Villains?

A few words about the men who cause the brave cricketers' injuries.

A few words about the men who cause the ‘brave’ cricketers’ injuries.

Last week I dealt with the heroics of cricketers who played on in-spite of nasty injuries.  But what about the cricketers who cause injury to others?  The villains (depending on you point of view!).  Here are a few possible candidates.

Grievous Bodily Harmison –  On the first day of the Ashes 2005 Stephen Harmison took 5-43 in an extremely aggressive spell.  He hit Justin Langer on the elbow, broken Matthew Hayden’s helmet and smashed the grille on Ponting’s helmet causing a dramatic looking gash on his cheek.  Ricky Pointing recalls the moment in his Ashes Diary

“There was no pain, just a ringing feeling as the impact of the blow reverberated around my head.  I felt fine, but pretty quickly I began to feel something trickling down the side of my face, and when I looked at my shirt I could see bloody dripping onto it.”

A delighted Steve Harmison celebrates Damien Martyn's wicket

It was generally felt that England were attempting to show intent with this aggression.  It was not only the style of bowling that was aggressive but it was noticeable that Harmison did not approach any of the Australian batsmen to see if they were OK after they had been struck.  It was also felt that England were being unnecessarily aggressive in the field when throwing the ball at the stumps while the batsman was in his ground – Pointing accused Vaughan and his team of “macho posturing”.

So is Steve Harmison a villain?  Steve Harmison himself was later to describe the moment as one of the worst of his career.  And he was not referring to the balls he bowl but the fact he failed to show the courtesy of checking that the batsmen were alright.  I do sort of agree with him, it’s always nice to see good manners even in the heat of battle.  On the other hand I doubt Ponting would have welcomed his concern, in another match he was hit by Matt Prior while fielding at silly point, Prior asked if he was OK and Pointings reply was apparently a colourful range of expletives!   England were attempting to show a different, more competitive side and I think they went too far.  I won’t condemn Harmison as a villain however, as he has shown remorse, just a temporary bully.  What do you think?

The cut required 8 stitches.

The cut required 8 stitches.

The West Indian Pace Quartets – these men were not only accused of bullying bowling tactics but of altering the whole game of cricket for the worse!

“Until we can breed 7 ft monsters willing to break bones and shatter faces, we cannot compete against these threatening West Indians.  Even the umpires seem be scared that devilish-looking Richards might put a voodoo sign on them!” (from a letter to Wisden Cricket Monthly, June 1990)

“Their game is founded on vengeance and violence and is fringed by arrogance.” (David Frith. editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, 1991)

Bloody Windies! England tour of terror.’ (News of the World headline 1994)

The main accusation against the West Indian team was that they relied on violence and fear to get wickets rather than skill.  And that this tactic resulted in games than were less interesting to watch as they lacked bowling variety.  Fast aggressive bowling was nothing new but their speed and their use of four fast bowlers rather than the more traditional two gave batsmen little respite from the onslaught.

Mike Gatting had lost part of his nose after being hit in the face by a ball from Marshall

Mike Gatting lost part of his nose after being hit in the face by a ball from Marshall

So were these players villains?  Injuries were caused but then injuries have always been a feature of cricket as last week’s blog demonstrated, did they deserve the special vilification they sometimes attracted?  The allegation that they relied on terror is under serious dobt, the introduction of the one-bouncer per over rule in 1991 did little to dent the team’s success rate, so arguments that the relied on intimidation and lacked talent appear unfounded.   As to intimidation and aggression these are a traditional tactics to restrict a batsman’s scoring options, and unlike with Bodyline (see below), the fields set did give talented batsmen some scoring options.

Michael Holding bowling

“It would be naive and misleading of me to claim that I never bowl bouncers without trying to intimidate the batsmen. On the contrary, I want him to be aware that if he gets on the front foot against me he might find himself in trouble – in other words he might get hurt. But that is quite a different thing from actually wanting or intending to hurt him. I have no desire to hurt anyone.” (Michael Holding)

I don’t think the West Indies pace attacks were villains, just talented aggressive fast bowlers.  I also find the arguments of Savidge and McLellan quite convincing, in that much of the criticism levelled  at the West Indian quicks was tinged with jealousy, sour grapes, and at times, racism.

The Bodyliners – Now for the big one!  Possibly the most vilified group of cricketers in cricketing history.

So bad they almost caused an international incident! - Cable from the ABC to MCC.

So bad they almost caused an international incident! – Cable from the ABC to MCC.

Described as ‘leg theory’ by it’s proponents but more commonly know as ‘bodyline’ – bodyline bowling involves the bowler pitching the ball short and directed at the batsman’s torso or head while the majority of fielders are places on the leg-side.  It wasn’t a new technique, it was often used to restrict runs, what was different in the 1932-33 Ashes was the speed at which the ball was being bowled by Harold Larwood and Bill Voce greatly increasing the chance of injury to the batsmen.  During the series most Australian batsmen were struck resulting in a number of injuries.  It was thought captain Douglas Jardine chose to using this controversial style of bowling in an attempt to restrain the mighty Don Bradman.

So was there villainy afoot?  And if so who were the villains?  Amateur captain Jardine the mastermind, or professional bowlers Voce and Larwood who followed his orders to the letter?  Or none of them?  Or all three?

Jardine is often seen as the most likely candidate of the three for villainy.  An old school amateur cricketer, upper-class and utterly unapologetic about his choice of ‘win at all costs’ tactics.  Larwood also comes in for heavy criticism especially as he was the one who bowled the ball which hit Australian Captain Woodfull over the heart leaving him reeling in agony.

"the most unsportsmanlike act ever witnessed on an Australian ground." Selector Bill Johnson's verdict on that Larwood delivery.

“the most unsportsmanlike act ever witnessed on an Australian ground.” Selector Bill Johnson’s verdict on that Larwood delivery.

It does seem, however, that the Australians forgave Larwood, he eventually emigrated to Australia and was well received.  Perhaps the former miner was a more likeable figure than the reticent upper-class Jardine.

The bodyline incident was a very unpleasant event in the history of cricket.  Larwood is hard to condemn as a villain, he was treated appallingly by the MCC post-bodyline and physically paid a high price for following his captain’s orders.  Jardine is harder to forgive so I’ve decided that he does qualify for a degree of villainy.

Finally – not a causer of injury, but the biggest villain of the bunch!  I was reading a story which I thought might be a strong contender for inclusion in my blog on heroes.  In 1919 in a match between Sussex and Somerset the scores were level with Sussex 9 wickets down, their number 11, H J Heygate, had problems with rheumatism and was crippled with pain.  But he bravely hobbled out to the wicket as he knew his team needed him.  He arrived at the crease and Somerset’s L. Braund immediately appealed to the umpire.  Heygate was given out as it had taken him longer than 2 minutes to arrive at the crease and the game was declared a draw to the disgust of the crowd.  Now that really wasn’t cricket.  What a villain!

bowler

(Further reading : Ashes Diary 2005 by Ricky Ponting & Brian Murgatroyd, Real Quick: A Celebration of the West Indies Pace Quartets by Michele Savidge & Alastair McLellan, Cricket’s Hall of Shame by Dave Warner – all available in the MCC library)

NB – This post was inspired by philgreaney.wordpress.com

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Filed under Australia, bowling, British Empire, Cricket, England, History, injury, MCC, Umpiring, West Indies

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