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Down the memory lane: Most controversial series in history - Bodyline

Modified 24 Feb 2014, 16:23 IST
Bradman out for a golden duck

Bradman out for a golden duck

The third Test at Adelaide has been described by Wisden as “the most unpleasant Test in the history of the game”. The second day of the Test saw England’s first innings fold at 341 and Bill Woodfull and Jack Fingleton opened the batting for Australia. Larwood was initially bowling to a traditional field setting to Woodfull.

However, in his second over, he struck Woodfull on the chest over the heart. Woodfull was unable to resume for several minutes and was in agonizing pain. To the surprise of everyone, Jardine set up a bodyline field in Larwood’s next over with Woodfull at the crease.

A strong crowd of 50000-odd Australians was jeering and hooting the English team at this bizarre play. Woodfull bravely stood up to Larwood and co. for 89 painful minutes of body blows and bruises, when he was bowled by Allen for 22. Bill Ponsford also had bruises all over his back and shoulders, as a result of his attempts to shield his bat from short pitched deliveries.

Australian keeper Bert Oldfield got the worst of it, when he mishit a pull and the ball crashed on his head, fracturing his skull. Ironically, it was non-bodyline ball, and Oldfield admitted his own mistake at mistiming the ball. Set a near impossible target of 532, Australia could only manage 193 as England took a 2-1 lead in the series.

Larwood breaks Oldfield

Larwood breaks Oldfield’s head

The Outrage

The antics of the third Test caused the Australian Cricket board to send a cable to the MCC in London in which they branded England’s conduct as being unsportsmanlike. The cable caused uproar in both the countries with Jardine threatening to withdraw from the last two Tests if the allegations were not dropped.

In order to save the strong economic ties of the two countries, after an intervention from the Australian prime minister, the Australian Cricket Board withdrew their allegations and the two Tests were conducted as scheduled. Australia, wounded physically and psychologically, lost both the matches and the series 1-4.

Douglas Jardine strongly defended his tactics, stating that his only motive was to take wickets and not injure players. Larwood and Voce maintained that they had only bowled the leg theory bowling line under orders from their captain.


Bill Woodfull received nationwide praise for his sporting conduct and leadership during the season and his refusal to adopt the same tactics against England was applauded by the Australian media.

The fallout

Bradman, for whom the tactic had been originally devised, had an average of 56.57 in the series which is excellent by any standards, though well short by his own supremely high standards.

The series had a drastic impact on the game. Bodyline came to be regularly used in English County cricket and even in other international matches and was strongly condemned. The MCC introduced new laws in the game at the start of the 1935 English season.

Restrictions were imposed on the number of fielders allowed on the leg side behind the batting crease and a maximum of two fielders are now allowed behind the crease at the time of delivery. The maximum number of bouncers above shoulder height allowed in an over is now restricted to two.

The MCC was strongly reprimanded for not taking any action following the series. Larwood was asked to issue a written apology for his bowling in Australia by the MCC. An outraged Larwood refused to do so, stating that he had only done what his captain had ordered him to do. Harold Larwood never played for England again.

Published 28 Dec 2013, 16:27 IST
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