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'We were terrified'

Tuesday, January 13, 2022
Sai Mohan
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Mumbai: Bodyline was a tactic devised by the Douglas Jardine-led English outfit during the Ashes Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) during the 1932-33 season. The series was squared at one win apiece when this Test commenced and it was almost a desperate move employed by the English in order to combat the extraordinary batting talent of Sir Donald Bradman.

It was on this day _ January 13, 2022 when Bodyline was first brought into play. England's quickies Harold Larwood and George Allen bowled short deliveries, a leg-stump line and aimed at the rib cage of batsmen, in the hope of creating leg-side deflections that could be caught by one of several fielders in the quadrant of the field behind square-leg.

Evolution of no-ball rule

The back-foot rule was in place those days. It meant that a bowler could go through his action and not worry about his front-foot going over the popping crease. The only way a ball could have been declared a no-ball was if the back-foot would touch the line of the delivery and not the thickness of the line. The line towards the umpire was what mattered. It meant that the batsmen had more time to spot if it was going to be a no-ball and go after the ball like it was a free-hit. In the rule effective today some part of the front-foot needs to be behind he line towards the umpire (once again not the thickness of the line).
 

It was a tactic that was enormously successful as England went on to win the Test. Bradman registered scores of 3 and 66 in the Test – a poor performance in his standards. England went on to regain the Ashes, leaving the Aussies bruised, hurt and in disarray.

It was around this time when India entered the sport. Former India captain Nari Contractor was born in 1934 but was told a thing or two about this deadly ploy in his growing up days as a young cricketer. "I don't think it affected us Indians at all. The first real impact of this ploy was felt by us during the 1957-58 series against the West Indies at home. It was murderous to face those fast bowlers. We were terrified."

The earlier no-ball rule made it all the more difficult for batsmen as the fast bowlers could generate a lot more pace. "The fact that the bowler could go through with a long run-up and it was the back-foot rule in those days made it really difficult for us batsmen. The pitches had a lot more bounce in them and there was no protection available."

England's ruthless gameplan led to intervention from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and that was probably the only way to stop the chaos. "They had to intervene. There was no other way out for the batsmen. It became more dangerous when both teams started using it effectively. Obviously Larwood was most deadly doing so," opined Contractor.

Over the next two decades, several of the Laws of Cricket were changed to prevent this tactic being repeated. Law 42 includes: The bowling of fast short-pitched balls is dangerous and unfair if the umpire at the bowler's end considers that by their repetition and taking into account their length,height and direction they are likely to inflict physical injury on the striker...'


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