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Harold Larwood

Harold Larwood.
I have just finished reading the award winning biography of the “demon” fast bowler Harold Larwood written by Duncan Hamilton. Incidentally the book was a gift from a Sussex cricket luminary and friend, Hubert Doggart, who has made a wonderful recovery from illness: back to his exuberant best in fact.
The “bodyline” series in Australia under Douglas Jardine's captaincy is recorded faithfully enough, though the emphasis on the management weaknesses shed a new light on the cause of the rumpus between the Australian Cricket Board and the MCC.
The great disappointment for me was the lack of research and information on the role, or lack of it, of Jardine during the aftermath when MCC chose to make Larwood the scapegoat in order to secure the return visit of the Australians to England in 1935.
My previous understanding was that Larwood was physically paraded in front of the MCC Committee and asked point blank to “apologise” for his aggressive “leg theory” bowling in Australia – a demand which he rejected on two counts. One that he had nothing to apologise for and two that he bowled according to a plan devised by Jardine.
Mr Hamilton's account tells of a more devious approach to Larwood with the chosen emissary Sir Julien Cahn who was a financial supporter of Nottiinghamshire players at various levels. It was a sneaky business and puts MCC in an even worse light than had they confronted Larwood face to face. I have no reason to believe that this account is not broadly correct and at least it gives Jardine a slightly better excuse for not being up front to defend the player who had done so much to bring home The Ashes.
Nevertheless a permanent question mark remains as to Jardine's apparent lack of concern for Larwood's career which was so severely affected by underhand dealings by the MCC Committee.
The narrative makes it clear that Larwood should bear a modicum of blame for his complete intransigence in the face of so much publicity and various levels of criticism. But much of the tension and misunderstanding probably arose from the lowly social ststus of professionals in any sport during that pre second World War period.
Professional golfers were not allowed in clubhouses. The “Corinthian Casual” football team was all amateur and yet competed at the highest level. Golfers from Oxford and Cambridge tended to dominate the ranks of Amateur golf. Rugby was staunchly amateur and was to remain so for a long time to come.
So the hierarchy may well have given no more thought to the personal feelings of Harold Larwood than perhaps to those of a second gamekeeper on their estates accused of poaching by a neighbour: better to let the fellow go for the sake of peace and quiet.
Though not given great weight, there is still the consideration about whether Larwood's bowling action was “fair”. The Laws of cricket demanded even then that the ball should be bowled, not thrown or jerked. What the precise wording was in those days, I do not know but there were instances of bowlers being “called” by umpires at the time and nobody was more aware of the matter than the great Don Bradman himself.
Hence the invitation to dinner at his house in 1963 to me and two other players when the main purpose turned out to be to run some slow motion footage of Larwood on the “bodyline tour”. On that evidence there was no doubt that Larwood flexed his elbow. But, as we all found out in the 21st century, a few randomly chosen balls can hardly be considered hard evidence.
I remember trying to lighten the atmosphere with a cheeky question about the Don stepping away to leg when facing Larwood and getting a pretty frosty reply. It was a frost which cooled a subsequent, well intentioned on my part, discussion on West Indian bowling tactics some 25 years later. The Don gave my concerns short shrift, almost like telling off a junior schoolboy who had the impertinence to raise issues above his station.
And then there is the memory of Sir Donald failing to admit to any lack of control by the Australian Board when Peter May's side was blown away by a barrage of “chuckers” in the forms of Meckiff, Rorke, Trethewey, Hitchcock, Slater and Burke. I was a Meckiff victim myself!
The later stages of the Larwood life after moving to Australia provides a little light relief to an otherwise rather grim tale. He was clearly a splendid head of his famiiy, much loved by his wife and the five girls they reared.
That said, there remains a residual shyness in the man, if not a hint of a chip on the shoulder, whereby he seemed to blame visiting teams for not getting in touch. Despite the fact that he made it known that he was not much interested in cricket any more. It made me wonder, as the 1963 Captain, whether I was guilty of being less welcoming than I should have been. Who to ask was the problem with so many of that side having passed away e.g. Trueman, Statham. Cowdrey, Sheppard. So I am indebted to John Murray , the Middlesex and England wicketkeeper for confirming that we kept a pretty open house to all comers on that tour with no reason to think Larwood had been excluded in any way.
It was a good read with a good balance between narrative and opinion. Definitely worth a read by people who can understand that cricket was still cricket before the modern world took it down so many inconsequential alleyways .