Reading with Rahul

Reading with Rahul: Harold Larwood

Bodyline: a fragment of sporting history that was strewn with endless controversy and countless disputations over the deceivingly simple matter over the spirit of the game.

For those who have never ventured upon the term “Bodyline”, let me explain: Bodyline was a series played between England and Australia in the year of 1932. The Australian team were a formidable outfit who was led by a man who was considered by many as the greatest of all time: Sir Donald George Bradman .The man whose batting average ended up on the famed number of 99.94, a number that doubled some of the greatest batsmen to walk on this planet.

To counter his unstoppable batting prowess, the English team devised a tactic called leg-theory which was the act of bowling the short balls towards the line of leg stump which cramps up the batsman which, in turn, gave a straightforward catch to one of the swarms of fielders crowding the legside.This tactic created an uproar in the cricketing world as many batsmen got severely injured by the leg theory as batsmen were left begging to be spared. Many were furious at this unsportsmanlike behaviour so they vented their fury at the main arc of destruction, Harold Larwood, as he was depicted by the media as a self-consumed sadist who would follow any means to win.

Larwood’s image was not tarnished, it was ripped apart and thrown in the bin. His integrity was non-existent and his life was turned upside down for the worse. But did he deserve it? Did he deserve the criticism that denied him a legendary career? Was Larwood robbed?

The biography “Harold Larwood”, written by the decorated cricket writer Duncan Hamilton, narrates the remarkable life of the Nottinghamshire in an eloquent and personable manner but also gives an english side to the debate of Bodyline, a debate that has been lopsided in the favour of the Australians…

As Hamilton documents, Australian team were physically battered and mentally traumatised as no one had a plausible answer to the sheer speed displayed by Larwood. The team’s chances of winning the ashes were null and their ego completely deflated. The man whose ego was damaged the most was Donald Bradman as news went round that Don Bradman was not the immortal being that everyone thought he was. Bradman and his team could not bear this so, in urgent desperation, they proclaimed to the world that they believed that leg theory was against the spirit of the game and hence implying that England was cheating.

Some of you more knowledgeable readers may be thinking about why the revered Don Bradman would stoop to such desperate lows? That is a question I also had pondered but as I progressed through the book, but then I realised that Don Bradman was not a charming and charismatic gentlemen that the media depicted him as in reality he was a cold, calculating and aloof figure whose brain was only programmed to do one thing: score runs(perhaps a sign that even the Don had the necessary traits of evil).

The cricketing world believed the australian team because of how much of an influence Don Bradman was in those days, opposing Don Bradman was equivalent to opposing the entirety of Australia and that is something you do not want to do!

On the other side of the coin, Harold Larwood and his captain Douglas Jardine’s reasoning behind bodyline was that if leg theory is the only way of containing the unstoppable Don Bradman and if it is within the laws of the game, what is the harm of trying? They weren’t just going to be sitting ducks, admiring the immaculate strokes of the Don as their ashes hope disintegrate into pieces. They had to do something!

One of this book’s main attributes is that it acknowledges that the true injustice of how Harold Larwood was not the abuse he received during bodyline as it was the horrendous treatment he was given after it.

As Hamilton states in utter disgust, the MCC banished Larwood from the realm of international cricket to the less glamorous county game. The result: Larwood never played international cricket again.Let me reiterate, Larwood was perceived by many, at that time, as the fastest bowler in the history of cricket and the only man who could unsettle the most prolific batsman in history, Don Bradman. Yet he only played a measly total of 21 tests. Why, would such an once in a generation bowler be expelled from the pinnacle of cricket forever?

Harold Larwood cover art
An extraordinary book about an extraordinary man

As the book documents with comprehensive detail, the 1934 ashes was due to be underway but the visitors, who were this time the Australians, did not want a repeat of the preceding series so they came to an compromise with the MCC. They were allowed to select their star bowler Harold Larwood in their team under one condition: Larwood must provide an unreserved apology to the public for bowling the “unsportsmanlike” bodyline. Only then he would be permitted to play for his country.

When I read this outrageous attempt, I was in utter disbelief: How in any right mind would MCC have the nerve to believe that Harold Larwood, a man of utmost honour, would accept such an preposterous proposal. In the unlikely scenario that Harold Larwood would accept, he would be branded as a man of little principline and no moral ethics. He may have got the stats but he would have lost the support of the people.

The cricketing world missed out on a man who could have been the Bradman of bowling. However, that does mean that Harold Larwood did an interesting life post bodyline as I discovered while further exploring the book…

When many people think of the man Harold Larwood, the first thing that comes to mind is bodyline. This is understandable as Bodyline was a massive moment in sporting history and it is human nature to remember the events that garnered the most attention around the world but that does not mean everything else about Larwood’s life was dull and monotone.

This book discloses the largely unknown details of Larwood’s life post Bodyline: from his brief tenure as a blackpool sweet store owner of a shop inconspicuously named Collins to his shock migration to Australia, the one nation that you would expect him not to go because of his previous experiences with the country. In short, this book covers it all as it paints a beautiful portrait of an equally beautiful life.

One thing I have touched on but not yet elaborated to a full extent, is how this biography written by Duncan Hamilton bursts the common conception of Harold Larwood character as many believed the way he was depicted in Australia: as a pantomime villain. This book counters that common belief as Duncan Hamilton, with evidence of course, describes Larwood as a “good bloke” and a person who was rich in moral principle and ethics.

My own interpretation of Harold Larwood’s character was that he did not play cricket for money and limelight but for the pure joy of it. This is shown when he was not disheartened when he learnt that his first Nottinghamshire contract was the same miserly salary that he earns in the mines. The chance to play cricket was enough for him. He was also an incredibly polite man as he was convinced that replying to every single letter that he receives, even the negative ones, is polite and the duty of a gentleman. It is a shame that such a courteous man was so brutally criminalised.

I have not yet mentioned much about the style this book has been written in but I thought it would be appropriate to save the best till last: the structure of the book is immaculate as it is carefully crafted in such a way that the reader is constantly on their toes while simultaneously planting a seed of curiosity in the reader’s mind. The amount of extensive research has made sure that no stone was unturned. Duncan Hamilton has done a flawless job.

I also loved the plentiful of informative anecdotes that were scattered across the book as it gave a colourful insight of how the game was back in the day. An example of one these anecdotes is when Harold Larwood, approaching the end of years, was walking along the long room at Lords searching for a portrait of himself. He found a portrait of Douglas Jardine, he found one of Don Bradman but he did not find one of himself.

He, for a moment, was disappointed but he shrugged it off and returned to his normal self. This struck a chord with me as I realised that this was the first time in the book that it shows Harold Larwood as lamenting the career that he could, and should, have had.

In summary, I recommend this book to people, who are not just interested in uncovering the hidden truth of Bodyline, but also people want to discover more about the untold mystery of the man who conquered the Australian invincibles, a man with a dying legacy, a legacy that was resurrected by this book, “Harold Larwood” written by Duncan Hamilton.

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