Douglas Jardine: the amateur with a professional’s zeal

Douglas Jardine

The below first appeared on the http://www.thefulltoss.com in July 2012.

One of the few positives of this rain-ravaged ‘summer’ is that it’s supplied additional opportunities to read.  After trawling through The Full Toss archives several times and despairing of the near weekly jibes aimed in the direction of England great Sir Ian Botham, I turned – sacrilegiously – to other work.

And I stumbled across an aspect of cricket history which I’d never really thought about before – but viewed down the years, struck me as fascinating.

Douglas Jardine – the man Australians still hate more than any other, more than fifty years after his death – was an amateur.

Douglas Jardine

Left-leaning readers will correctly observe that the distinction between amateur and professional cricketers – which continued in England until 1961 – was only partly one of pay.  Professional players mostly came from a working class background, whereas amateurs – such as Winchester College-educated Jardine – belonged to the upper and middle classes.

The dictum of the amateur-dominated MCC was that a gentleman ought not to make a profit from the game.  It was a different world,  in which it was customary for professional players to address amateur team-mates and opponents as ‘Sir’.  Professionals would be addressed by their surname alone.

The perception of amateurs as officers and gentlemen, and thereby leaders, meant that any team including an amateur would tend to appoint him as captain. This would occur even – and indeed often – when there were many better professional cricketers in the XI than the amateur.

For example, in 1924 Yorkshire appointed 46-year-old Major Arthur Lupton as captain of a side containing cricketing greats such as Wilfred Rhodes and Herbert Sutcliffe.  He had played only once for Yorkshire, sixteen years previously in 1908. When Lupton retired three years later in 1927, he averaged a horrible 10.34 from 88 innings, with a high score of only 43.  

It has been cruelly suggested to TFT that the sport of cricket would not see a captain sport such woeful numbers until its co-editor Maxie Allen took to the field as captain of the grandly titled St Anne’s Allstars Invitational XI in the early twenty-first century!

Lupton was very popular within the dressing room, although his influence on team tactics has been questioned.  In one magnificent story, with the Yorkshire score on around 400, Lupton strode out of the amateur changing room to bat.  A young professional rushed over, touched his arm and whispered: “It’s all right, sir. Mr Rhodes has declared.”

But I digress. Both Jardine the captain and Jardine the batsman were far removed from this bumbling image of the hapless style of amateur. In an era of uncovered pitches, he averaged 48.00 in test cricket and 46.83 in first class – and this despite his employment as a Barings bank clerk and occasional journalist, which inevitably limited his opportunities to practise.

In 1930, approaching 30 years of age and at his cricketing peak, Jardine played only nine first class matches –  fewer even than Dhoni and Gayle manage currently! It’s also worth noting, for the historical record, that this was an era in which Bangladesh were absent from the international schedule, while that other cricketing minnow – Australia – were a lot stronger than they are now!

Jardine is said to have been an excellent technical batsman, although naturally cautious and slow scoring – even by the standards of the day. However, like Alastair Cook, when the situation required he could score quickly. A hundred on his first tour of Australia in 1928/29 was described by Sir Donald Bradman as being “one of the finest exhibitions of strokeplay” he had ever seen.

During one innings of a match for Oxford University, Jardine was criticised for using his pads to stop the ball from hitting the wickets: within the laws of the game at the time but considered to be against the spirit of the game. It is an early example of Jardine taking advantage of a controversial innovation and perhaps foretells his adoption of the Bodyline tactic in the 1932/33 Ashes.   Bodyline, or ‘leg theory’, was not a new tactic: it had been tried sporadically in 1903/4. What was new was the extent to which it was employed – and the success it brought during that fateful series.

After his appointment as England captain for the 1932/33 tour, Jardine studied film footage of Bradman batting during the 1930 Ashes (during which the Australian scored an incredible 974 runs) and discussed potential counter-Bradman tactics with team mates such as fast bowler Harold Larwood.

Jardine settled on leg theory, and ironically the tactic seems to have worked against every Australian batsman other than Bradman. Putting the controversy of that tour to one side, the strategising, development and implementation of a plan for particular batsmen is something which most international sides do today. It is certainly not the captaincy of an amateur. It is a modern approach which reminds me very much of Woolmer, Buchanan and Flower’s England.

The more I read about Jardine, the more I believe that he would fit very well into the modern game, and indeed the current England team. Not least because he was born abroad (in Mumbai) and overseas birth seems to be a necessary qualification for England selection nowadays!

On his arrival in Australia in 1932 as England captain, he quickly alienated the Australian press by refusing to give team details before a match and being uncooperative when interviewed by journalists. Another modern device, and one which Alex Ferguson has mastered.

Statistically, Jardine is one of England’s most successful captains, winning nine of his fifteen Tests and losing only one. Ironic, given he would probably not have been appointed captain had it not been for the MCC’s amateur bias vis-à-vis the captaincy. Had he been an amateur at that time I suspect Wally Hammond would have been appointed captain in 1932. Indeed, Hammond was made captain in 1938 after ceasing to be a professional in November 1937.

I have only touched on the 1932/33 Bodyline tour here. If you would like to read more about that infamous tour which Jardine captained, successfully if not diplomatically, I thoroughly recommend the excellent Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith.

I’d like to leave you with these questions: had he been a professional, how much higher than 48.00 might Jardine’s test average have been? Would he make the England team today? And if the amateur captaincy bias still existed, who would be England captain?  That well-connected banker Alex Loudon perhaps?

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