was a cricketing
tactic devised for the 1932-33 England
tour of Australia
specifically to combat the extraordinary skill of Australia's Don Bradman
. The idea, devised by England's captain, the Oxford
educated Douglas Jardine, and executed by working class Nottinghamshire
pace bowler Harold Larwood
, was simple. First a cordon of close fielders was set on the leg-side and then a fast bowler aimed to bowl short pitched deliveries, nominally on the line of leg stump but effectively at or into the batsman's head and body. The result was that the batsman had to choose to either take evasive action or attempt to fend the ball away with the bat, possibly giving catching chances to the close-set leg-side field. Bradman himself countered by moving toward the leg side, away from the line of the ball. Whilst technically incorrect it seemed the best way to cope with the barrage, and the Don averaged 56 in the series (compared to his overall average of 99.96).
Whilst moderately successful as a tactic (England regained The Ashes), bodyline was abhorred by the Australian crowds as vicious and unsporting. Matters came to a head in the Third Test when Australian captain Bill Woodfull was struck above the heart by Larwood and Bert Oldfield's skull was fractured. Tension and feelings ran so high that the game resulted in a diplomatic incident: at the end of the third day's play the following was sent to Britain by the Australian government:
- Bodyline assuming such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game, making protection of the body by the batsmen the main consideration. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations between England and Australia.
Woodfull himself said: "There are two sides out there. One is trying to play cricket, the other is not."
Following the 1932-33 tour the laws of cricket were changed, prohibiting the setting of the sort of fields identified with bodyline. Later law changes, under the heading of "Intimidatory Short Pitched Bowling", also restricted the number of "bouncers" which may be bowled in an over. Nevertheless, the tactic of intimidating the batsman is still used to an extent that would still have been shocking in 1932, although it is less dangerous now because today's players wear far more protective gear - in particular helmets. The West Indian teams of the 1980s, which regularly fielded a bowling attack comprised entirely of some of the best fast bowlers in cricket history, were perhaps the most-feared exponents.