Book Review: Jardine's Last Tour

This is a book strictly for cricket fanatics -- so long as they are not Australians. But it is a book which should be appreciated in the heartland of modern cricket, India, and in England too. It tells of an English toff – arrogant aristocratic type – who in the southern summer of 1932/33 was the most hated man in Australia and went on to become a Hindu as well as a fluent speaker of Hindi. In the meantime he presided over an English cricket tour of India recorded in this amusing account by Tim Heald, an English writer of crime fiction and cricket histories.

The so-called “bodyline” tour of Australia, 1932 – 1933, is the best known episode in the history of international cricket. The legend is simple: the archetypal toff, Douglas Jardine, captains England team spearheaded by world’s fastest bowler, Nottinghamshire miner Harold Larwood. Australia’s Colonial Boys have the world’s best-ever batsman to inspire them – Bradman, the Don himself who had dominated English bowlers in their previous encounters.

Aussie hopes are high. However Jardine has come up with a fiendish plan which involves Larwood and his henchmen Voce and Bowes bowling intimidating balls at the batsmen’s bodies and heads. In defending themselves they offer easy catches to the surrounding cordon of close fielders, or are simply knocked over and retire hurt. And so it happened. England won 4-1. The Aussies whinged – and kept on whingeing. And the echoes of the tour still rumble on as example, for Aussies, of Pommies not playing fair or, for the English, a demonstration of how Aussies were not half as tough as they liked to think.

What is not so well known is that the following year Jardine captained an England team to India. Whereas he was hated and vilified by the Australians he was, on the whole liked by the Indians. Part of the reason was that he might almost have been the first captain of an All-Indian cricket team himself. He was born in India where both his father and grandfather served as senior judges in the Raj. The convention of the time was that the third generation in an expatriate British family should be sent ‘home’ for education and career to prevent the family “going native.” Thus Douglas Jardine got all the best of English upper class education, culminating at New College, Oxford as well as becoming an accomplished cricketer – Surrey and the ultra-snooty Marylebone Cricket Club, known as the MCC.

It was an extraordinary time to visit India, for the country was in a period of transition. The Viceroy, called Viscount Willingdon, had himself played cricket for Cambridge University but the vice-regal crown sat increasingly uneasily on his head. Mahatma Gandhi was successfully fomenting nationalist feeling. Indian cricket was similarly schizoid. It was popular among the masses and yet ruled by the local aristocracy and by English administrators. The Nawab of Pataudi had even been on the England team for its tour of Australia as one of Jardine’s players. In India the game was dominated by the Maharajah of Vizianagram and the Maharajah of Patiala.”Viz” was a friend of Jardine and entertained him to a month of game shooting in Mysore when the tour was concluded. Patiala was a member of the same club as Jardine – the MCC, the London holy of holies of cricket -- and ran his own private cricket side at his own expense.

One story involving Patiala sums up the atmosphere of the whole adventure. Jardine’s men played on the Maharajah’s ground where they won but were also entertained to tiger-shoots and late night parties involving “dancing girls” and Scotch whisky. Afterwards Jardine invited Patiala to play for MCC against the Viceroy’s team in Delhi. Patiala accepted. Jardine told Willingdon, who was furious and forbad the selection. (It later transpired that Patiala, a notorious philanderer, had made a pass at one of the Viceroy’s daughters during a vice-regal ball in Simla). Jardine said the Viceroy could get stuffed. Patiala was playing. And play he did. Jardine was so angry about the whole thing that he had the wicket illegally watered and rolled and then instructed his fastest bowler to adopt body-line tactics and bowl at the bodies and heads of the Viceroy’s team. They were all out for 63, a pathetic score.

The whole tour was like this. For several months the squad bucketed from palace to palace, party to party, controversy to controversy. In the end, somehow, they only lost one game. One Indian star was struck on the turban by a ball and carried off. On another occasion an Indian fast bowler caused a serious dent in an Englishman’s solar topee.

In all a quarter of a million people watched the cricket; many more listened on the radio and read the lengthy newspaper reports in the Times of India which contain such evocative sentences as “A delay after tiffin (lunch) was caused by a screw coming loose in Barnett’s boot.” (Cricket boots then had screw-in metal studs)

Jardine’s tour of India in 1933 and 1934 was a great adventure when England and India were on the verge of parting company, at least politically. The participants have all departed but their descendants remain as do the palaces and even the grounds where they played. The documentation is copious although it is an almost forgotten story.

It was also Jardine’s cricketing swan song. After the last match ended he never played first-class cricket again. He retired aged only 33 and was poorly treated by the English cricketing elite who found his single-minded, win-at- all costs leadership out of tune with their gentlemanly ways. The “toff” was a true professional and the 1933/4 tour a huge boost to what has become all of South Asia’s favorite sport.