William Maldon “Bill” Woodfull OBE (22 August 1897 – 11 August 1965) was an Australian cricketer. He captained both Victoria and Australia, and was best known for his dignified and moral conduct during the tumultuous Bodyline series in 1932-33 which almost saw the end of Anglo-Australian cricketing ties. Trained as a schoolteacher, Woodfull was known for his benevolent attitude towards his players, and his patience and defensive technique as an opening batsman.
After making his first-class debut in 1921, Woodfull rose to national selection in 1926. Touring England, he was named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year. He reluctantly became captain in 1930 when Jack Ryder was dropped, and regained the Ashes on the English tour of the same year. After ceding them to England in the Bodyline tour, Woodfull bade farewell to international cricket on the 1934 English tour when he became the only captain to regain the Ashes twice.
In 1932-33, the English team led by Douglas Jardine won the Ashes in a very acrimonious series. Their Bodyline tactics, which involved bowling at the heads and torsoes of the Australian batsmen and employing a close leg-side cordon to catch balls fended away from the upper body, caused great controversy and ill-feeling among Australian players and crowds. During the season, Woodfull’s physical courage and dignified leadership won him many admirers. He refused to employ retaliatory tactics even though his men were repeatedly hit.
Australia lost heavily by ten wickets in the First Test at Sydney, when the bowling spearhead of Bodyline, Harold Larwood, took ten wickets, while Woodfull managed only seven and a duck. Before the Second Test, Woodfull had to wait until minutes before the game before he was confirmed as captain by the selectors. This caused the toss to be delayed and fomented speculation that the Australian Board of Control were considering the possibility of removing Woodfull because of his absolute refusal to allow his bowlers to use retaliatory tactics. Although Woodfull led Australia to a dramatic victory by 111 runs, his form was a problem as managed only 10 and 26.
The controversy reached its peak during the second day of the Third Test. An all-time record Adelaide Oval crowd of 50,962 watched Australia finish off England’s first innings for 341. Then, Woodfull opened Australia’s batting with Jack Fingleton, who was dismissed straight away for a duck. Minutes later Larwood, bowling to a conventional field setting, struck Woodfull an agonising blow under his heart with a short, lifting delivery. As Woodfull bent down over his bat in pain for several minutes, the huge crowd began jeering and hooting. Jardine reacted by saying “Well bowled, Harold”. When play resumed, England’s Gubby Allen bowled an entire over to Bradman. As Larwood prepared to bowl his next over to Woodfull, Jardine changed to the Bodyline field setting. The capacity Saturday afternoon crowd viewed this as hitting a man when he was down. Journalist-cricketer Dick Whitington, wrote that Jardine’s actions were seen as “an unforgivable crime in Australian eyes and certainly no part of cricket”. Mass hooting and jeering came after almost every ball. Whitington noted that “[Umpire] Hele believes that had what followed occurred in Melbourne the crowd would have leapt the fence and belaboured the English captain; Larwood, and possibly the entire side”.
During the over, another rising delivery knocked the bat out of Woodfull’s hands. He battled it out for 89 minutes, collecting more bruises before Allen bowled him for 22. Later in the day, the English team manager Pelham Warner visited the Australian dressing room to express his sympathies to Woodfull. Woodfull had remained calm in public, refusing to complain about Jardine’s tactics. Woodfull’s abrupt response was meant to be private, but it was leaked to the press and became the most famous quotation of this tumultuous period in cricket history:
I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not.
Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield was struck a severe blow to the head while batting on the third day of the match. Woodfull came onto the ground to help him back to the dressing room. As a result of the injuries, the costs of insurance cover for players doubled. During the fifth day’s play the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket sent the following cable to the MCC in London:
Bodyline bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game, making protection of the body by the batsman the main consideration. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players, as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England.
Jardine threatened to withdraw his team from the Fourth and Fifth Tests unless the Australian Board withdrew the accusation of unsporting behaviour. The MCC backed their captain but offered to abandon the tour. The standoff was settled only when Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons warned the Australian Board of the severe economic hardships that could result if the British public boycotted Australian trade. Given this understanding, the Board withdrew the allegation of unsportsmanlike behaviour two days before the Fourth Test, thus saving the tour.
In the second innings at Adelaide, England set Australia 532 for victory, which if successful, would have been a new Test record victorious run chase. Even today, the highest successful run chase is 418. Australia lost its first wicket at three when Jack Fingleton was bowled by Larwood. Woodfull was joined by Bradman, who played in an unorthodox counterattacking method, before being dismissed for 66. Woodfull continued on to score an unbeaten 73, carrying his bat as his teammates capitulated around him. Australia was eventually all out for 193, with Oldfield unable to bat due to a fractured skull.
Woodfull made scores of 67, 19, 14 and 67 in the final two Tests, which Australia lost by six and eight wickets respectively; In the Fifth Test in Sydney, Larwood broke a bone in his foot, but Jardine made him complete the over. Larwood stood stationary at the wicket and bowled without a run-up, but Woodfull, the true sportsman, refused to take advantage of the injured bowler and blocked the remaining deliveries back down the wicket.
England reclaimed the Ashes 4-1. Overall, he had scored 305 runs at a moderate 33.89 average-but significantly, he had defied the English bowling for over twenty hours in total, more than any other Australian. Eventually, rule changes were made to effectively outlaw the tactic by 1934.
Article taken from Wikipedia