How Douglas Jardine’s Scottish heritage influenced his England cricket captaincy

Alex Massie, courtesy of The Nightwatchman …

Late October 1932 and England’s cricketers are travelling from Perth to Adelaide. The journey across the red, desolate, vast expanse of the Nullarbor plain is long and tiring. Three times the party has to change trains. Boredom is an ever-present danger. No wonder discussion turns – as it so often does when cricket-minded folk are cloistered together – to the favoured parlour game of selecting mythical all-time XIs to take on visitors from other lands or even other worlds.

JARDINE--Getty Jardine batting for England–Pic from Getty

A Greatest Englishmen squad is agreed upon – after much argument – captained by Horatio Nelson. The great hero of Trafalgar will lead a team chosen from the Duke of Wellington, Cecil Rhodes, William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Shaftesbury, Lord Kelvin, Charles Dickens, Joseph Lister, James Simpson, James Watt and George Bernard Shaw. An impressive selection even if picking Shaw ahead of, say, William Shakespeare remains a hard-to-defend wildcard.

It is a selection notable, too, for what it tells us about Englishness. Because many of those chosen are not English at all. Watt and Simpson are Scots, Kelvin was a Belfast-born Glaswegian and Shaw was a Dubliner. Even the Iron Duke was born in Ireland. No fewer than five of the 12 selected were born beyond England’s borders and two of the remaining seven (Rhodes and Lister) made their mark outside England (in Africa and at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow).

In one sense, the selection merely reflects a common, even traditional, conflation of Englishness and Britishness; an elision that in these nationalistic times is guaranteed to irritate even the most staunchly Unionist Scot. But it also reminds us that cricket – even when concerned with artificial selections such as this – has long allowed for a generous definition of Englishness.

This cosmopolitan fantasy XI is, in any case, quite appropriate. Why would it not be, given that the man leading the Perth-bound cricketers, the most divisive and controversial cricketer who ever played for England, is not much of an Englishman at all?

Douglas Robert Jardine was, as is widely known, born in Bombay on 23 October 1900. It is reasonably well-known too that his parents, Malcolm and Alison, were Scots. Malcolm, though born in India himself, had been educated at Fettes (later the alma mater of Tony Blair) in Edinburgh and then at Oxford. His own first-class career, which included a century in the Varsity match, was curtailed by the opportunities offered by his legal career in India. If we are to understand Jardine, we must understand his Scottishness.

It is less well-known, for instance, that until he went to Oxford himself, Douglas Jardine’s exposure to life in England was limited to term-time at Horris Hill and latterly Winchester. From the age of nine, school holidays were spent with his Aunt Kitty in St Andrews. Though he claimed to have been happy in that grey and sometimes forbidding town it is difficult to avoid the thought that the young Jardine, so far removed from his parents, must have known lonely times. Hard too, not to suppose that this contributed to the reserve, the shyness, that would become such a notable feature of his character.

At St Andrews, Jardine found a stand-in father figure in the form of the poet, novelist, folklorist and essayist Andrew Lang. If Malcolm Jardine had bestowed a love of cricket upon his son, Lang deepened the young Douglas’ commitment to the game. Though no great performer himself, Lang had learned the game in his home town of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders and forever remained entranced by it.

“Cricket,” he wrote in an introduction to Richard Daft’s Kings of Cricket, “is a very humanising game. It appeals to the emotions of local patriotism and pride. It is eminently unselfish; the love of it never leaves us, and binds all the brethren together, whatever their politics and rank may be. There is nothing like it in the sports of mankind.” It must be admitted that his devoted protege would go on to test this theory almost to the point of its utter destruction.

Nevertheless, Lang passed on his romanticism to Jardine. “The choice between clicking turnstiles and the village green,” Jardine later opined, “is in reality no choice at all: the village has it every time.” The true spirit of cricket lay not at Lord’s or the Sydney Cricket Ground but in the enthusiasm of amateur cricketers wherever they gathered to play the ancient and noble game.

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The contrast between the innocence of the village green game and the granite-hewn approach Jardine would bring to the international arena is only one of Douglas Jardine’s many contradictions. Like Walt Whitman, he contained multitudes. Years later Jardine’s daughter Fianach would observe that her father was “a terribly gentle man with a strict sense of fair play who wouldn’t dream of stretching the rules during a family game of Ludo, never mind on the cricket pitch.” A sentiment, frankly, that could scarcely be bettered. If, that is, your aim was to leave Australians in a state of silent, indignant, stupefied astonishment.

When it was confirmed that Jardine would captain England in Australia, Rockley Wilson, his old cricket master at Winchester, quipped: “We may well win the Ashes, but we may very well lose a dominion.” Even if meant jocularly, there is a hint here that Jardine’s appointment was a risk, a sense that there was something not wholly right, not quite “on”, about the skipper. Here was an amateur who played and thought about the game like a professional. Wilson was not the only man to view the tour with some trepidation.

Addressing a gaggle of Australian pressmen in Perth, Plum Warner, the tour manager, issued a declaration that now seems a grim premonition of the storms ahead. “The very word ‘cricket’ has become a synonym for all that is true and honest,” he said. “To say ‘that is not cricket’ implies something underhand, something not in keeping with the best ideals. There is no game which calls forth so many fine attributes, which makes so many demands on its votaries, and, that being so, all who love it as players, as officials or spectators must be careful lest anything they do should do it harm. An incautious attitude or gesture in the field, a lack of consideration in the committee room and a failure to see the other side’s point of view, a hasty judgement by an onlooker and a misconstruction of an incident may cause trouble and misunderstanding which could and should be avoided. This is the aim of the Marylebone Cricket Club, of which I am a humble if devoted servant, in sending teams to all parts of the world to spread the gospel of British fair play as developed in its national sport.”

Be that as it may, something had to be done to solve the Bradman Problem. In 1930 the Don had flayed England’s bowlers, compiling 974 runs at an average of 139. All across England, bowlers were left broken men. The following Australian summer Bradman plundered the South African bowling for a further 806 runs at an average of 201. “Something new will have to be introduced to curb Bradman,” said Percy Fender. He was right.

The stakes were high. National pride demanded a response. Bradman’s supremacy was such that unless he could be tamed the Australians would effectively be playing with a man advantage. With the possible exception of WG Grace in his best years, no other player in the history of the game has, by his mere presence, so stacked the deck in favour of his side. England’s goal was simultaneously modest and daunting: could Jardine and Larwood cut Bradman down to size so that, in weight of runs and average, he merely matched Wally Hammond? Reducing Bradman to the level of England’s greatest batsman would be considered a great success.

For Neville Cardus, the suggestion Jardine was some kind of “Prussian Junker” was as irrelevant as it was dubious. In any case, he suggested in the Observer: “If the Australians are to be tackled, give me a captain who smiles only when the enemy are being rubbed into the dust.” Such was Bradman’s impact, he made flinty realists of even inveterate idealists such as Cardus. Bradman saw the gathering storms too, telling colleagues: “You fellas have no idea what sort of summer this is going to be.”

Thrawn is a fine Scots word with no exact equivalent in standard English. It means twisted, stubborn and bloody-minded, often to the point of perversity. It connotes a kind of obstinacy on steroids. It could have been invented for Douglas Jardine. No cricketer in the history of the game has spawned more controversy; none has so demanded that the game be considered as a moral or philosophical matter. Even if there has been a thawing in recent years, Jardine remains the most divisive captain the game has known. The rehabilitation of his reputation is far from complete; it may never be finished.

The paradox of Bodyline was efficiently summarised by Jonathan Agnew recently: “Bowling short with as many men as you wanted on the leg side was a legitimate tactic, but not what cricket was meant to be, or the way cricket should be played.” That is, Jardine’s tactics might simultaneously be legal and immoral. Could the means be justified by the ends? Could England defeat Australia at cricket without abandoning cricket itself? It remains a metaphysical question.

W M Woodfull of Australia ducks to avoid a rising ball from Harold Larwood of England during the Fourth Test match at Brisbane on the infamous 'Bodyline' Tour of Australia.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

W M Woodfull of Australia ducks to avoid a rising ball from Harold Larwood of England during the Fourth Test match at Brisbane on the infamous ‘Bodyline’ Tour of Australia. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

In 1919 the literary critic G Gregory Smith published Scottish Literature: Character and Influence. Smith averred that the Scottish psyche was “a zigzag of contradictions”. He dubbed this the “Caledonian antisyzygy”, arguing that Scotland’s history and literature were marked by the struggle between rival “polar twins”. Oxymoron and irony abound and the canonical texts exemplifying the duality at the heart of Scottish literature – and character – are James Hogg’sThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In passing let it be noted that Confessions of a Justified Sinner would have been an excellent title for Douglas Jardine’s memoirs. “Justified” not simply in the modern sense of being proved correct but in the Calvinist meaning of expiating sin and easing the righteous man’s path to heaven. Indeed, the righteous, justified man is predestined to enter heaven, regardless of the wickedness of his actions on Earth. Though he was not a man of great religious faith, it is hard to suppress the thought that Jardine’s cricket was imbued with a forbidding Calvinist rectitude inherited from his Scottish ancestors. Just as there was little room for frippery or entertainment in Calvinist Scotland, so Jardine approached the business of batting with a stern and solemn seriousness.

As a batsman you might even consider Jardine repressed. His friend and Oxford contemporary RC Robertson-Glasgow felt that “something of iron in his temperament would not let him play free and full in the greater matches”. As the “task grew greater, the strokes grew fewer” and he only rarely allowed himself the freedom to express himself. It was as if the gaiety and merry abandon with which he might bat in the nets was a kind of self-indulgence that could not be tolerated, indeed must be suppressed, in the heat of battle. Impressive as this severe self-control might be, it made Jardine a lesser batsman than he might have been, just as Calvinist Scotland was a dour and often joyless country. Like Jardine, its many achievements came at a price.

Principles, in any case, could not be abandoned. For G Gregory Smith: “The Scot is not a quarrelsome man, but he has a fine sense of the value of provocation, and in the clash of things and words has often found a spiritual tonic.” It might be objected that this is a mighty broad generalisation and that these qualities are, in any case, scarcely the exclusive preserve of Scotsmen. Nevertheless, it might also be noted that Smith’s sweeping verdict – typical of his work and style – fits Jardine admirably.

The duality of man, the dominant recurring theme in Scottish literature, also helps to illuminate Jardine’s contradictions. Robertson-Glasgow allowed that though Jardine could be “a fierce enemy” he was also “a wonderful friend”. Few cricketers have provoked opinions so extravagantly dissenting. Gubby Allen felt like killing him; Hedley Verity was sufficiently devoted to his skipper to name his own son Douglas. Then again: being disliked by Allen – as great a snob as any who ever played for England – might be considered a badge to be sported with pride.

In the tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jekyll reflects that it was “rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults that made me what I was and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature”. As with Jekyll, so with Jardine. “Though so profound a double-dealer,” Jekyll continued, “I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest.”

Again, we may make a similar point about Jardine. Jekyll comes to the realisation that “of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness” – his ordinary life as Jekyll and his extraordinary existence as Hyde – “even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”

Nor is it absurd to compare Jardine with Hyde. His detractors – of whom there has never been any shortage – have long portrayed Jardine as a monstrous figure. Even Bob Wyatt, loyal Bob Wyatt, admitted Jardine could be “insufferably offensive”, treating anyone who had wronged or disappointed him with an “air of cold disdain”. Worse even than his monstrosity, however, was his apparent fanaticism.

Never was this better displayed than during the third Test at Adelaide. There is Larwood roaring in to hurl down his thunderbolts. There is Bill Woodfull, the stoic Australian captain, so upstanding and cloaked in rectitude that his conscientious objection to the English tactics leaves one wondering if he actually craves martyrdom (and is Woodfull’s unforgiving moral superiority not also a form of pious and preening vanity?). The atmosphere is febrile and pregnant with foreboding. And now Larwood hits Woodfull a heavy blow above the heart. The Australian skipper drops his bat and clutches his chest, reeling in pain. That Larwood’s bouncer was bowled to an orthodox field matters not at all. That the ball might have passed over middle stump, not leg, is even less relevant. This is not cricket, at least not cricket as she has been known and loved. This is something different.

And then the English skipper makes everything worse, so much worse. Up pipes Jardine with a piercing cry: “Well bowled, Harold.” Later it will be said that this was only a ploy designed to unsettle Bradman, who was watching from the non-striker’s end but, whatever the truth of that, there’s something chilling about Jardine’s reaction. And the English captain is not finished yet. For the first ball of the next over, with a barely perceptible nod of his head, he motions his fielders to move to the leg side. As always they cross from off to leg, says Arthur Mailey, like a school of “hungry sharks”. It is the action of a captain with ice in his heart and iron in his soul.

More than 80 years on it may still be the most famous change of field in the history of the game. It will be argued later that Jardine came to regret the timing of this manoeuvre but whatever the truth of that this was the moment the Ashes were won. The series was not over but from this point on there was no way back for Australia. They had been broken. Not just physically but, much more importantly, mentally. If this is what it takes to win, the Australians will say, there is no honour and still less glory in it.

They would say that, wouldn’t they? Bodyline – or, rather,fast leg theory – was a response to a particular problem at a particular moment in cricket’s history. Eight decades on it is easy to forget that it was also a gamble. There was no certainty that fast leg theory could wreck Australia’s batting in timeless Tests played on feather-bedded wickets built to last for days. Indeed, if Bodyline contravened the “spirit of the game” so, it can be argued, did the prevailing conditions in Australian cricket. As Jack Fingleton put it, timeless Tests ensured a “war of attrition” in which “the batsman who gets out taking a risk is considered either a national rogue or a fool”. There is more than one way to ruin a Test match and the Australian Board’s approach privileged gate money above the wider interests of the game.

Also, bodyline bowling was neither as common nor always as destructive as is sometimes supposed. England bowled 825 overs in the series, of which Larwood accounted for 220, Voce 133 and Bill Bowes, in his only Test, a mere 23. Not all of these overs, as the injuries to Woodfull and Oldfield testify, were delivered to Bodyline fields. And when Bowes bowled Bradman for a first ball duck at Melbourne he did so with an ordinary long-hop and an orthodox field.

I have not been able to find an exact record of how many overs were bowled with the stacked leg-trap in place but a reasonable estimate might be that no more than 250 overs – or a little more than 25% of the total. Even then, 16 of Larwood’s 33 wickets were bowled and a further brace were lbw, figures which make it reasonable to surmise that the short ball – or even the threat of the short ball – often set up fuller wicket-taking deliveries.

Since Allen refused to bowl leg theory and Verity and Hammond, of course, did not, most of the English bowling was not Bodyline. Lurking at the rear of every Australian mind, however, was the certain knowledge that spells of non-Bodyline bowling were a kind of lull and that soon enough Larwood would roar back into the fray. It seems reasonable that the promise that Larwood would be bowling soon helped England’s other bowlers take wickets. Few fast bowlers in the history of the game have managed to take wickets without even bowling but one fancies Larwood accomplished that trick in the winter of 1932–33.

Despite all that, it is worth recalling that, at least in their first innings, Australia were able to occupy the crease reasonably effectively. First innings lasting 102, 86, 95, 121 and 108 overs demonstrate that pretty clearly. Batting against Larwood and co was extremely difficult and often perilous; it was not quite impossible.

Despite what Australians claimed, Larwood was hardly the first bowler to target the batsman (we can, I think, discard Larwood’s insistent protestations of innocence on that score). But bumpers delivered at express velocity were one thing; accompanying them with a packed leg-side field quite another. However, what really horrified the Australians was the dawning realisation that all this had been planned with cold, calculating intent. Nor would there be any let-up. Never. Not while Larwood remained even half-fit to bowl. Not with Jardine in command.

All these decades later there remains something breathtaking, something chilling, about Jardine’s ruthlessness. Even his admirers – of which you may have gathered I am one – might not wish everyone to play the game the Jardine way. And yet cricket would be the poorer without its Jardines. Some Australians – among them Archie Jackson and, at least initially, Monty Noble – recognised this. Fingleton, admittedly no great friend of Bradman, did so too. Battered and bruised by Bodyline, Fingleton still recognised “there was something indefinably magnificent and courageous in the resolute manner in which [Jardine] stuck to his Bodyline guns”.

Bodyline and the controversy that followed exhausted Jardine and Larwood. They would be the series’ final victims. Larwood, infamously, shamefully, never played for England again. But if the establishment cast the Nottinghamshire miner into the wilderness, it was little more sympathetic to Jardine. By the time the Australians arrived in 1934 it was clear to all parties that there could be no room for Jardine in the England XI. Not if the series was to pass off peacefully and have a chance of healing the wounds ripped open in 1932–33. The ease with which Jardine was shunted aside offered another reminder that this man, so often considered the platonic ideal of patrician English rectitude, was simultaneously a product of the English establishment and an outsider. “He is not the right fellow to be captain,” Warner wrote to his wife before the first Test in Australia; two years later the rest of the English cricketing establishment agreed.

By then Jardine’s approach – and the experience of seeing Bodyline bowling in England – had come to be seen as an unfortunate embarrassment. There was winning and there was winning like this. Only Arthur Carr’s Nottinghamshire – home of Larwood and Voce, of course – stuck with Jardine. Larwood was, like his skipper, unrepentant. Naturally so, for they did not feel they had done anything of which to be ashamed.


 England players, including Wally Hammond, Harold Larwood, Tom Mitchell, Bill Voce, George Duckworth, Eddie Paynter and Freddie Brown, relax Watson beach near Sydney in 1933. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Jardine’s approach to Australians was forever uncompromising. His motto could have been that adopted by the Scots Covenanters during the endless wars of the 17th century: “Christ and No Quarter.” Their severity was as terrifying as their certainty was chilling. In Old Mortality, Sir Walter Scott’s great novel of politics and religion, an old Convenanter, Balfour of Burley, speaks words that with little modification could, you fancy, have been uttered by Jardine too:

Young man, you are already weary of me, and would yet be more so, perchance, did you know the task upon which I have been lately put. And I wonder not that it should be so, for there are times when I am weary of myself. Think you not it is a sore trial for flesh and blood to be called upon to execute the righteous judgements of Heaven while we are yet in the body, and retain that blinded sense and sympathy for carnal suffering which makes our own flesh thrill when we strike a gash upon the body of another? And think you, that when some prime tyrant has been removed from his place, that the instruments of his punishment can at all times look back on their share in his downfall with firm and unshaken nerves? Must they not sometimes question even the truth of that inspiration which they have felt and acted under? Must they not sometimes doubt the origin of that strong impulse with which their prayers for heavenly direction under difficulties have been inwardly answered and confirmed, and confuse, in their disturbed apprehensions, the responses of Truth himself with some strong delusion of the enemy?

When his young interlocutor questions this, suggesting that “feelings of natural humanity” should surely influence beliefs and behaviour, Balfour’s indignation – and justification – reaches new heights:

We are called upon when we have girded up our loins to run the race boldly, and when we have drawn the sword to smite the ungodly with the edge, though he be our neighbour, and the man of power and cruelty, though he were of our own kindred and the friend of our bosom.

By any standard this is pretty severe stuff. And, in its way, it is as close to an explanation for Bodyline as we shall ever be likely to receive now. The killing would go merrily on for the slaughter was the Lord’s work. Bodyline, once started, could not cease even after the series was won, even after Larwood had hobbled, broken-footed and bleeding, from the field at Sydney. It acquired a momentum and an internal logic of its own. To abandon fast leg theory would be to admit doubt. It would be an admission that Jardine’s critics had a point. If you want to understand Jardine you must turn to Scott, Hogg and Stevenson for illumination.

But then Jardines were always fighters. The chief branch of the name were one of the prominent Reiving families on the Scottish Border. Their stronghold was Annandale in Dumfriesshire, just north of the pocket of deputed territory on the border known as “The Debatable Land”.

For nearly 300 years the frontier existed beyond the control of either London or Edinburgh. It bred hard men, quick to violence, slow to forget, the Borderers – Scots and English alike – had a talent for blood-feuding. The Jardine family motto, “Cave Adsum”, means “Beware, I am here”. It is a statement of fact, a warning and a threat. It seems appropriate for the author of Bodyline’s greatest hour.

Lest you think I make too much of Jardine’s Scottishness, it bears recalling that his contemporaries were happy to acknowledge his Caledonian heritage. According to Robertson-Glasgow, Jardine possessed “the true Scottish dislike of waste in material or words” – an observation that, though clichéd, is notable for revealing the extent to which Jardine’s contemporaries were conscious of his Scottish ancestry.

He was too. His daughter Fianach recalled how her father was “ferociously proud” of his ancestry, a theme upon which he talked at length when addressing the centenary dinner of Kirkcaldy’s Dunnikier club in 1956, just two years before his death. By then he was a board member of the Scottish Australian Company too.

In late 1957 Jardine travelled to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he contracted tick fever. Upon further examination he was discovered to be suffering from lung cancer. His wife took him to Switzerland in the hope that he would find the mountain air easier to breath. To no avail. The end came quickly. He was cremated and then, in late July, his family travelled north to Scotland where his ashes were scattered on the summit of Cross Craigs mountain in Highland Perthshire.

Overlooking Loch Rannoch, Cross Craigs can be a bleak and austere place. Yet even in darker meteorological moments it is never less than a starkly beautiful spot. Fianach Jardine, a minister ordained in the Scottish Episcopal church, recalled some years ago that this spot, much favoured by her father on past shooting trips to the Highlands, seemed an appropriate final resting place for his remains. “Although it was July,” she said, “it was really quite cold and cloudy until the moment came to scatter father’s remains when the sky turned blue and a brilliant sun came out.”

Home at last and forever, perhaps. Or, as a verse written by his mentor Andrew Lang has it:

It’s ill to loose the bands that God decreed to bind; 
Still will we be the children of the heather and the wind.
Far away from home,
O it’s still for you and me.

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