The famous bodyline stump passed onto the school by old boy and former England Cricket captain Bob Wyatt was valued on the BBC Antiques Roadshow last weekend. The stump, signed by both the English and Australian teams was picked up by Wyatt at the end of the 5th test in Sydney!
During the summer refurbishment of a school staff room back in 2010, a remarkable memento of one of Warwickshire’s most famous cricketers came to light, reminding us of a controversial Ashes series in which he played.
A cricket stump, from the last Test match of the 1932-33 ‘Bodyline’ series between Australia and England, has re-appeared in the staff room at King Henry VIII School in Coventry.
The stump, tucked away in a box of old sports trophies, was presented to the School in 1933 by R.E.S. (‘Bob’) Wyatt, a former old boy and England Test cricketer.
It was grasped by Wyatt at the end of the 5th Test, at Sydney, after fellow-batsman Wally Hammond had hit the six that ensured England’s victory in the match.
Signed by all the members of the two teams who played in the Sydney Test, the stump is a reminder of the most controversial series in the history of the Ashes, one which soured relations between England and Australia and led to a change in the laws of cricket.
During the 1930 series in England, the great Australian batsman, Don Bradman, dominated the English bowlers and Australia regained the Ashes. To counter Bradman’s skill, Douglas Jardine, the English Captain in the 1932-33 series, adopted a tactic which the Australian newspapers quickly labelled ‘Bodyline’. With at least five fielders close to the Australian batsman, English bowlers, led by Harold Larwood, continually bowled a barrage of short-pitched balls aimed at the body of the batsman. As the deliveries reared off the hard Australian wicket, the batsmen were forced to fend off the ball, producing a series of catches for the English fielders.
While Bradman’s skills were subdued, several Australian cricketers were injured by these tactics, in an age before helmets and chest protectors.
There was widespread anger in Australia at England’s “unsporting” approach. However, the tactics were successful in winning matches and the series had already been secured when the 5th Test started.
Bob Wyatt was England’s Vice-Captain and an important batsman in the victorious tour. During that final Test, he had made an unbeaten 61 in England’s second innings before Wally Hammond hit the winning runs. However, the anger generated by England’s tactics remained. In the aftermath of the series, the laws were changed to prevent teams crowding the leg side with fielders.
Jardine resigned as England Captain in 1934, to be replaced by Wyatt.
Robert Elliott Storey Wyatt was born in Surrey in 1901 but his family had moved to Meriden by the time he attended King Henry VIII School between 1914 and 1918. He showed early promise as a cricketer, though perhaps at this stage rather more as a bowler than as a batsman.
He captained the School XI in his last year; in his final match in July 1918, against Bablake, he took 6 wickets but made only a modest 12 with the bat.
After leaving school at the age of 17, Wyatt worked for a number of years for the Rover Motor Company.
He made his debut for Warwickshire in 1923 and was representing his country by 1927.
He developed into a determined and courageous batsman, who scored over 39,000 runs in his first class career, as well as a useful bowler, who took just over 900 wickets.
On Thursday, 1st June, 1933, Bob Wyatt returned to present his old school with the signed cricket stump and a panoramic photograph taken at the Test match at Sydney.
It was an exciting time for the boys, who listened attentively as Wyatt gave a spirited account of the tour and the development of ‘leg theory’.
A mutilated cricket ball was produced to illustrate the hardness of Australian wickets – “like concrete” said Wyatt.
The stump and photograph were received by Jack Oughton, the School’s Cricket Captain, and the occasion finished with Wyatt at the centre of a swaying crowd of boys, “complete with hastily organised autograph albums”.
Although the report of the occasion in the School magazine described the stump as being from the 4th Test, analysis of the names on the stump proves that it came from the last Test.
A contemporary photograph of that Test shows Wyatt walking off the field, stump in hand, accompanied by Hammond.
For more than 20 years, the stump was displayed in the Memorial Cricket Pavilion, which Wyatt himself had opened in 1929.
The stump survived the bombing of the School in 1941 and appears to have been moved to the main part of the School in the 1950s, when the pavilion was replaced.
Thereafter, the stump rather slipped off the radar! It was known to be “somewhere” but a diminishing number of people seemed able to identify exactly where that “somewhere” was!
Fortunately, Rob Phillips, Teacher and acting School Archivist was on hand when the stump re-appeared during refurbishment of the school staff room.
The stump is the most important ‘find’ to be made by the Group.
As for Bob Wyatt’s “Bodyline” stump, that is now securely under lock and key!