Harold Larwood, who died in Sydney on July 22 1995, was without any doubt, the best fast bowler of the inter-war period, indeed he stands equal to the most celebrated of any age.
There have been a few bowlers in first-class cricket, who have devastating speed with consistent accuracy. The ‘leg theory’ or ‘bodyline’ tactic which Jardine employed, was practical only because England possessed in Larwood a fast bowler who had great command over length and direction. The proof that bodyline required someone of Larwood’s exceptional ability, if it was to be effective came when the 1933 West Indian bowlers attempted the same methods. They had the velocity but not the accuracy.
The reason why Jardine believed bodyline to be necessary was as old as cricket itself. It was for the same reason that bowlers broke the law in the 1820’s and abandoned under-arm bowling for round-arm; in the 1860s bowlers took up over-arm bowling.
In the 1820’s, the 1860s and again in the 1920s the delicate balance of power between batsmen and bowlers, which makes cricket so fascinating had toppled with almost everything being in favour of the batsmen.
Apart from the infamous ‘sticky dogs’, pitches in Australia in the 20s were a rungetter’s paradise and the appearance of such infallible players as Bradman and Ponsford exacerbated the bowler’s misery.
By the time of the 1932-33 England tour to Australia, Larwood had provided ample proof that he was an exceptional bowler. He had had seven full seasons of Championship cricket and topped the first-class averages in four of them. In 1931 and 1932 his bowling average had been as low as 12. Much credit for Larwood’s success must be placed over the shoulders of Arthur Carr, the Notts captain. As is only too well known, many, perhaps most county fast bowlers, find regular first-class cricket beyond their physical capabilities and spent longish periods missing matches and recovering from strains and injuries. A recent suggestion has been that Test players, notably fast bowlers, should be rested from some county games in order to conserve their strength.
A study of Carr’s use of Larwood would be advantageous to the ‘experts’. Jardine in 1932-33 was careful to follow Carr’s routine, that is until the Fifth and Final Test. No doubt the fact that it was effectively the last game of the tour allowed Jardine to overuse Larwood and Larwood was forced to remain in the field, even though he was nursing a broken bone in his left foot.
He missed virtually the whole of the 1933 summer due to this foot injury, and though he was to return some admirable analyses in the future, these were to be because of his control over length and direction, rather than his fearsome pace. It remains a debatable point whether he would have been successful, if chosen and agreeing to play, when Australia played England in 1934.
Carr had been a judicious mentor to Larwood up to 1933, but afterwards the Notts captain failed his devoted crastsman. It would appear that neither Carr nor Larwood were wise in the machinations of Fleet Street. Larwood’s name sold newspapers. Quotes from either Larwood or Carr were sought by journalists like gold nuggets, exclusives were even more valuable. There is an interesting parallel between Larwood and his great friend Bill Voce.
Admittedly the pressure on Voce was not so extreme, but even so, as Larwood and Carr were persuaded into making comments, Voce said nothing. Even forty years on, when I wrote a piece about Bill Voce, and asked him what he thought of it, he merely said, ‘You’ve got most of it right.’ He didn’t elaborate.
Voce went onto be England’s star bowler on the next trip to Australia, Larwood never played another Test.
There is no doubt that Larwood was let down by the ‘authorities’, whether the responsibilty was Carr’s, the Notts Committee, or the various England selectors, managers or whatever. Larwood was not directly involved in the great explosion of 1934/35 when the Notts Committee were forced to resign en bloc and Carr tried to take over, but the famous fast bowler became an increasingly isolated figure and his first-class career ended in rather sad circumstances in 1938.
After the Second World War certain sections of the cricketing world began to have a conscience about the way Larwood had been treated. Oddly it was an Australian cricket-journalist, Bill Fingleton, who sought out Larwood at his small shop in Blackpool. Fingleton persuaded Larwood to emigrate to Australia with his entire immediate family.
Larwood, his wife and five daughters settled in a Sydney suburb. He was occasionally seen at Test matches, when old players gathered for reunions.
At the beginning of the 1980s and the approach of the 50th anniversary of the 1932/33 tour, the media began to exploit the nostalgia element. A biography of Larwood appeared, followed by an Australian TV serial of his life, centered on the tour, as well as a documentary by BBC2. With many of the 1932/33 Test players now deceased, media interst in those still living became more, with Larwood and Bradman the main focus of attraction.
It is safe to say that Larwood’s award of the MBE, sixty years after his achievements, is unique in sporting circles, if not any other field.
There is however a curious parallel between that and Notts most famous 19th century fast bowler, John Jackson. His career came to an abrupt end. The rewards he achieved during his ten year career were dissipated through the actions of his ‘friends’, then late in life he was rediscovered by a journalist and an appeal raised money for his pension.
He played in 21 Tests, taking 78 wickets at 28.55 and his complete first-class career record was 1427 wickets, average 17.51. A more than useful batsman he hit three first-class hundres, all for Notts and had a highest Test innings of 98.
His memoirs were published in 1933, ‘Bodyline?’ and in 1965 as ‘The Larwood Story’.
In September 1995 a memorial service was held at the parish church at West Bridgford and in January 1996 a plauqe was unveiled to his memory at the house he grew up in Nuncargate.