BODYLINE by Paul Wheeler


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Even with a glossary appended, readers unfamiliar with the game of cricket will miss most of the fine points in this fictional treatment of the 1932-33 ""bodyline"" scandal--when the official English cricket-team used unethical, dangerous tactics in its match-tour of Australia. Wheeler, a veteran screenwriter (Bodyline will soon be a film), first sketches in the motives of the principal figures in the brouhaha. Britain's team captain, posh Douglas Jardine, an embodiment of imperialism and elitism, loathes the Australians, hates them for winning the 1930 matches (thanks to their superstar batsman, ""boy wonder"" Bradman)--and he has no qualms when a shadowy, legendary cricket-figure anonymously suggests the nasty ""fast leg"" approach to bowling (which intimidates and/or injures the opponent batsman). The team's actual top-bowler in the ""fast leg"" style, however, is Harold Larwood--a mining-town man who's sickened by Jardine's plan but can't risk his livelihood in Depression England (or the scorn of his townsmen if England loses again). Meanwhile, there's pressure, too, from Parliament and Downing Street: it's believed that another Australian win might lead to new toughness in Australia's political and economic relations with Britain! So when the English team starts facing the Bradman-led Australians, the ""fast-leg"" technique is used all-out: Australian players are hurt; Aussie spectators are furious; elderly ""Plum"" Warner of the Marylebone Cricket Club (on tour with the team) is horrified and embarrassed--as are some English players. But, since Jardine's orders must be obeyed and since no rules are technically being broken, the dastardly tactics go on, and Britain regains its title. ""Jardine had applied the rules of war to a sport and by doing so had won. Underneath all the sermonizing and the pious sentiments, the deisre, the urge, the need to win gnawed at the heart of every sportsman."" With lots of be-jargoned play-by-play and heavy underlining of the unsubtle themes: a small, obvious story, competently narrated but better-suited to non-fiction or the visual/action opportunities of film.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum