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Bodyline: A snapshot 80 years on

Douglas Jardine - the former England captain
Douglas Jardine - the former England captain

Now 80 years old, the Bodyline Ashes series of 1932/33 is still one of the most dramatic and intriguing events in the history of cricket.

One is trying to play cricket and the other is not

It's eight decades to-the-day since Douglas Jardine and England's famous (or infamous) method of counteracting the supreme genius of Sir Donald Bradman and his fellow Australian batsmen on their home turf truly ignited.

The Adelaide crowd on that January 16 1933, some 50,000 strong, reacted with barracking and boos when Harold Larwood - the England fast bowler still considered arguably the fastest ever to have played the game - struck Bert Oldfield with a vicious delivery, fracturing his skull.

Watch: Highlights from the Bodyline series

It brought to a head ill-feelings which had been brewing since the MCC's touring England side had arrived by boat Down Under with a revolutionary new tactic for 'The Don', who Jardine considered to have a (relative) weakness against fast bowling aimed at his ribcage. In Nottinghamshire's Larwood he had the bowler capable of making 'Bodyline,' as this version of leg-theory became known, a reality.

England had won the first Test match in Sydney as a Bradman-less Australia crumbled in the face of Larwood, who took ten wickets in the match.

The hosts struck back in the second Test with a 111-run win, but in the midst of the dramatic events of Adelaide (and much of the rest of the tour) England raced to an eventual 4-1 win, with Larwood taking 33 wickets at 19.31.

MCC team

The MCC touring party for the 1932/33 trip

Lasting impact

At the time Bodyline was the catalyst for a sporting and political incident between the two countries, played out through telegrams between Lord's and Australia. The furore is perhaps best summed up by Australia captain Bill Woodfull's now iconic words to MCC Tour Manager Pelham Warner when he attempted to play peacemaker in Adelaide: "I don't want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not."

Bodyline's repercussions have also been felt frequently in the intervening years up to the present day - however much the game has evolved since the 1930s. Jardine may still be a villain in Australia but his reputation in England today is mostly that of an innovator who used the Laws of the game as they were at the time to successfully overcome the immense barrier that was Don Bradman and return home victorious.

As MCC's Curator Adam Chadwick reflected in an interview with the BBC: "Was Bodyline unsportsmanlike? By the standards of the day, yes. By the standards of now, it was a stroke of genius."

By the 1970s and 1980s and the emergence of Australia's Dennis Lillie and Jeff Thompson as well as the battery of West Indies quicks who dominated Test cricket for almost two decades, public opinion (and that of most administrators) had changed.

Coin toss

Jardine and Woodfull at the toss during the 1932/33 series

Despite changing attitudes towards fast, short-pitched bowling, the Laws of Cricket have been adapted over the years to counteract the events of 1932/33. A resolution was made by the Imperial Cricket Conference (the forerunner of today's International Cricket Council) which stated that 'any direct attack by the bowler on upon the batsman would be an offence against the Spirit of the Game'.

In the 1947 code of the Laws, Law 46,4,vi introduced for the first time conditions for the calling of a 'dead ball' and the banning of a bowler for the rest of the innings if the Umpires felt the bowling to be dangerous and unfair. This remains within the Laws today, under 42.8 (The Bowling of Fast Short Pitched Balls) and gives the Umpire direction to signal no-ball if they feel that, relative to the skill of the batsman, that the bowling is dangerous or unfair.

Playing regulations in different formats of the game also exist restricting the number of bouncers above shoulder height a bowler may bowl per-over - though today this is more down to perceived negativity than intimidation.

Cricket protection has progressed to the point where former players sometimes now lament the 'overprotection' of current players, and while serious injuries still occur, fast bowlers perhaps no longer strike the same fear of injury into batsmen layered with helmets and chest pads, as well as gloves of an infinitely better variety or quality than available to players in the 1930s.

Another Laws aspect which prevents history repeating itself is Law 41.5 (Limitation of on-side fielders). Although not a direct reaction to Bodyline, the Law permitting no-more than two fielders standing behind square on the leg side at the same time would have prevented Jardine from setting the kind of fields he did to the likes of Larwood, which featured several 'leg-trap' catchers at the same time.

It's a measure of the series' fame and sensitivity that Bodyline is still debated with such veracity today. While the game has adapted to the stage where fast into-the-ribs bowling is a highly respected skill (though admittedly few bowlers have matched the kind of pace Larwood managed 80 years ago) it's hard to imagine uproar on the same scale for any event of its type in the modern era. Cricket fans in 50 years time are as likely to be as well versed in Bodyline as fans are today.

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