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