Bodyline

4t_woodfull This is the first in what I hope will be a short series tentatively entitled "Sporting Events That Americans Probably Don’t Know About" and today I’ll be looking at competitive chicken painting in Namibia (I am of course joking, Namibian chicken painting will be later in the series).

Today’s topic is in fact the Bodyline cricket series between England and Australia.

Given the two countries political histories (we populated Australia with convicts, they have since sent us a steady supply of people to work in pubs) these games were always the most keenly fought of cricketing contests (this title has since been usurped by the regular India versus Pakistan games which are essentially a nuclear war waiting to happen).

In 1932 the England cricket team traveled to Australia to compete for the "Ashes" which is the trophy that goes to the winning team. At the time the Australian’s had one huge advantage in the figure of Donald Bradman, the greatest player in the history of the game, the Babe Ruth of cricket, and the England Captain Douglas Jardine knew that the only way to win the series was to eliminate the threat of Bradman. In response he developed what became known as Bodyline.

Essentially the tactic was to aim the ball as quickly and accurately as possible at the batsman’s heart or head (this is in the days before any kind of padding or helmets) and thus force him into a defensive shot that would get him caught by a series of fielders who were positioned close to the bat. The Australian public who were initially angered by the tactic, became outraged when one of their players (Bert Oldfield) suffered a fractured skull.

The 5 game series nearly came to an end after game 3 when a riot was narrowly avoided and the Australian Cricket Board sent a telegram to the English Cricket Board complaining of "unsportsmanlike behavior" by the English team.

The English public (who had no way of seeing the tactics) reacted with anger to these accusations, as did Jardine who threatened to pull his team from the rest of the tour. The situation was only resolved by the intervention of Australian Prime Minister Jospeh Lyons who advised his cricket board that any possible boycotting of Australian goods by the British public would be catastrophic for the Australian economy. The charges were withdrawn, Bradman was neutralised, and England won the series 4-1.

The following year the rules of Cricket were changed to allow umpires to intervene if they felt that bowlers were deliberately attempting to injure a batsman.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries remained strained until the outbreak of the Second World War, and sporting relations have never fully recovered.

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