Body­line body blow

Sunday Territorian - - SPORT -

HAROLD Lar­wood has a spe­cial place in the his­tory of the Ashes.

The Not­ting­hamshire coal miner’s son who was both hero and vil­lain of the Body­line se­ries, chose to spend the last half of his life in Aus­tralia where he was fi­nally ac­cepted by all those who had vil­i­fied him.

Lar­wood was an obe­di­ent enigma. He backed Eng­land’s com­bat­ive cap­tain Dou­glas Jar­dine who de­vel­oped the fast leg the­ory or body­line bowl­ing at­tack, which he then put into prac­tice.

The diminu­tive Lar­wood made his Test de­but in 1926, in only his se­cond sea­son in first-class cricket, and was a mem­ber of the 1928-29 tour­ing side that re­tained the Ashes in Aus­tralia.

The ad­vent of Don Brad­man ended a pe­riod of English cricket supremacy.

Lar­wood and other bowlers were com­pletely dom­i­nated by Brad­man dur­ing Aus­tralia’s vic­to­ri­ous tour of 1930.

With Lar­wood as its spear­head the tac­tic of Body­line was used with con­sid­er­able suc­cess in the 1932-33 Test se­ries. Eng­land re­gained the Ashes and Lar­wood scared the wits out of Aus­tralia with 33 wick­ets in the five Tests at 19.51 each.

The Aus­tralians’ de­scrip­tion of the method as ‘‘un­sports­man­like’’ soured crick­et­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries; dur­ing sub­se­quent ef­forts to heal the breach, Lar­wood re­fused to apol­o­gise for his bowl­ing, since he was car­ry­ing out his cap­tain’s in­struc­tions.

Al­though he never played for Eng­land again, he con­tin­ued his county ca­reer with con­sid­er­able suc­cess for sev­eral more sea­sons.

In 1949, af­ter years out of the lime­light, Lar­wood was elected to hon­orary mem­ber­ship of the MCC.

The fol­low­ing year he and his fam­ily were en­cour­aged by for­mer op­po­nent Jack Fin­gle­ton to mi­grate to Aus­tralia, where he was warmly wel­comed, in con­trast to the re­cep­tion ac­corded him in his crick­et­ing days.

Iron­i­cally, he sailed on the liner Orontes from the sea­port of Til­bury, the same ship and port from where he had left in Septem­ber 1932 for the epic Ashes Test match se­ries.

Re­spected com­men­ta­tor John Ar­lott de­scribed watch­ing Lar­wood’s de­par­ture.

‘‘the tragic lone fig­ure, as if he was be­ing de­ported like a 19th cen­tury con­vict as the MCC aban­doned him for a se­cond time, waved just once from the rail,’’ Ar­lott wrote.

Lar­wood had then turned away to open the tele­gram he re­ceived as he had boarded. ‘‘Bon voy­age,’’ it read. ‘‘ Take care of your­self. Good luck al­ways. Skip­per.’’

It was from Dou­glas Jar­dine, so­lic­i­tous to the end.

He was hon­oured at his old ground, Trent Bridge, where a stand was named af­ter him.

In 1993, at the age of 88, he was awarded an MBE in a de­layed recog­ni­tion of his cricket ser­vices to his coun­try. He died two years later.

It was his re­la­tion­ship with Brad­man that con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the spot­light long af­ter their deaths.

Lar­wood was dis­gusted that Brad­man, dur­ing his ad­dress at that Cen­te­nary Test din­ner, glossed over it merely as ‘‘tur­bu­lent times’’.

Lar­wood’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Brad­man the bats­man was matched only by his dis­taste for Brad­man the per­son, who crit­i­cised his tac­tics and then, for the next quar­ter of a cen­tury and more, ac­cused him of throw­ing.

Lar­wood cited one of his favourite mo­ments as the de­liv­ery that hit Brad­man ‘‘up the arse’’ as he moved away to leg and turned his back.

The great­est sad­ness is the man­ner in which Lar­wood, a gen­uine work­ing-class hero, whose cricket ca­reer spared him a life down the pit, was hounded and os­tracised by the game’s es­tab­lish­ment.

His ab­so­lute loathing of Sir Pel­ham Warner, man­ager of the Body­line tour, (‘‘ser­vices to him­self more like’’ was his comment when Warner re­ceived a knight­hood for ser­vices to cricket) was matched by that for the MCC, which scan­dalously sought to force a let­ter of apol­ogy from him for his bowl­ing if he were to be con­sid­ered for Eng­land again.

He re­fused. ‘‘I’ve noth­ing to apol­o­gise for,’’ he said.

He re­treated to anonymity in re­tire­ment af­ter the war, buy­ing a back­street sweet shop in Black­pool, where he lived un­til Fin­gle­ton turned up one day in pur­suit of a story and ended up per­suad­ing him to em­i­grate.

Lar­wood al­ways found it in­ter­est­ing that the coun­try that vil­i­fied him was that which wel­comed him back.

The English es­tab­lish­ment still never for­gave him, for what he could not imagine. When he tried to con­tact Eng­land’s tour­ing Ashes teams of 1950 and 1954, turn­ing up at the dress­ing- room door, it was lit­er­ally shut in his face.

Pic­ture: SUP­PLIED

English fast bowler Harold Lar­wood was the spear­head be­hind the Body­line tac­tic used against the Aus­tralian team dur­ing the 1932-33 se­ries

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