Cricket and The Loss of an Empire - A Historical Caprice
(A somewhat anglocentric perspective. JH.)
By John W. Elliott
The sporting calendar is full of fixtures which can only be described as
matches. In soccer, there is Scotland versus England; Rangers versus Celtic;
Arsenal versus Spurs. In South America, they take their soccer so seriously that
a real shooting war once broke out between two countries after their national
teams clashed on the field of play.
Even the seemingly genteel game of cricket is affected by bitter rivalries
teams and excesses of partisanship amongst their supporters. Classic grudge
matches are the tests between India and Pakistan and the Ashes Test series.
While cricket may not have caused actual war, the game has caused riots on the
sub-continent and the Ashes Test Series of 1932, played in Australia, strained
relations between the thirty-one year old Commonwealth of Australia and the
mother country to breaking point.
The previous Ashes series played in 1930 in England was a triumph for the
Australians thanks to the magnificent batting skills of the young Don Bradman
from New South Wales. He comprehensively massacred the English bowling.
The M.C.C. captain for the 1932 tour of Australia, the Scotsman, Douglas R.
Jardine, who held the Australians in deepest contempt, was determined, at all
costs, to avoid a repetition of the 1930 débacle.
The sole aim of his captaincy was to neutralise the batting skills of
that end he refined the leg theory of bowling and fielding used by Frank Foster
of Warwickshire during the 1911-12 tour. He went to the lengths of selecting
the bowlers who were to carry out his plan from the ranks of "players" who
would have no option but to bowl in this fashion. "Gentlemen" could afford the
luxury of conscientious objection to this type of bowling.
Because it seemed as if the bowlers were deliberately aiming for the batsman
rather than the stumps, this style of bowling has gone down in the annals of the
game as Bodyline. This name actually originated in the telegram which an
Australian journalist sent to his paper when he had had to condense the number
of words in his report to keep the cost of the telegram to a minimum.
Jardine’s insistence on continuing with this style of bowling which resulted
opposing batsmen taking a terrific hammering on their bodies from the
hand-picked fast bowlers led to acrimonious exchanges of cables between the
M.C.C. and the A.C.B.; the Australian Government and the British Government.
The M.C.C. won the 1932 Ashes series. It was said that Jardine changed the
game of cricket for the worse and turned the Ashes Test series into a grudge
This is nonsense. Only those who lack a historical perspective can believe
Grudge matches are not restricted to the sporting calendar. The longest running
grudge match in British history was the hatred that existed between our
Hanoverian monarchs and their heirs. This began with the accession of George I
to the British throne in 1714 and, if truth be told, faint echoes of it can be heard
today. Cricket played a part in this Hanoverian family conflict to the extent that it
altered the succession to the throne; perhaps it was even indirectly responsible
for the loss of the American Colonies.
The most poisonous manifestation of this feud was to be seen during the
George II. His heir was born Friedrich Ludwig in 1707 in Hannover, Hanover.
When his father succeeded to the British throne in 1727, Friedrich Ludwig came
to Britain where he was transformed into Frederick Louis becoming, first, the
Duke of Cornwall and then, in 1729, Prince of Wales.
The breach between George II and his son was about money. The details of
need not concern us here. It is sufficient to say that there was a complete rupture
between father and son which resulted in the latter’s exclusion from court and
the King forbade foreign ambassadors from visiting his heir They were only
reconciled after a fashion with the downfall of Walpole in 1742.
Unlike his grandfather, George I, and his father, Frederick made an attempt
assimilate himself into English life. He even went to the trouble of having all the
paraphernalia of cricket brought from England to Hanover, where he received
his education. He never became a good player; but he was enthusiastic and
throughout his life, yea unto its very end, he was a committed patron of the game.
He died on 20th March, 1751 when an abscess on his brain burst.
It is popularly believed that this abscess was caused when he was struck on
head by a cricket ball during a match. Who is to say that this did not happen
while he was at the wicket facing a primitive form of leg-theory or Bodyline?
Given the poisonous atmosphere which pervaded the Royal Household, who is
to say that some malevolent Jardine of a courtier did not decide to neutralise this
turbulent heir to bring some peace to the King by arranging this early display of
Bodyline where the bowler’s target was not the wicket but the batsman?
George II was certainly a nasty piece of work as this verse, on the death of
Frederick, written by that most prolific of poets, Anonymous, testifies:-
"Here lies Fred,
Who was alive and is dead:
Had it been his father,
I had much rather" .
Like the Bodyline episode of 1932, the death of Frederick could be said to
had an effect on British colonial policy. His death meant that his son now
became heir to the throne. He succeeded his grandfather in 1760 as George III.
Now he was the last really interventionist monarch in British political history.
During the earlier part of his reign, before he succumbed to madness, there was
a recognisable King’s Party in Parliament. One can go so far as to say that it
was his injudicious meddling in the creation of ministries which led to the
eventual loss of the American Colonies. Perhaps if a cricket ball had not struck
his father down and he went on to reign as Frederick I, the whole of North
America and not just Canada would still be within the British Commonwealth of
Neither the U.S.A. nor Canada belong to the great commonwealth of
The summer game played in both these countries is baseball. It is a popular
misconception that the U.S. A. turned its back on cricket as a further assertion
of its independence from Britain. This is not the case, as the direct ancestor of
baseball is the old English game of rounders.
Baseball, originally base ball, along with rounders, was first described in
A Little Pretty Pocket Book in which there was a woodcut illustration of the
children’s game of baseball. This book was extremely popular in England.
Editions eventually appeared in America in 1762 and 1787. 1744 was also a land
mark in the history of cricket as it is from then that the first important version of
the rules of the game was produced.
Cricket did not really take root in the American colonies. Baseball did not,
therefore, supersede it there; both games developed simultaneously. Baseball is
not so much an expression of anti-Englishness as an expression of the American
national temperament which lacks the patience to appreciate the subtleties of
(The perspective of "the American national temperament ...lacking ...the
patience to appreciate the subtleties of cricket" would now appear to have
crossed the Atlantic with the adoption of the 20 over games being played at
a "first class level" in England. JH.)