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On the final day of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, England batsman Jonny Bairstow was given out controversially when Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey threw down the stumps after Bairstow walked out of his crease.  The dismissal led to anger and frustration among England players and fans, and some MCC members confronted Australian players in the Long Room after lunch.

What did the Great Britain and Australian leaders say about this incident?  A No.10 Downing Street spokesman reported that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, “The prime minister agrees with (England captain) Ben Stokes, who said he simply wouldn’t want to win a game in the manner that Australia did”.

Anthony Albanese tweeted, “I’m proud of our men’s and women’s cricket teams, who have both won their opening two #Ashes matches against England.  Same old Aussies – always winning!” Let’s head back a hundred years ago to what started it all….

” The Ashes” is named after the historic cricket rivalry between England and Australia, dating back to 1882.  It originated after England’s first-ever Test cricket defeat to Australia on English soil at The Oval (located at Kennington in the borough of Lambeth, in south London) on 29th August 1882.  A satirical obituary in The Sporting Times stated that English cricket had died, and “the body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia.”

Subsequent series between the two nations became known as The Ashes.  The teams now compete in five-match Test series alternately in England and Australia.  The series is fiercely contested, symbolising cricketing pride, with the victor gaining possession of a small urn believed to contain the “ashes” of a cricket bail.

In the 1932-33 Ashes series, England’s captain Douglas Jardine adopted a tactic known as “bodyline,” involving fast and short-pitched deliveries targeting the body of Australian batsmen.  This aggressive strategy, devised to ‘out’ Australia’s most famous batsman, Don Bradman, sparked outrage and strained relations between the teams.  The series witnessed intense on-field confrontations and accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour.  Despite England’s victory, Bodyline left a lasting impact on cricket, leading to rule changes and a re-evaluation of the spirit of the game.

During this time, Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, the Governor of South Australia, was highly critical of the controversial tactics employed by the English cricket team.  He condemned the bodyline strategy as unsportsmanlike and detrimental to the spirit of the game.  Hore-Ruthven and many others felt that the aggressive and potentially dangerous bowling tactic, explicitly targeting the batters, went against the traditional principles of fair play in cricket.  The Bodyline series created a diplomatic strain between England and Australia and brought the issue of sportsmanship and the ethics of cricket to the forefront of public discourse.

James Henry Thomas, a prominent British politician and member of the British Cabinet during this time, had expressed his concerns and disapproval of the controversial tactic.  As the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs then, Thomas knew of the diplomatic tensions the Bodyline series was causing between England and Australia.

In January 1933, during a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, Thomas reportedly apologised for the use of bodyline bowling by the English cricket team.  He acknowledged that the tactics employed by the English captain, Douglas Jardine, were causing offence and strain in Anglo-Australian relations.  Thomas was famously quoted, “No politics ever introduced into the British Empire caused me so much trouble as this damn bodyline bowling.”

Looking back over a century ago, it’s fascinating to reflect on the origins of The Ashes and how this longstanding cricket rivalry continues to evoke intense emotions and contentious moments on and off the field.  The series remains a captivating showcase of skill, passion, and national pride for both England and Australia, exemplifying the enduring appeal of this historic sporting spectacle.

Resource:  Australian 1984 TV mini-series called ‘Bodyline’

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