Despite strong competition from the likes of Jack Hobbs, David Gower, Viv Richards and Hedley Verity, my all-time cricketing hero has to be Douglas Robert Jardine, England’s greatest ever captain and winner of the most controversial test series of them all – the Bodyline rubber of 1932-33.
Despite being born in the 1970’s and having never seen him play, the image of DRJ, resplendent in his Harlequin cap was one that I was drawn to from an early age. And when I read about how he tamed the great Bradman and regained the Ashes in the face of a barrage of unfair criticism, I was hooked for life.
Here is why Jardine is one of our heroes:
England’s greatest captain
“If ever there was a cricket match between England and the rest of the world, and the fate of England depended upon the result, I would pick Jardine as England captain every time” Pelham Warner
First and foremost, Jardine was a brilliant captain. Ruthless and uncompromising, yes; but he was also a brilliant strategist and leader of men. DRJ knew that to regain the Ashes in 1932-33, he needed a plan to nullify Bradman. Leg theory had been tried with varying success for some time, but DRJ perfected it and believed that the extreme pace of Notts pair Harold Larwood and Bill Voce and the bouncy Australian wickets would be a potent mixture and the basis for victory.
And it worked with devastating effect. Even though Bradman still averaged a tick over 50, England dominated the series and easily won 4-1. A combination of the fallout from the ‘Bodyline’ series and Jardine’s status as an amateur meant that he only captained England 15 times (won 9, lost 1, drew 5), but he should be revered as England’s finest captain and certainly its first with a fully professional attitude.
Despite the Australians harping at the time about the unfairness of it all, I expect that most of them secretly respect the ruthlessness and win at all costs attitude of DRJ. Those attributes certainly shone through in some of their finest skippers: Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud and Steve Waugh.
And how was Jardine respected by his men? Perhaps the best epitaph came from the Yorkshire and England bowler W.E.Bowes
“To me and every member of the 1932-33 MCC side in Australia, Douglas Jardine was the greatest captain England ever had. A great fighter, a grand friend and an unforgiving enemy”
A man of Empire and a bygone age
Just like British giants such as Churchill and Wellington, Jardine always struck me as a true hero of the Empire – an era when people were proud to be British, even if at times they could maybe be a little over arrogant to the Dominions. As a firm believer in the British Empire, as a Wykehamist and Oxford Blue, plus his haughty demeanour and Harlequin cap, Jardine was always going to get up the noses of Australians.
He made two trips there for the MCC (as a batsman in 1928-29, he played a crucial role in the 4-1 success of APF Chapman’s team), and he certainly played his part as the pantomime villain.
There are many quotes attributed to him about his dislike of all things Australian, but my favourite two have to be the rather splendid “All Australians are an unruly and uneducated mob”, and also after being told that “They don’t seem to like you very much over here Mr Jardine”, DRJ responded bluntly “The feeling is fucking mutual”.
As a ten year old boy, I found that very funny. And indeed, as a thirty-something year old man, I still find it amusing. I should at this point make it clear that I have spent some of my happiest times in Australia and have many antipodean friends!
“Leave our flies alone, Jardine! They’re the only flamin’ friends you’ve got here!” Australian spectator
I tend to think that Jardine exaggerated his supposed dislike of Australians and accepted the role of villain of the peace in order to take the pressure off his side. If that was the case, it worked handsomely.
Stubbornness and sticking to his guns
In his book about the series “In Quest of the Ashes”, DRJ showed no remorse and no regret. And I love that. In this day and age, people are always apologising for things that they are not really sorry for (that means you, Michael Clarke). Is it not better to stand up for what you believe and stick by it? DRJ felt he had done nothing wrong, not broken any rules and had done exactly what he had been asked to do by the MCC – namely bring back the Ashes. Why should he apologise?
Thankfully, his legacy and stature seems to grow as time goes by especially as winning the Ashes in Australia is not something England have done with regularity before or since Jardine’s triumph. Unfortunately, the man himself died in 1958 without the knighthood and reverence his exploits deserved.
And he was a fine player to boot…
“He was a great batsman – how great I do not think we quite appreciated at the time” Sir Jack Hobbs
It tends to get overlooked how great a batsman Jardine was. Although he only scored one test century, he averaged a healthy 48 from his 22 tests. Again his amateur status and the fact that unlike some of his contemporaries he couldn’t afford not to work; meant that he didn’t play as many tests as his talent justified.
His one test century truly really showed the mettle of the man. It rather ironically came against a West Indian side bowling bodyline against him. This reinforced Jardine’s belief that a strong and resolute batsman could play and prosper against this type of bowling.
A final dig at his nemesis Bradman, perhaps?