Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 18, 2009

The Ashes – A controversy and a competition

Prior to the Lord’s Test, Nestaquin set out some of the historical context in which any Ashes series is contested. Below, the Trumpet recalls the central character in the most controversial Ashes series of all in a book review that wonders whether its subject is remembered unfairly and whether England need some of his single-minded toughness as they face an upbeat Australian team in a match England must win.

41W8PK7VYTL._SL500_AA240_What makes a great captain? Wins – the hard currency of sporting achievement – but wins are merely the outcomes of great captaincy, and not its composition. To attempt to define great captaincy is to enter alchemical laboratories in which carrot and stick are mixed with intellect and instinct in sometimes combustible combinations. But cricket, possibly above all other sports, values an element of captaincy that is connected to The Spirit of Cricket, to the patrician’s role in carrying forward an unwritten set of cultural norms, to play hard but to avoid things becoming, well, “just not cricket”. DR Jardine, forever associated with the notorious Bodyline Ashes Series of 1932-33, fulfilled all roles of the captain arguably better than any England captain before or since… except that last one, ironically for a man so well cut out to assume a patrician air.

Christopher Douglas in Douglas Jardine: Spartan Cricketer presents us with a biography that makes up in clear storytelling what it lacks in cod psychology. We are introduced to Jardine as a son of Empire, born in India in 1900 but, following an old suspicion that counselled against three generations of a family spending their lives in the East, destined to live his life in the old country. He is soon at Winchester, a traditional English public school, where he excelled at games primarily due to his preternatural hand-eye coordination and, like all Wykehamist men (not boys) he scanned the pages of the newspapers each morning for details of the horrific losses in the mud of Flanders as the Winchester Roll of Honour grew.

Jardine, even as a boy, commanded respect rather than true friendship at school and later at Oxford, where he continued to play various ball games with great success. He qualified as a solicitor and, though comfortable, was never so well off that he could afford to neglect financial affairs (though there was never any doubt that he would play only as a “Gentleman” and not as a (professional) “Player” in accordance with the strict cricketing apartheid of the time).

After much success for Oxford, Surrey and The Gentlemen, Jardine was selected for England and appears to have been a player in the style of Michael Vaughan – tall, but secure in defence against the short ball, an elegant strokemaker, a stiff-legged fielder who had to work hard to achieve competence in that element of the game and a handy bowler, whose talent was never fully explored due to injury.

From that upbringing (and from an Ashes Tour in 1928-29 in which he met with success as a batsmen, but hated being the butt of the crowd’s constant abuse: well, abuse from the perspective of a man used to deference), he fashioned the two strengths that set him apart from and, the Trumpet argues, above any other England captain: an iron will, lacking in many of England’s current players, and a plan that found the only route to securing The Ashes. Jardine knew that he had a useful side, but he also knew that The Ashes could only be won by dismissing Don Bradman relatively cheaply and breaking the will of his colleagues. He knew that the best way to do that was to adopt an extreme variant of leg theory, as had been practised for a few years with success mainly as a means of slowing scoring, rather than as a means of effecting dismissals. Most of all, he knew that in Harold Larwood, he had a weapon that was as far advanced of any other as the machine gun was advanced of the musket. Larwood, bowling off theory, had frightened batsmen in England, but, with back foot dragging and, as grainy video appears to demonstrate though contemporaries argue otherwise, an arm utilising the full extent of the ICC recent ruling on “kink” and, most of all, fearsome pace skidding and rearing off a length towards the batsman’s unguarded torso and head, Jardine played his ace time and again to bowl leg theory in the face of unprecedented criticism from the Australian players, crowds, press and governing body. At a time when words like “unsportsmanlike” had real power, they were used in public and, undoubtedly, in private.

The Ashes were won and, underlining Jardine’s key point, the rules had to be changed so that Bodyline, ie fast leg theory, was outlawed (its only really dangerous proponent, Larwood, was already broken physically and probably mentally, so the rule change was no more than symbolic).

Jardine was to play a few more Tests, including leading a tour to his birthplace, India, where he got on very well with the locals and not so well with the British administrators and is remembered fondly, finishing his Test career with an average of 48, highly commendable for a part-time Gentleman, and a captaincy record of nine wins and just one defeat from 15 Tests – a monument.

As work commitments supervened, Jardine drifted out of top level cricket, playing club cricket for many years. He wrote much as a freelance cricket journalist and worked in a bank, but could never really settle or, perhaps, didn’t want to. He had many friends, as well as some influential enemies, in the game, including Australians, particularly those who cared little for the cult and personality of Bradman. He died aged just 57 of cancer in 1958.

The book ends on a note that captures the author’s feelings for his subject, describing how Jardine’s four children’s lives have diverged in adulthood but are characterised by one shared quality – unrelenting service to others. Jardine served English cricket at financial, personal and emotional cost – he deserves to be remembered for that and for his record.

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THE ASHES PHILOSOPHY CRICKET COMPETITION – The Oval

The self-styled ’sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ at Philosophy Football have extended their philosophy cricket range with a shirt honouring one of cricket’s greatest writers, CLR James. Author of unarguably the finest book ever written on cricket, Beyond a Boundary CLR James. A natural addition to any Philosophy Cricket eleven, as a committed Marxist James undoubtedly would take the outfield into pubic ownership while turning the capitalism into a sticky wicket for the ruling class. The T-shirt pictured above is available from www.philosophyfootball.com. 99.94 has one to be won in our Oval Test competition, to enter simply answer the following simple question :

Predict the total runs scored in the Fifth Ashes Test.

Email your answer with name, address and preferred T-shirt size to admin@philosophyfootball.com Entries close at 11.00am British Summer Time 20 August 09, no purchase necessary to enter, so get your predictions in quick!!

Good Luck!

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Responses

  1. Very good Toots, but given the current Australian captain’s win ratio do you really believe wins are merely the outcomes of great captaincy?

  2. Cheers Jim.

    The short response is that I don’t think a captain can be great without a body of wins behind them, but a body of wins in itself does not imply great captaincy.

    The longer response concerns Punter. I nearly structured this piece as a set of parallels between the two as there are many. I’ll confine myself to one for now. Punter is a fine captain off the field, instilling a ferocious will to win in his team: on the field, he can become tetchy and make some poor decisions. Jardine was a fine captain off the field, pulling together a side from all strata of a very stratified country: on the field, he could be tetchy (especially with the crowds in 28-29) and made some poor decisions in not recognising the harm Bodyline was doing when his team were winning easily (10 wickets, 338 runs, 6 wickets and 8 wickets – the Second Test was lost by 111 runs).

  3. Very enjoyable piece Toots, once l overcome my conditioned frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of Bodyline. My Grandfather drummed it into me from a very young age – whilst bowling leg spin at me in his backyard with the number plate on his old Cortina as the bails for the wicket. And ABC radio droning away in the background….

    Such memories, this piece and the impending decider are moving me away from analysis and increasingly towards a deep pride at those who have worn the Baggy Green. How much it means to us. l like your comment on Punter as well. l think his off field Captaincy has really come to the fore with this new side and something he should be commended on. Mcdonald, Hughes, North and Hilf have all been at pains to talk about the technical and passionate advice he has given them away off field.

    l am sure the pride l feel is not dissimilar to the pride you write about here. Goodness me it is a fine, fine game.

  4. Japal – Your comment exactly sums up why so little means so much.

    Aus needed a hero in the hungry Thirties and got one in The Don, but perhaps the narrative needs a villain too in order to be fully rounded – hence Jardine. Whilst Bradman’s record and conduct as a player were exemplary (obviously) it is clear that he wasn’t all good (as some of his colleagues attested during his playing career and his conduct as an administrator just before and during WSC might lead some to say). Few people are all good or all bad and I suspect Bradman and Jardine are neither all good nor all bad either.

    • Toots, the 30s were to Australian sport what the 60s were to popular music across the Western World. The Don, Phar Lap, Collingwood.

  5. Just as an aside do you know what is just as astonishing as his 99.94 (see Charles Davis statistical analysis for the primary import of that in sporting history).

    That over 240 odd First Class games he averaged 95 odd (roughly l think). To sustain that – extraordinary.

  6. When Bolt ran 9.58, I thought of Bradman – the kind of distance Bolt is putting between himself and the rest is Bradmanesque. That every cricket fan knows what that means is a testament to Bradman’s statistical freakishness, sustained over twenty years or more. Incredible!

  7. Funnily, when Bolt ran 9.58 I thought of illegal and yet to be detected performance enhancing drugs. Am I being too cynical?

  8. I thought that too, but he’s been tested plenty and he’s been pushing back the age-level boundaries since he was 15. There’s a lot of people got a lot of money wrapped up in him and it all goes puff! if he’s doped. Given that his margins are such that he would win without doping, I think he’s clean.

  9. l thought of Bolt too. Truly extraordinary and l’m a believer. His height and subsequent stride pattern are something genuinely new to sprinting account for the ‘leap’. His joy is that Ali level of sporting self-awareness. l also thought of his deep love of cricket. Imagine the thought of him running in! Oh for the glory of WI cricket to return.

  10. Japal – Dwayne Smith played well in our domestic T20 final on Saturday, but he’s hardly Keith Boyce. I’d have paid the entrance fee just to watch him throw the ball in from fine leg.

    We need a photo of Bolt next to his great hero Tendulkar!

  11. Very fine review, Toots. You, Nesta, and RK are consistently producing stuff that is much better than what one can find on mainstream cricket sites.

    I had only vague memories of hearing about bodyline till I saw the televised series on Indian TV more than a decade back.The series was well made and both Jardine and Larwood were treated with empathy, if I remember correctly.

    To read an insightful account of Jardine’s tour of India, I would suggest Ramachandra Guha’s ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field :The Indian History of a British Sport’.

    To me, judging a captain’s value to the team hinges on his ability to use available resources, keep cool under pressure, not allow the inevitable conflicts within the team to impact overall team performance, and especially in case of international cricket, act as an ambassador of his nation.

    Whether we judge Jardine or the Don or Punter or Vaughan, I think we need to look at how good these leaders were in using available resources.

    Punter has had possibly the best combination of 11 players in the world at his command, ever since he took over from Waugh. Punter has won many contests (and some tight ones), but has also lost some marquee contests.

    Also, do we remember Jardine as a batsman or as a captain? Will we remember Punter as a batsman (more likely) than as a great leader of men (less likely, I think).

    To me, Punter will remain one of the best batsmen ever, but he will definitely not be in the list of my top 10 captains.Even if he is number 1 in terms of tests won or winning %.That does say something, I suppose.

  12. Kumar – Thanks.

    This summer, I also read “In a corner of a foreign field” and you’re right that it does paint a sympathetic picture of Jardine as well as unforgettable pictures of Baloo, Nayudu and others. I’m going to read Men in White and review the two together (if Rajesh hasn’t beaten me to it!). I suspect that Jardine was very disillusioned with the English cricket establishment by his Indian tour and felt at ease on the sub-continent in terms of family ties and culture, but also as an escape from the plotting that went on at Lord’s to bring him down a notch. I suspect that his experience of cricket and as a schoolboy reading of the losses in Flanders made him more blind to race, class and caste than one might expect of a man of his class and background.

    It’s hard fully to judge Jardine as a batsman as he played as an amateur and missed so many matches. He must have been very useful to hold his own with the likes of Hammond though.

    And I agree with you that captaincy is about maximising the output from the resources available. I’d add in timing there, knowing when to turn the screw, when to put pressure on, who to target. SR Waugh was very good at that aspect of captaincy.

    • Swaugh was a master at that aspect. And people think Punter has a ‘hard edge’!

      l still think Mark Taylor is the best Captain l have seen. Lloyd l was a bit young to remember. Taylor had a comprehensive grasp on strategy, played to his strengths, inspired his men, set excellent fields, was genuinely tough without being over the top, regularly made inspired bowling changes and (crucially as has been noted here) represented his country very well to the International stage. He did of course have some useful resources at hand…

  13. Toots and others,

    Some one else has thought of the Don when they saw the appropriately named Usain Bolt. Interesting statistical analysis

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/21/usain-bolt-its-just-not-normal/

    The thought crossed my mind Nesta. But the joy he brings to his sport and spectators is something I have rarely seen. I hope and pray he is clean

    • These guys just tear up the rulebook. I pray that he’s clean too.

  14. There’s some good Bolt analysis here – http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/08/analysis-of-bolts-958-wr.html and I may modestly link to my unsuccessful competition entry re Bolt here (Blogger A) – http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2008/nov/13/big-blogger-competition-sportblog-week-two

  15. Lovely piece – hadn’t realised he’d died so young, either [Jardine, not Usain, obviously…!]

  16. Excellent piece Toots. I’d like to second Kumar’s comments about the quality of articles on this site.

  17. I guess I am just not very romantic about the historical side of cricket. Every time I think of Jardine, I think of Hugo Weaving and from there it is a short lurch into elf ears.


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