Thursday, February 24, 2011


Archibald Jackson was the only Australian cricketer who died during the infamous Bodyline series in 1933. Archie Jackson was only 23 years old, and engaged to be married when he died. Those were strange times. It all began in 1930 when England was hosting the battle for the Ashes and the great Donald Bradman scored 974 runs at a mind boggling average of 139.14 to wrest the series from the Englishmen. For the return series in Australia in 1932-33, the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) appointed a ‘gentleman’ cricketer by the name of Douglas Jardine to captain England. Jardine, a Mumbai born Scotsman, though not in the team during the 1930 Ashes series, had keenly studied the rise of the phenomenon called Bradman. He was an intensely competitive cricketer with an astute understanding of the game and had devised a plan called ‘leg theory’ to stall the Aussie juggernaut.

Central to his plan was a small wiry man who was at that time the fastest bowler in the world – Harold Larwood. Larwood, a coal miner from Nuncargate, unlike Jardine, came from a working class background. On one occasion, he bled from the nose during a morning’s game aft er having worked all night in the collieries of Annesley. Undaunted, young Harold had gone on to take a hat-trick in that match. While Jardine, many believed, played cricket with a sense of colonial snobbery and pride, Larwood was a passionate professional for whom cricket was his only way out of the mines. These two men became the central figures of the series which came to be known as Bodyline. The term was coined by an Aussie journalist to describe a method of attack where a battery of fast bowlers, led by Larwood, would aim a series of short pitched deliveries at the body with a predominantly leg-side field. Chins were cut, knuckles broken and skulls cracked open. The crowds were furious. Jardine and Larwood were mocked and abused, and were even offered police protection. But Jardine’s plans were undeniably successful, for the Don was only scoring half as many runs. He still retained a more than respectable series average of 56.57 but compared to his career average, and especially his staggering average of the previous series, the Don had finally been caught fending off the backfoot.

Archie Jackson though, was far away from the action. In the previous series, he had scored a valuable 73 as he partnered Bradman in a 243-run stand, and in 1928- 29, Archie had scored 164 runs on debut at the age of 19. At the time, and through out his brief career, Archie was spoken of in the same breath as the great Don himself. Many considered him as great a batsman, none less so than the man who was rated by Bradman himself as the greatest fast bowler he ever faced – Larwood. Larwood had tremendous respect and admiration for young Archie, ever since the moment when Archie, on 97 on debut, cracked a lightning fast delivery from Larwood to the fence to bring up his hundred. Larwood and Archie became the best of friends and the toughest of competitors. The great bowler respected Archie because even on nightmarish pitches, Archie would take a beating without fl inching and more oft en than not gave back as good as he got. But this time, Archie was’t there. Larwood, like an angry god in heaven was sending down thunder and lightning while Archie was dying of tuberculosis in a hospital bed in Brisbane. An artist with the bat, Archie was loved for his respectful and sporting behaviour on the field. Always a kind word for a ball well bowled, or a catch well taken, even if it happened to get him out, Archie had friends in both teams but dearest among them was the much maligned Larwood. As the crowds in Brisbane bayed for Larwood’s blood, 23-year-old Archie was preparing to say goodbye to it all, but there was one last thing he had to do before he died.

During the fourth day of the Brisbane Test, Larwood received a telegram “Congratulations. Magnificent bowling. Good luck – all matches, Archie Jackson.” Hours later, Archie passed away. Australia forgave Larwood and accepted him as their own, and a few years later Larwoodmade Australia his home. The telegram remained one of Larwood’s prized possessions till the day he died in 1995, aged 90. The World Cup is here, but as the battle rages, let’s not forget the lessons from Archie’s life – its just a game, played not for a cup or an urn, but to find friends and share love in return.


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