Bodyline: Rewriting the record books
At a garden party, Douglas Jardine (Hugo Weaving), the very model of an English gentleman and a very fine cricketer, is discussing the phenomenon of the young Donald Bradman (Gary Sweet) with his friends and colleagues – all gentlemen players and selectors. There’s Lord Harris (Frank Thring), one of the English selectors and a close friend of Jardine’s family, there’s the former English captain (Rhys McConnochie) and the flamboyant cricketer Percy George Fender, (John Gregg). Jardine says that Bradman is so good he’s going to change the way cricket will be played. His friends disagree, saying that Bradman is a flash in the pan and no match for England’s softer pitches. Summary by Janet Bell.
This prophetic scene takes place during an English upper class garden party where the talk is very much about cricket, but cricket as a gentlemen’s game, in contrast to the rough and tumble of the Australian game as practised by Donald Bradman with his highly successful and unorthodox shots, or the world of players like the working class English fast bowler, Harold Larwood (Jim Holt), who must find the time to practise after a hard day underground as a miner. Douglas Jardine has played for his English public school, for Oxford and now for his county team. He’s well connected with the Lords who choose the English team and there’s nothing more certain than his selection for the English side, as a gentleman and an amateur, of course.
In the summer of 1932-33, three men of Empire – the brilliant young Australian batsman Donald Bradman (Gary Sweet), the gentleman English captain Douglas Jardine (Hugo Weaving) and the Yorkshire coal miner and fast bowler Harold Larwood (Jim Holt) – would play to enormous crowds across Australia, in the 'Bodyline’ test series – so called because of the bowling tactics of the English team. This controversial test series threatened the traditional ties between Australia and the 'mother’ country and changed the game of cricket forever.
Bodyline curator's notes
Bodyline tells the story of a test series in which the English Captain, Douglas Jardine, instructed his speed bowlers, including the fast bowler Harold Larwood, to bowl at the upper body of the Australian batsmen. This increased the chances of a defensive reaction, which would either expose the wicket or give an easy catch to the fieldsmen. The English team had lost the Ashes to Australia the previous year and Jardine was determined to break the winning streak of Australia’s star batsman, Donald Bradman.
It was the height of the worldwide economic depression and as the dole queues swelled and the despairing men took to the road to find work to keep their families housed and fed, sport – especially the British Empire game of cricket – became one of their few distractions. Kennedy Miller tells the bodyline story as the Greeks and Romans told the myths and legends of their great warrior heroes. The heroes in this case being three larger than life cricketing greats and their epic struggle to win the Ashes for their country. Through the telling of this extraordinary story, we learn a great deal about the changing nature of cricket, the stultifying hand of the cricketing bureaucracy and the character of the players who were determined to give their all for their team mates, their captain and their country.
Notes by Janet Bell
This clip shows English cricketer Douglas Jardine (Hugo Weaving) at a garden party, discussing Australian batsman Don Bradman with English cricket selectors and Percy Fender, captain of the English team. While Fender is dismissive of Bradman, saying that he has not been tested on the softer English wickets (pitches), Jardine insists that Bradman could not only 'rewrite the record books’ but also change the way that cricket is played.
Educational value points
- The technique of a constantly moving camera is used in this scene to draw the audience in and to add interest to a long discussion between four stationary men, all facing each other. The camera slowly circles the discussion and the audience is placed in the position of interested passer-by at the garden party. As particularly strong or important points are made the camera slows down and draws in closer to the speaker.
- Don Bradman (1908–2001), who is still regarded as the world’s greatest batsman, was a member of the Australian cricket team from 1928 until 1948, and captained the team in 1936–38 and 1946–48. As Jardine predicts in this clip, Bradman rewrote the record books and in the 80 innings of his test cricket career, he scored 29 centuries, 12 double centuries and two triple centuries. He finished with a career total of 6,996 test runs at an average of 99.94. By way of comparison, the next best career average by any batsman is 60.97.
- Bradman established his mastery on the English pitches during the 1930 Ashes series in England, his first overseas tour. The ball moves more slowly on the English loam-based pitches, which aid 'seam’ bowlers, who are also assisted by England’s higher atmospheric humidity. Australia’s hard, clay-based pitches tend to be good to bat on; however, they also favour fast bowlers, as the ball moves faster off the pitch and bounces higher. It was thought Bradman would not be up to batting on the English pitches, but he made 974 runs at an average of 139 and his performance enabled Australia to win back the Ashes by a 2 to 1 margin, even though England was the favourite.
- In this clip Jardine acknowledges that Bradman can play any type of delivery bowled to him – his batting technique came to be regarded as almost flawless. Bradman was known for decisive and powerful strokes, quick footwork and remarkable concentration.
- Douglas Jardine, who captained the English team from 1932 to 1934, instructed his fast bowlers, the most famous of whom was Harold Larwood, to employ the 'fast-leg theory’ during the 1932–33 Ashes tour to Australia, in an effort to contain Bradman. 'Bodyline’ bowling, as it came to be known, involved bowling short-pitched but rising deliveries that targeted the batsman’s body rather than the wicket. The tactic limited the batsman’s range of shots, forcing him to defend himself, and often resulted in him being caught by a ring of close fieldsmen.
- The controversial tactic of bodyline bowling had its desired effect, with Bradman averaging only 56.6 in the series, and England winning the series by a 4 to 1 margin. However, the tactic caused a great deal of ill feeling among supporters of the game and the Australian Cricket Board warned the (English) Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) that this 'unsportsmanlike’ bowling was 'likely to upset friendly relations existing between Australia and England’ (www.bradman.com.au). Bodyline bowling was banned in 1934; however, intimidating bowling such as 'bouncers’ is popular today and batsmen now wear helmets to protect themselves against injury.
- Douglas Jardine (1900–58) was a batsman who made his test match debut for England in 1928, and in 22 test matches made 1,296 runs, with an average of 48. Although he is now regarded as one of England’s best captains, his captaincy was overshadowed by his use of bodyline bowling during the 1932–33 Ashes tour, a tactic that created huge divisions in the cricketing world. It also increased the antipathy between Jardine and the Australian crowds, who already felt he was pretentious for wearing his Oxford University 'Harlequin’ cap on the field rather than the English cap.
- The discussion of Bradman depicted in the clip takes place on the eve of Australia’s 1930 tour to Britain to compete for the Ashes, a biennial series of cricket test matches between Australia and England. The fierce rivalry that exists between the English and Australian cricket teams dates back to 1861 when the English team first toured Australia. The two countries began playing test match cricket in 1876 that, after 1882, became known as the Ashes test series. In the test series played between 1876 and 2007, 129 have been won by Australia and 97 by England, and 88 have ended in a draw.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
English cricketer Douglas Jardine (Hugo Weaving) is at a garden party, discussing Australian batsman Don Bradman with English cricket selectors and Percy Fender, captain of the English team.
Pelham Warner Percy’s just been telling me about young Bradman.
Douglas Jardine Oh, yes, he’s quite remarkable.
Pelham Really? That’s not what Percy was saying.
Percy Fender I think I’m about to be misquoted. Excuse me.
Jardine I’ve spent weeks trying to persuade him, but he still can’t see the truth.
Lord Harris And what truth is that, Douglas?
Jardine Well, like most batsman, I can play one or perhaps two shots to any given ball, whereas Bradman can choose between four or five.
Fender He doesn’t choose. He just plays the first shot that comes into his head. But he has no technique. Now, he can get away with this on those true hard Australian pitches. But put him on one of our green strips, with Morris seaming the ball late – oh no, he’s too unorthodox. Take the third Test in Melbourne.
Jardine Oh no, not that again.
Percy It’s a very good example, Douglas. Now on at least three occasions, the ball was short pitched, screaming out to be hooked, he played a cover drive.
Pelham Oh, it’s absurd.
Jardine No, it’s not absurd. At least two of those balls went for four. That’s the power of Bradman. He’s learned that a batsman’s sole objective is to score runs. And he’ll play whatever shot, unorthodox or not, which best fulfils that purpose. It makes it almost impossible to set a field to him.
Pelham Well, sorry old chap, but I think you’re on your own. Well, the skipper agrees with Percy and says Bradman is just a flash in the pan. And Tait says that he’ll have to play a straighter bat if he comes here and plays on one of our wet wickets.
Jardine They’re older men, steeped in the conventional methods of play.
Fender Oh, thank you very much!
Jardine Bradman is something totally new. He’s not interested in playing classic shots. He’s never had any formal training, so he’s developed his own style. A unique approach. I believe if he continues to develop, we could see scores none of us have ever dreamed of. He could rewrite the record books. He could change the very nature of the game.
Lord Harris Oh, come come, Douglas. That’s being unnecessarily alarmist. No batsman in the world has ever done that.
Fender I must say, in fairness, there are hundreds and thousands of Australians who’d agree with Douglas. Out there, he’s become quite a celebrity.
Jardine It’s not a very pleasant sight, Bradman standing in the middle of the pitch, bat raised, the crowd chanting his name. As a society, they seem to crave heroes.
Pelham Well, I like Australians. It’s just that they prize individualism.
Jardine Indeed. They continually want to elevate one man at the expense of the team. I find it quite abhorrent.
Lord Harris Well, that’s certainly not the nature of the game. The heart is the team.
Jardine I’m afraid the Australians wouldn’t agree with you there, my Lord. Their whole approach to cricket is different. At times, I wondered if we were playing the same game I’d grown up with. To listen to the crowd, you’d think it was a hunt with the English as the fox.
Pelham Oh, get used to that. It’s just good-natured barracking.
Jardine Questioning a man’s parentage is hardly good-natured.
Pelham My dear fellow, in Australia, ‘bastard’ is almost a term of endearment.
Jardine Well, I come from a different world, thank God. The Australians are not a people I’ll ever warm to.
Lord Harris Nothing wrong with that. Always easier to give a hiding to a man you dislike.