Harold Larwood, Unsual speed his forte | Sunday Observer

Harold Larwood, Unsual speed his forte

28 November, 2021

Harold Larwood was a professional cricketer for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and the England cricket team between 1924 and 1938. A right-arm fast bowler who combined unusual speed with great accuracy, he was considered by many commentators to be the finest bowler of his generation.

He was the main exponent of the bowling style known as “bodyline”, the use of which during the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) tour of Australia in 1932–33 caused a furore that brought about a premature and acrimonious end to his international career.

A coal miner’s son who began working in the mines at the age of 14, Larwood was recommended to Nottinghamshire on the basis of his performances in club cricket and rapidly acquired a place among the country’s leading bowlers.

On leaving school in 1917, when he was 13, Harold was employed at the local miners’ cooperative store, before beginning work the following year at Annesley Colliery in charge of a team of pit ponies. He had shown an early talent for cricket, and began to play for Nuncargate’s second team in 1918. Playing against experienced adults, in his first season he took 76 wickets at an average of 4.9. By 1920 he was in the first team, alongside his father, playing in plimsolls because the family could not afford to buy him proper cricket boots.

Fast bowler

Among those who watched his rising prowess as a fast bowler was Joe Hardstaff senior, the Nottinghamshire and England cricketer who lived in Nuncargate. Hardstaff, who had worked with Robert Larwood at the mine, suggested to the youthful bowler that he should attend a trial at the county ground. In April 1923 father and son made the journey to Trent Bridge

At the practice nets, the county players towered over Larwood; the veteran Test batsman George Gunn thought he looked more like a jockey than a cricketer. At first he bowled badly, and his efforts were unimpressive. As his confidence increased his bowling improved, and Committee Members began to revise their initial dismissive judgement; when the session ended, Larwood was offered a playing contract.

In the 1923 season, under the eye of the county’s coach, James Iremonger, Larwood concentrated on building his physique and on learning bowling skills. He grew a few inches in height, although he remained short for a fast bowler, and under Iremonger’s regime of diet and exercise he gained weight.

Besides his physical development, he learned by incessant practice various bowling arts, among them accuracy in line and length, variation of pace and grip, and deviating the ball in the air to produce swing. That year he played intermittently for the county’s Second XI and in a match against Lancashire Seconds took 8 wickets for 44 runs.

Larwood began the 1926 county season in good form; during a drawn match against Surrey, he twice took the wicket of Jack Hobbs, England’s premier batsman and an influential voice with the national selectors. The Australians were in England, to defend the Ashes in a five-match Test series, and Carr had been appointed to captain England.

Hobbs was convinced that Larwood was good enough in ‘Test Trial’match at Lord’s, early in June. Larwood took five wickets in the match, but was not selected for the first Test, which in any event was ruined by rain after barely an hour’s play. For the second Test, due to begin at Lord’s on 26 June, the selectors took a gamble and selected the youthful Larwood. His reaction when told by Carr was to protest that he was not good enough; Carr assured him that he was.

The Lord’s Test was drawn, with neither side coming near to winning. Larwood took three high-profile wickets—Charlie Macartney, Jack Gregory and the Australian captain H.L. Collins—while conceding 136 runs. He thought his performance “wasn’t great,  I wasted a lot of energy”.

He was not selected for the Third or Fourth Tests, both of which ended in draws.

Critical game

Primarily at the urging of Hobbs, Larwood was recalled for this critical game. On a tumultuous final day the Australians, needing 415 to win, were bowled out for 125, the main bowling honours being shared between Larwood (3 wickets for 34) and the 49-year-old veteran Wilfred Rhodes (4 for 44), who had first appeared for England in 1899, five years before Larwood was born. The victory meant that England had secured the Ashes for the first time since 1912.

Among many tributes recognising Larwood’s performance was one from the former England captain Pelham Warner, who predicted a big future, but noted that “he must guard against bowling just short of a length”.

In the 1926 season as a whole, Larwood took 137 wickets at 18.31; with the bat he scored 451 runs at 12.88. No Tests were played in 1927; Larwood’s performances for Nottinghamshire, however, lifted him to the top of the national bowling averages—100 wickets at 16.95—and he was chosen as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year.

Larwood was an obvious choice for the MCC touring side that Chapman took to Australia in the English winter of 1928–29. In an early game against Victoria he took 7 for 51 in the state’s first innings and scored 79 when MCC batted. One of his victims in the match was Bill Ponsford, the Australian Test opening batsman, who let slip his opinion that Larwood was “not really fast”.

According to the journalist and future Australian Test player Jack Fingleton, Ponsford was then targeted by Larwood. A month later at Brisbane, in the first Test of the series, Larwood dismissed him cheaply, twice; in the second Test, at Sydney.

England won the Brisbane Test by a record margin of 675 runs. Larwood took 6 for 32 in the Australian first innings, bowling at a speed that Wisden’s S.J. Southerton described as “faster than I have ever seen him”.

According to Jardine’s biographer Christopher Douglas, this bowling, which included a spell of 3 wickets in 5 overs for 9 runs, delivered a lasting blow to Australian morale and was a major factor in England’s ultimate series victory. The match had a low-key Test debut by Don Bradman, who scored 18 and 1 and was dropped for the second Test, before being rapidly reinstated for the third. England maintained their ascendancy during the second, third and fourth Tests, though with decreasing victory margins; Australia finally achieved success in the last match, giving England a 4–1 series victory.

Test appearances

Back in England for the 1929 season, Larwood made three Test appearances against the visiting South Africans, for modest returns: a total of eight wickets at 23.25 and with the bat 50 runs at 12.50. He was injured during the third Test, and thus missed the last two games of the series and several county matches.

His overall bowling figures for the 1929 season were less impressive than in the two previous years; with 117 wickets at 21.66 he fell to 25th place in the national averages.

In 1938, after a few matches, he left the county by mutual agreement and retired from first-class cricket. In his first-class career he took 1,427 wickets at 17.51, and scored 7,290 runs at 19.91 including three centuries. In Tests he took 78 wickets at 28.35 and scored 485 runs at 19.40. (TBR)