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“Actually Not To Have A Proper Press Operation Nowadays Is Like Asking A Batsman To Face Bodyline Bowling Without Pads Or Headgear.”

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Yesterday’s blast at the media, old and new, from Tony Blair –commented on here and here— contained the line above.  I played the entire speech on my program yesterday, and paused the tape for a moment to wonder about this analogy. A New Zealander-turned Mesa Arizona listener, Jeff, provided a brief explanation:

I heard you on your show earlier tonight and someone may have already answered this for you but just in case, here’s the story behind Tony Blair’s Bodyline reference in his brilliant speech on the media.

In cricket the longest standing and most intense competition is a once every two year battle between England and Australia for a legendary trophy called “The Ashes” which is a small urn containing the ashes of the winning cricket ball when colonial Australia first beat their former masters England in an international cricket match back in 1888. The pinnacle of cricket is what is called a test match which is a 5 day game of cricket played between two top level cricketing countries. The Ashes series traditionally involves a gruelling 5 match series with best of five winning. A majority of test matches end in a draw ironically so a series can be won occasionally 1-0 with 4 games drawn!

The 1932/33 summer Ashes test series played in Australia (summer being Nov-Feb) posed a dilemma for the English captain Ron Jardine as to how to combat the famous Australian batting legend Donald Bradman. Bradman to this day remains head and shoulders the most successful batsman in cricket history. Jardine perfected a devastating bowling technique designed to cramp Bradman’s style called Bodyline. In cricket the bowler (unlike the pitcher in baseball who must pitch from a stationary position on his mound) is allowed to run up to a designated spot (called the crease) and bowl the ball in a looping overarm arch at the batsman. The ball almost always hits the ground first in front of the batsman and the batsman hits the ball after the first bounce thus the timing of the bounce is crucial. There are a variety of bowling styles and fast bowlers usually have a long run up and use a combination of the running speed and the quick arch of the delivery action to bowl the ball at sometimes over 100 mph. Jardine had his fast bowlers bowl what are called short pitch deliveries designed to bounce well in front of the batsman and then sharply rear up forcing the batsman into a defensive stance that makes it easy for the bowler to get the batsman to nick the ball with the side of the bat (the bat is a 4 inch wide flat wooden blade unlike the round baseball bat). Five of the ten English fielders would line up in formation side by side in close formation standing immediately next to and slightly behind the batsman to catch any ball that would easily fly of the side of the bat due to the speed and angle of the bowler and the defensive stance of the batsman designed to avoid injury from the ball striking the batsman. This bowling style was very dangerous and resulted in arm and face injuries to batsman due to the speed and bounce of the ball. In those days, batsman wore nothing more than shin pads and a box and a baggy cap somewhat like a baseball cap. Nowadays they can wear helmets with a face grill and forearm protector pads to prevent such injuries.

Even though the English captain was prevailed upon to eventually discontinue this attacking style, it served its purpose and that was to intimidate Bradman into a more defensive batting style that severely cramped his normally free scoring style and England went on to win that Ashes test series. The ICC (the International Cricket Council) then introduced new rules outlawing the ‘Bodyline’ bowling style but it hasn’t stopped the term entering into the vernacular of English and Australian culture as being symbolic of a devastating and unprotected attack.

Blair’s analogy with the media in politics in the modern era was extraordinarily apt.

Sorry for a long winded answer but cricket is a somewhat complex sport to explain to those from non cricket playing countries (I’m from New Zealand).

Thanks, Jeff.  Sounds like the 1932/1933 Ashes could be a movie.  Or perhaps it is already?


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