woodfull opened with Jack Fingleton. Fingleton was soon gone bringing Bradman in the middle. The scenario was electric with the crowd on top of their voice. Larwood was also bowling beautifully and could make the ball swing into Woodfull. The last ball of his third over was a very fast and short one at the line of the middle stump and hit Woodfull on his heart. It was a terrible scene as Woodfull’s bat fell from his hand and he was on his knees holding his chest. The crowd went mad on anger and started abusing the English players. Jardine carries on with his strategy and told, “Well Bowled Harold” so that it could intimidate Bradman, standing nearby.
Once Woodfull was up after treatment, on the very next over Jardine applied Bodyline field, which included sending multiple fielders in the leg side, a clear indicator that they would target batsmen’s body. The crowd could not take more. They started protesting with mass hooting and jeering occurred after almost every ball. Even some of the England players were scared that there might be a riot and police might not be able to help them. It was one of the most theatrical afternoons of test cricket. Another quick ball hit Woodfull in the hand which resulted in his bat falling on the ground. After taking many such blows on his body Woodfull finally got out for 22. Later Bill Voce was injured and required a doctor, but the crowd thought it was Woodfull who required assistance, leading to a renewal of protest.
At the end of day’s play, the English team manager Pelham Warner went to meet Woodfull to show his sympathy. Woodfull’s response was to him was short and direct and became one of the famous quotes in the history of the game,
“I do not want to see you, Mr. Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket. The other is making no effort to do so.”
It was a fanatical test match and after a rest day on 15th, Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield was also hurt when a ball hit on his temple resulted in more angry scenes among the crowd. Once the test match was over, the Australian board sent a cable to their MCC counterparts, complaining about the tactic appointed by Jardine which gave birth to some new sets of controversies.