Sunday, 29 January 2017

Chasing The Ashes: Would you do anything to win .... and to get a pay cheque?


Believe it or not, cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world thanks to a fanatical following in India.

Cricket is the sport of the British Empire. The 10 test match playing countries are all former British colonies. Well, England is there too.

New Zealand
South Africa
Sri Lanka
West Indies

Cricket was started in England a few hundred years ago and has developed to where it is the most popular sport in most of those countries listed above.

Today the best players from the above countries can make millions of dollars playing in the professional leagues around the world. More money than actually playing for your country. In places like India, the best players are up there with some of the highest paid sport athletes in the world.

Cricket hasn't always been that way. In Australia, it wasn't until the mid 1970's when media mogul, Kerry Packer, transformed the game of cricket with his World Series Cricket revolution that saw the best Australian players getting a liveable wage from the game.

In England, up until 1962, there was a distinction between amateur players and professional players. In fact, they even had an annual game called Gentlemen v Players.

The Gentlemen were the amateurs. They were traditionally from the middle to upper classes of English society. They went to public schools and onto university and generally had a career outside of cricket. In my mind, the poster child of The Gentlemen was W.G. Grace who was a medical doctor although it is said that he made more money from cricket than from looking after patients.

Douglas Jardine, the architect of the Bodyline series against Australia in 1932/1933 trained as a lawyer. He was also an amateur cricketer but with a very professional attitude.

What does this have to do with the theme of my blog?

I want to talk about The Gentlemen and The Players. As I said the Gentlemen were the rich people of English society and The Players were the working men. It was a very strict structure with The Players been addressed by their first names and The Gentlemen been addressed by their family names, Mr. Smith, Mr.Jones etc.

In 1932, England toured Australia which turned into one of the most controversial series in cricket history. Douglas Jardine who was in the 1930 English team that got thrashed by the touring Australians was the captain and he was dead keen to turn the tables on the Aussies. There was one stumbling block, a man from a small town in New South Wales called Don Bradman. Bradman scored many runs in the 1930 series and was the main reason why Australia won the series.

Don Bradman is arguably one of the best sportsman in history, not just cricket. No other cricketer in the 140 year history of test cricket has dominated the game as he did

Jardine was so obsessed to win the series in 1932/1933 that he developed a strategy to curb the batsmanship of Bradman. He called it leg theory while the press called it Bodyline in which the bowler would deliberately bowl at the batsman's body and head. This strategy worked and Jardine's team won the series and returned to England with the prized trophy, The Ashes.

The Ashes is the trophy that these two countries have been playing for since 1882. It is only 15 centimetres high but generations of Australian and English cricketers have fought over it in classic matches.

In 1984, an Australian mini-series starring Hugo Weaving of 'The Matrix' fame was made, showing the classic 'Bodyline' series.

In this miniseries (you can see the first episode below) we can see both the English and Australian teams and the characteristics of both.

As you would expect, the Australian team is egalitarian. They are all mates as you can imagine an Australian team would be like.

The English team on the other hand is a mix of professionals and rich amateurs. What struck me about it was that the professionals were happy to do whatever they were told. The professionals were just good old fashioned cricketers and they just did what the captain ordered them to do. This brought much hostility from the pro-Australian crowds and the English fast bowlers lead by Harold Larwood weren't the most popular people in Australia at the time.

Even though the English players weren't the most popular at the time the managed to win the series and accomplish what they had gone to Australia for. Tours at that time were more than 6 months in length and throw in the boat trip to and from England and the players were away from their respective families for a very long time. They were effectively going to war and the 1932/1933 almost became that.

The point of all this is, should you carry out orders even though you might be morally against it and you know that tactically it is the wrong thing to do?

The English professional players just wanted to win and so they just followed instructions. In the end by following those instructions they won.

Later in life, Harold Larwood said that he was sick of being associated with the BodyLine series and after that series he never played for England again even though he said he was just following instructions.

Would you do that? Would you follow tactics even though they were against your idea of what fair play is? Would you do anything to win a sporting game?

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