The Bodyline Hypocrisy
Author: Michael Arnold
Publisher: Know The Score
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Martin Chandler
23 Nov 2009
I had thought that the publication of David Frith's comprehensive and meticulously researched "Bodyline Autopsy" in 2002 would be the last word on the famous 1932/33 Ashes series. This book has proved me wrong and while I started the book with limited expectations after completing it I can see there will be at least one more book devoted to the series before the subject is finally consigned to history.
Cricket lovers' fascination with the Bodyline tour has endured with good reason. Firstly there was some excellent cricket played by some of the finest players the game has seen. Secondly those players were some of the strongest and most interesting personalities who have graced our sport and lastly, of course, there is the furore that England's leg theory tactics caused.
The inevitable question that falls to be asked about this, the 20th full length book on the series, is what new light can it possibly cast on the subject. Of the 19 previous books most have contained a full account of the Tests and all of the main protagonists have been the subject of at least one volume of biography or autobiography and indeed most of the supporting cast as well. Taking into account that most of the more recent offerings have examined the legacy of the controversies thrown up by the tour I, and I perhaps should at this stage make the admission that I have read all of the previous 19, simply could not see a niche for this book to fit into.
The sub-title of the book is "conversations with Harold Larwood" although that didn't fill me with great optimism. A hard hitting account of the tour, "Bodyline?", appeared in Larwood's name within weeks of the party returning to England and more than thirty years later "The Larwood Story", one of the finest cricketing autobiographies, appeared. It is clear from both those offerings, but the latter in particular, that Larwood was not the sort of man to completely bare his soul in print but I have to say that when Duncan Hamilton beat Arnold to the bookshops by a few weeks with his superb biography of the "Notts Express" I did assume that whatever thunder Arnold may have had would have been stolen. In the event the conversations with Larwood that are referred to, while being important, are not a major part of Arnold's work.
What Arnold has done, in effect, is to provide an overview of the various previous analyses and, by selecting some of the contradictions that appear, corrected a number of widely held misconceptions particularly about Douglas Jardine, his personality and attitudes, as well as his relationships with others. More radical is Arnold's view that leg theory was simply a convenient target for Australians to whinge at when the simple reality of the situation was that they were poor losers. That is, inevitably, an oversimplification of several carefully formulated and well-reasoned ideas that draw on a wide variety of sources but to this reviewer, an Englishman to the core, it makes fascinating reading and most certainly is a new view on the events of 1932/33 and the publication of Arnold's ideas is fully justified.
Conversely what Arnold has not done, thankfully, is to tell the story of the series itself again. There is a brief statistical appendix which contains the scorecards of the five Tests and the averages but that is just an aide memoir. The book is clearly aimed at those who already know what happened and for anyone not fully conversant with the events of the tour who is tempted to buy a copy I would recommend that at the same time you buy one of the conventional accounts of the tour and read that first.
In terms of attributing a rating to the book I have decided to be slightly cautious. Had it not been for a need to earn a living this is one of those very occasional books that I would have sat down with and read through in one sitting which to me is sufficient in itself to justify a five star rating. On reflection however I am going to hold back and give it just a shade under the maximum as I know it's contents will prove unpopular with our antipodean friends and I suppose it must be possible, given the remarkable nature of some of Arnold's conclusions, that there is some flawed reasoning in the book that as an Englishman I cannot see simply because I don't want to.
As an aside I would like to know a bit more about Michael Arnold. He certainly seems to have spent a lot of time in Australian (how else could he have had all those converstions with Larwood?) but in the light of his trenchant views I kept coming back to the question of who exactly is he? Slightly irritatingly the book's introduction and the publisher's blurb say little about him - hopefully he may let us know.
It will, as indicated, be interesting to see what Australians make of this and, to return to my opening comments, the 21st book on the series will doubtless tell us. I don't know to what extent any of them are students of the history of the game in general, or Bodyline in particular, but perhaps that book will contain the considered responses of one or more of Ian Chappell, Alan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting to Arnold's views - or maybe that will be number 22?