Ashes Legends: Bill Woodfull - Dignity personified
Australia is a nation known for its highly competitive nature, especially when it comes to sports. There have been many instances in cricket where their all-consuming desire to win at all costs has clouded their judgment and invited the ire of fellow sportsmen (remember Monkeygate and the Under-Arm incident of 1981?).
In the current millennium, most teams have thought it appropriate to respond in kind, though some of them have actually done it in the past as well. In particular, the Ashes squads of the old enemy, England, have forced the Kangaroos to adjust their behaviour and approach to the game. And more often that not, the Aussies have come back incredibly well to shed the tag of being sullen competitors.
It helps, then, to have a leader who can steer the team through turbulent times caused by such crises. Nothing less than a trial by fire, the one in charge not only has the daunting task of building morale, but also the challenge of living up to the fans’ expectations and restore the team to its winning ways. It is at times like these that separate great leaders from the good.
And one such leader of men was the Australian captain Bill Woodfull – one whose dignified and stoic behaviour during the tumultuous Bodyline series won the hearts of many.
Woodfull wasn’t in the league of Don Bradman or Stan McCabe – he was not flamboyant, nor did he have the legendary concentration of Braddles. He had patience in plenty and a sound defensive technique, the kind of batsman you would rely on to bail your side out of difficult situations.
At first sight, though, he gave the impression of being clumsy – there was little grace in his stiff-jointed style of play. Bill’s prowess at defence earned him the epithet “the un-bowlable“, since he was rarely bowled.
Despite his defensive play, Woodfull formed a powerful partnership with fellow Victorian and Australian opener Bill Ponsford. The two would go on to raise 18 century opening stands, thus being regarded as one of the best ever partnerships in Test history.
Such was their dominance at the state level that the rest of the batting order would leave the ground to go to work whenever the duo batted. But Woodfull would go on to achieve international renown as a captain, not as a batsman.
His experience as a schoolteacher gave him a benevolent attitude towards his players, and he was well-respected for his sportsmanship and ability to mould a successful and loyal team through his strength of character. While refraining from alcohol himself, he never imposed his beliefs on his players.
It was a hallmark of his character that helped to keep the Australians organized into a tightly-knit unit despite being on the receiving end of the “villainous” Englishman Douglas Jardine’s tactics.
Woodfull led a young and relatively inexperienced team to England on the 1930 Ashes tour after incumbent skipper Jack Ryder was omitted following a 4-1 defeat in the previous series.
The side was dubbed “Woodfull’s kindergarten” by commentators since eleven of the chosen 15 had never played on English soil before, and the general feeling was that Australia would be decimated yet again.