Tuesday 27 February 2007 

Bonhams To Sell Signed 'Bodyline' Tour Cricket Bat

A miniature cricket bat signed by the England and Australian teams from the infamous 'Bodyline' series of 1932/3 will be auctioned in Bonhams' Sporting Memorabilia sale in Chester on 21 March 2007.

The bat has 17 MCC signatures on the front and 12 Australian team signatures on the back of it, and will be sold by family friends of R.E.S. Wyatt who secured the autographs following England's controversial victory. It is to be offered with a second miniature bat with Australia 1938 facsimile signatures and is expected to sell for £3,000 - 5,000.

In the Ashes series of 1932/3, Australia were by far the stronger side, thanks to the extraordinary batting skills of Don Bradman. In the previous series in England, Bradman had scored 974 runs, creating a record that holds to this day. The plan to regain the Ashes required a major tactical re-think by the England captain Douglas Jardine. Hearing that Bradman disliked rising balls, he instructed his team to bowl on leg stump, so that the balls would rise up at the body of the batsmen. This intimidating tactic was backed-up by at least five fielders set in close on the leg side. In order to avoid serious injury, the Australian batsmen were forced into defensive play, giving away a high number of potential catches.

The plan worked – England won the series 4 – 1, but several Australian batsmen were hurt in the process. Although the tactics weren't against the laws of cricket at the time, Australia was outraged by what they saw as cowardly and unsportsmanlike play.

The Australian captain reported at the time: "There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not." A later change to the rules prevented this tactic being repeated.

An extremely rare eight-page edition of The London Chronicle for July 25 - 28, 1789, featuring what is thought to be the earliest printing of 'the Official laws of the Game of Cricket', will also come under the hammer in the same sale. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was formed in 1787 and was immediately recognised as - and still is today - the sole authority for drawing up the official rules for the game. The first Code of Law came into practice in 1788 and no earlier publication of these rules has been found.

The Chronicle was a popular thrice-weekly London evening paper published by author, poet, playwright, editor and bookseller Robert Dodsley, (a friend of Samuel Johnson). Set in three columns, the middle section of page 3, on 25 - 28 July 1789, is headed CRICKET, and after an introductory paragraph about the unseasonable weather, the rest of the page lays down the MCC laws, ending with some rules on "Betts".

This is an extremely rare find, estimated to sell for £1,500 - 2,000, and the MCC have confirmed that there is no copy of the newspaper in the museum at Lords.

It is interesting to note that this newspaper was published at the same time that the first Test match was being organised by John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset and founder of the leading cricket club in England, the Hambledon Club. He had recently become ambassador to France and had arranged a fixture with a French team. Unfortunately, his plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the French Revolution and his England XI got no further than Dover (14 August 1789) where they were met by the Duke himself, hurrying home. The first ever test match thus became the first ever tour to be cancelled for political reasons.