“I do not want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket. The other is making no effort to do so.” It is a famous quote by Bill Woodfull; and famous for all the wrong reasons during the 1932-33 Australia tour of England. The Bodyline series, probably the most criticized event in the history of world cricket. The cricket fans will never forget how Larwood’s ball hit Woodfull and he was on his knees holding the chest at the Adelaide Oval during the third test of the series. If this is one of the saddest incidents in cricket, the next test at Brisbane will be remembered forever for one the bravest performances of all time on the 22yards.
England was already leading the series with 2-1. On February 10, 1933, Bill Woodfull won the toss and elected to bat first. By the end of the first day, Australia was in a strong position at 251 for 3 with Don Bradman unbeaten on 71. With the already heated situation, the added headache for players was the scorching Brisbane sun. During the second day, it was almost unbearable and England players already fielded for an entire day earlier. The situation got worse for Eddie Paynter. He encountered with an alarming sore throat and went back to the dressing room. He was extremely unwell with a high temperature of 102. In no time Paynter was sent to the local hospital for medication. He was suffering from acute tonsillitis. According to The Times, there was no chance of his batting in the England first innings when play resumed after Sunday’s rest.
A bottle of champagne supplied in the morning by manager helped the English bowlers to regain energy and finally take the last 7 wickets of Australia for 76. The Australian innings ended at 360. For England, Jardine and Sutcliffe opened England innings and at the end of the second day, England were 99/0.
According to Jardine who visited Paynter on Sunday i.e on the rest day, Paynter was looking better. "He was the first to agree with me that if he had to break bounds and bat on crutches he would do so, was it humanly possible," reported Jardine, "and without a thought for the consequences." Gubby Allen’s biography EW Swanton has a different story to share. EW Swanton claimed that the skipper, Jardine was clearly disappointed with Paynter. When the manager reported him about Paynter’s illness, Jardine retorted, "What about those fellows who marched to Kandahar with a fever on them?"
On February 13, 1933, injured Bill Voce was sitting with Paynter at the hospital. They were listening to the match commentary on the radio when England lost two more wickets. Paynter once recalled, “We had the wireless on and a couple of wickets went down. So I asked Bill to get a taxi for us to go to the ground. I got my dressing gown on and was just going down the ward when the sister appeared.”
Sister clearly had no intention of allowing Paynter in that situation. She mentioned neither the doc or she would take the responsibility and Paynter had to take his own risk, They left for the ground.
Eggs, Brandy and a warm shower- Paynter was all set to hit the ground. Gubby Allen was dismissed and England were 216 for six. Paynter padded up and walked in. Seeing a pale and sick colleague who was supposed to be at the hospital Les Ames was clearly surprised at the other end. Woodfull asked whether he needed a runner. But Paynter refused. He remained till the last ball of the day was bowled. He was there trembling for the remaining 75 minutes. His first hour was tough and brought him only then runs. But then he opened up. At the end of the day England were 271 for 8 with Paynter on 24* and Verity on 1*. Returning to the dressing room, Paynter quickly changed his dress and went to the hospital quickly to spend the night.
The Happy Ending
The next day, it was a far better condition for Eddie Paynter. He again went to the ground from hospital, but significantly better than the previous day. Even the Brisbane heat couldn’t stop his act of bravery. Paynter started playing his strokes. He took intervals to take his medicines in between but his innings never missed the flow. Paynter and Verity added 92 runs to their 9th wicket partnership. Finally, England ended the innings with a lead of 16 runs and Paynter scored 83 off 218 balls. The lead was physiologically significant for the team. Aussie crowd didn’t forget to cheer for the visiting superhero. The Times reported, "Paynter's exhibition of batsmanship was exceptionally high ... He showed an amazing amount of grit and determination."
During Australia’s second innings Paynter could easily refuse from fielding but he didn’t. Later he had to visit the hospital again to resume treatment and Freddie Brown replaced him. Australia scored on 175 runs to set a target of 160 for England in the second innings. Paynter hit a leg-side six and won the match for England. England led the five-match series by 3-1 to regain the Ashes.
Paynter’s name was mentioned in the House of Commons, prompting cheers. Amidst so much cheer and good words, Paynter remained sorted and calm. After returning to England, he was asked by Lancashire captain Peter Eckersley to say something on his act of bravery. Paynter clearly mentioned, “Ah did me best at Brisbane for England an’ for Lancashire … but as for talk about mi leaving’ a sickbed at risk of mi dyin’ — well, beggin’ your pardon, Mr Eckersley, that were all rot. It was nowt more than a sore throat.”
The ‘Important’ Backstory
Yes, this flashback is important.
Eddie Paynter wasn’t a sure choice for the touring squad of England for 1932 Ashes. It was mainly due to KS Duleepsinhji’s fragile health that his name was picked. But Eddie Paynter couldn’t establish himself as a good test bat till. In fact, his selection for playing 11 during the series was dubious. Not a many hoped for his batting opportunity in any of the test matches. He likewise didn’t appear for the first two tests. During the third test at Adelaide Oval, the Nawab of Pataudi Senior refused to be a part of the bodyline attack. "I see His Highness is a conscientious objector," Douglas Jardine, the English captain remarked on Pataudi’s act of denial. Whatever the truth, Paynter got his fair chance in the third test. He scored 77 in the first innings and injured his ankle while fielding. Ignoring the instructions of the doctor he batted in the second innings and scored ten. Probably this was the reason that Jardine believed during the Brisbane test that Paynter was aware of his health before the start of the match. “Paynter should certainly have reported to me that he was not fit. (But) it is hard to blame over-keenness at any time and quite impossible on this occasion in view of his subsequent memorable performance.”
From the beginning of the Ashes, 1932 Eddie Paynter’s inclusion in the team was doubtful. But he was destined to be England’s superhero. A hero who didn’t just win a match, who helped the entire cricket world forget of England’s ‘bodyline’ act in the previous test. Whatever the instrumental factor of Paynter’s heroic act was, England cricket will be forever grateful to him.