Bats Right Hand.
Bowls Does Not Bowl
Bats Right Hand.
Bowls Does Not Bowl
Ashes Tests: 25
Record: 5 wins, 6 losses, 4 draws
Off the Mark
The 1930’s signalled a change in Australian cricket. Unlike years gone by, the captain’s powers were diminishing. Financial decisions were left to the Board, while on field decisions were generally handled by the man in charge. Bill Woodfull had no qualms with this new approach, and set about becoming one of the most influential Ashes captains Australia ever produced.
Woodfull was the man responsible for guiding Australia through the Bodyline controversy in 1932/33. His calmness and professionalism garnered universal support against an English side who had taken up Devil-like qualities.
In the Ashes arena, Woodfull amassed 1,675 runs at an average of 44.07. Statistically, some of the shine might have been taken off by Jardine’s leg-theory, but historically, it would be the series that defined him as a man.
After losing the first Test on the 1930 tour, Woodfull and his men responded in style with a crushing win at Lord’s. The English started well, reaching 425 on a friendly wicket. In reply, Woodfull (155) and a young Don Bradman (254) led Australia to a mammoth 6/729. Clarrie Grimmett snared six wickets on a fading pitch, and Woodfull guided Australia to a seven wicket win.
Heading into the fifth Test at one win apiece, the fate of the Ashes rested at the Oval. Sutcliffe made 161 for the hosts, but it paled in comparison to what the Australians had to offer. Bradman made 232 (his third highest score of the series) while Ponsford added 110. Percy Hornibrook then picked up seven wickets to wrap up an unlikely 2-1 series win. Few had given the young side a hope against the vastly experienced English. It wouldn’t be the last time Woodfull and his side shocked them.
The return series in 1932/33 was famous for all the wrong reasons. That England won 4-1 is but a distant memory. It would be Douglas Jardine’s much maligned leg-theory that stole the headlines, and sparked renewed hostilities between cricket’s greatest rivals.
In the third Test at Adelaide, Woodfull was struck just above the heart by a vicious Harold Larwood delivery. The image is one of the most iconic in cricketing history. The incident, which brought about manic hysteria in the crowd, was greeted by a simple “Well bowled Harold” from the English skipper. Woodfull would again be struck on the hands by a Larwood bouncer, forcing the bat free. The home crowd was incensed that Jardine would encourage his men to attack an already injured man. After winning the match, English officials tried to appease Woodfull. However, the diplomatic Australian simply retorted, “There are two teams out there on the oval. One is playing cricket, the other is not.”
Woodfull began his career as a frighteningly gifted batsman. It took just three matches for Woodfull to stake his claim, hitting a fluent 141at Leeds. A sumptuous 117 in the following match, and a legend was born.
A noble man, Woodfull was apologetic when he was handed the captaincy ahead of Jack Ryder. Many see Woodfull as the defining figure of what an Australian leader should be. He valued sportsmanship and courage above all, but he always made sure the success of Australian cricket was at the forefront of every decision he made. His demeanour during Bodyline was extraordinary. Captains of the 19th and even early 20th century would have resorted to violence. Woodfull, on the other hand, played with the utmost dignity and let England beat themselves in the public eye.
Much can be said of a man who refused knighthood for his services to the game. Both on and off the field, Woodfull put the team ahead of himself.
Woodfull became the first Australian captain to win back the Ashes multiple times on English soil.
On both occasions, Woodfull regained the Ashes on his birthday.
Testament to his character, Woodfull defended a Larwood over out of respect. The English quick had broken his toe moments earlier. Conversely, Jardine made his teammate bowl, despite being in extreme pain.
Woodfull once recalled an opponent who had been unfairly run out by a teammate. The fact Jack Fingleton made a century did not faze him in the slightest.
To this day, Woodfull’s family is convinced that the brutal Bodyline series contributed to his death in 1965.