Bradman vs Bodyline

Published: 2021
Pages: 355
Author: Perry, Roland
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 4 stars

It’s been almost 20 years since David Frith’s seminal work on the 1932/33 Ashes series Bodyline Autopsy was released. At the time it was thought that no further books on the subject would be required.

Now we have a new book on Bodyline, from Australian author Roland Perry and there seems there is still plenty to be discussed on the most infamous of all the Ashes contests.

Perry tackles the story in a different manner than most previous cricket historians. He begins his story not with Bradman, but with Arthur Carr, the Nottingham skipper who captained both Bodyline chief architects, Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Carr was the first to unleash legside Bodyline (known as fast leg theory at the time) type fields with short pitched fast bowling. This happened in 1920s county cricket.

After meeting Carr we are introduced in turn to English Bodyline captain Douglas Jardine, the fastest bowler in the world Larwood, and finally Don Bradman. 

Throughout the book, Perry returns to these four protagonists. I especially enjoyed the Carr story. Carr was a war hero, alcoholic, famous cricketer, and at the time considered to be a ‘man’s man’. I have ordered his biography by Peter Wynne-Thomas.

Perry performs a quality job in supplying all the background and machinations that led to the Bodyline series, not least the need to curb the batting machine Bradman. In fact the coverage of the actual 1932/33 Ashes does not commence until just over halfway through the book.

We are provided with brief synopsises of early series, commencing with the 1926 Ashes series in which Carr was the captain. These summaries are all well written and informative and will assist the reader to understand the importance of Bodyline and the storm it caused.

Perry is often criticised for hero worship when it comes to his writings on Bradman, and while he’s still on Bradman’s side in this book, to his credit he never attempts to denigrate the aloof Jardine or hedonistic Carr. His portrayal of both and also Larwood are balanced and informative.

The book itself is surprisingly free from typos – although unfortunately there is one faux pas that went through to the keeper. Perry has the two Indian players of the period K.S. Duleepsinhji and the Nawab of Pataudi as one and the same person. Thankfully neither features heavily in the Bodyline saga and I personally didn’t find it a distraction.

The other interesting fact, especially for the cricket aficionado, is Perry crediting reporter and Australian opening batsmen, Jack Fingleton as the one who leaked the Australian captain Bill Woodfull’s comments to the press. 

In the Adelaide Test, Woodfull had taken a Larwood thunderbolt to the chest and took several minutes to compose himself. Later the English manger and MCC big wig ‘Plum’ Warner had visited the Australian dressing room to ask after Woodfull. The Aussie captain famously replied to Warner’s concerns, “There are two teams out there, one of them is trying to play cricket”. The full confrontation was printed in all the following day’s newspapers.

A longstanding feud between Fingleton and Bradman raged for many years as both accused the other of leaking the story to the press. In Bodyline Autopsy Frith presents some significant evidence to suggest Bradman leaked the story. Perry does not mention the possibility it was Bradman and just states that Fingleton was the culprit.

While Perry may well be right, it would have been interesting if he provided some insights. For instance whether he discussed this with Bradman and how the great man had responded. In the end both Frith and Perry, agree that no matter who the source was they did a favour for cricket by bringing the level of player angst into the public domain. 

Perry has a lovely, easy and accessible writing style. You can sit down with the intention of just reading a couple of pages and before you know you’ve read 50 or more. This is a combination of style and also content, and as cricket goes, content doesn’t get much more riveting than the Bodyline series.

This is at least the sixth full account I have read on Bodyline and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are not overly familiar with Bodyline, Perry’s latest book would be my recommendation. It provides not only great detail; it also presents all the background information in an assessable format.

Roland Perry has teamed up with a great publisher in Allen & Unwin, which will ensure Bradman vs Bodyline is widely available. The, RRP is AUD $32.99.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Archie Mac