H is for (H)arold Larwood the demolition man of Body Line fame – #AtoZChallenge #BlogchatterAtoZ 2019

H is for (H)arold Larwood the demolition man of Body Line fame – #AtoZChallenge #BlogchatterAtoZ 2019

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia.org

On reading the title of this post the questions that might have risen in the minds of most people are ‘Harold who?’ and ‘Body what?’. Let me assure my friends of the younger generation that Body Line and Harold Larwood are part of cricketing folklore. Even before the entry of pace bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee into the game of Cricket, there were speedsters who used to terrorise batsmen.

In the seventies, the Australians Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee used to be an awesome pair of fast bowlers who could demolish brilliant batting line-ups. Then there were the West Indian greats like Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding who used to terrify batsmen all over the world. Those days batsmen could not use protective gear like helmets and it used to be a real challenge to face these bowlers of phenomenal pace and bounce.

Now we come to Harold Larwood. Harold Larwood was an English fast bowler who became famous in the controversial cricket series played between Australia and England in the years 1932-33. The series was played in Australia and was so controversial and became so famous that there was even a television serial produced based on the story. I was in the second year of my engineering in IIT at the time this series was telecast on Doordarshan. 

Every Wednesday we students used to make a beeline to the common room of our hostel to watch the week’s episode of the series. Much earlier than the body line series, the Australian cricket team had toured England in the year 1930 and Donald Bradman had scored 974 runs at an average near 100. The Australians had won the series 2-1. Bradman was a phenomenon at that time and he was demolishing bowlers all over the world. 

For the 1932-33 series to be played in Australia, Douglas Jardine was appointed the captain of the English side. Douglas Jardine and the Australian crowd never got on with each other. He had played earlier in Australia and there were numerous instances when he had had altercations with the crowd. Consequently, Jardine hated Australians. Jardine realised that if England were to emerge victorious in the series he would have to devise a means to contain the prodigious Bradman.

With this in mind, a meeting was arranged in London’s Piccadilly hotel between Jardine, Nottinghamshire captain Arthur Carr and the two fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Jardine asked Voce, and Larwood in particular if they could get the ball to pitch on the leg stump and make it rise sharply into the body of the batsman. This kind of bowling is known as Body Line bowling or Fast Leg Theory.

Both the bowlers felt they could manage this. Harold Larwood was an extremely fast and accurate bowler. The Body Line tactic if employed by a bowler of such pace and bounce would amount to nothing but an effort to completely intimidate the batsman or even cause him physical injury. Those days there was no means of measuring a bowler’s speed accurately but it is believed that Harold Larwood was one of the fastest bowlers ever. 

Before Jardine came up with this idea he had studied Bradman’s batting technique extensively and he had come to the conclusion that Bradman had a weakness against extreme pace. And this conclusion led Jardine to devise the plan. Those days Britain was a society divided by class divisions. Harold Larwood was a coal miner’s son and he worked in a quarry. 

And Douglas Jardine belonged to the elite upper class of England’s layered society. And it probably never occurred to Larwood to question his captain. If your upper-class captain asked you to do something, those days you just did it. Jardine discussed his tactics with his team and made up his mind to use Fast Leg Theory though it is not clear whether he had told his bowlers to actually try and hurt the  Australian batsmen.

There are some reports that he even instructed the players to hate the Australians. In the early matches, the English bowlers did use body line to some extent but their true intent was not evident. Another thing that was noted was that there were an unusual number of fast bowlers included in the English side. It was only in a game against the Australian XI (not the test 1X) played in Melbourne, Fast Leg Theory was employed fully. 

Jardine did not play this match and the English side was led by Bob Wyatt. Wyatt reported to Jardine that Bradman appeared disturbed by the bowling of Larwood, Voce and Bowes. In this match, Bradman could score only 36 and 19 in the two innings he played and he employed very unusual tactics like ducking and running around the crease. The Australian press criticized the bowlers, particularly Harold Larwood who was the fastest and consequently the most hostile. 

The first test match of the series was missed by Bradman because of an ongoing argument with the cricket board, but according to Jardine, Bradman had a nervous breakdown. In this test match, the Englishmen employed body line to the hilt and the Australians lost the match resoundingly by ten wickets. Larwood returned with figures of 10 wickets for 124 runs and was the most successful. 

The only Australian batsman who had the guts and fortitude to stand up to Larwood was Stan Mccabe who hooked and pulled everything aimed at his body and scored 187 runs in the match. By this time, the Australian press was targeting the English bowlers and even some of the English players were beginning to have serious doubts about the tactics being employed.

In the second test match, Bradman returned and in the first innings, he was out the first ball. But he scored a century in the second and the Australians won the match. After this test match, the Australians began believing things were, after all, going to be okay and body line was not really a threat. But the point they overlooked was that this test match was played on a slower wicket.

It was in the third test that the controversy reached its peak. England batted through the first day and it was Australia’s turn to bat on the second. The third over of the Australian innings was bowled by Larwood. The batsman was Woodfull. The fifth ball of the over narrowly missed Woodfull’s head and the sixth ball pitched on the middle stump and hit Woodfull on the chest. 

Woodfull hobbled in pain and the English players surrounded him and offered sympathy but Jardine the captain poured oil into the fire by commenting, ‘Well bowled, Harold!’. This comment was actually aimed at unnerving Bradman who was padding up and within hearing distance. Woodfull heard this and was stunned. An over later Woodfull again had to play Larwood. And again the fielders shifted to a field placement necessary for body line bowling.

By now the crowd was in a really angry mood and even a riot could have taken place. Later both the captain and the bowler blamed each other for placing the fielders in body line positions. During this over another Larwood delivery knocked the bat out of Woodfull’s hands. Woodfull batted for 89 deliveries in all and he was finally bowled out by Allen for 22.

That evening one of the England managers, Pelham Warner visited the Australian dressing room to offer sympathies to Woodfull. Woodfull told him, ‘I don’t want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not. This game is too good to be spoilt. It is time some people got out of it.’

This exchange between Warner and Woodfull was reported in the press and it was considered a monumental folly as a private conversation had been reported in the press. After the rest day, the Australian Bill Oldfield played a long innings ably supported by Bill Ponsford and scored 85 runs. It was at this point that Larwood after conceding a four bowled a slower and shorter delivery that hit Oldfield on the temple. Oldfield was trying to hook the ball to the boundary.

This resulted in a hairline fracture. Larwood immediately apologised but Oldfield said it was his own fault. The crowd jeered at Larwood and it looked like a riot was about to break out and several English players were thinking of arming themselves with stumps. Oldfield was assisted back to the dressing room and the game continued. It was at the end of the fourth day, that the Australian board of control sent a cable to Marylebone Cricket Club, Cricket’s ruling body that selected the English cricket team. The cable read,

Australian Board of Control to MCC, January 18, 1933: 

Bodyline bowling assumed such proportions as to menace best interests of game, making protection of body by batsmen the main consideration. Causing intensely bitter feeling between players, as well as injury. In our opinion is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations between Australia and England.

MCC was very unhappy about the word ‘unsportsmanlike’ mentioned in the cable and replied,

MCC to Australian Board of Control, January 23, 1933: 

We, Marylebone Cricket Club, deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been unsportsmanlike play. We have fullest confidence in captain, team and managers, and are convinced they would do nothing to infringe either the Laws of Cricket or the spirit of the game. We have no evidence that our confidence is misplaced. Much as we regret accidents to Woodfull and Oldfield, we understand that in neither case was the bowler to blame. If the Australian Board of Control wish to propose a new law or rule it shall receive our careful consideration in due course. We hope the situation is not now as serious as your cable would seem to indicate, but if it is such as to jeopardise the good relations between English and Australian cricketers, and you would consider it desirable to cancel remainder of programme, we would consent with great reluctance.

One of the members of the English side was the Nawab of Pataudi and he was deeply chagrined by the unsportsmanlike tactics employed by Jardine and was open about his feelings. Even in the English dressing room, players were arguing with each other and Jardine was shaken by all this. He offered to stop using body line tactics if his players were against it. A meeting of the players in which Jardine did not participate was arranged.

Finally, the English players released a statement fully supporting their captain. The MCC’s cable had clearly indicated that the rest of the tour would have to be cancelled if the word ‘unsportsmanlike’ was not withdrawn from the cable sent by the Australians. The Australian board met and sent another cable saying that they wished to continue the tour and they would prefer to make a decision on body line bowling later.

To this, the MCC sent a cable insisting that the word ‘unsportsmanlike’ has to be withdrawn if the tour was to continue. The incident became a diplomatic standoff. Finally, the Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons had to step in. England threatened to boycott Australian trade. Lyons explained to the Australian board, the consequences Australia would have to face as a nation if the English public boycotted Australian trade and goods.

Finally, the Australian board had to bend and sent a cable saying, ‘We do not regard the sportsmanship of your team as being in question’. The third test ended with England winning it. After the third test, among the English bowlers, it was only Harold Larwood who continued using body line but even he used it less. Voce missed the fourth test. England won the fourth test by eight wickets. 

The fifth and final test was again won by England by 8 wickets and Harold Larwood continued to use body line. The series was won by England 4 matches to 1. After the series, when the MCC finally realized what exactly had transpired they made some changes to the laws of Cricket. They brought in a rule that the batsman cannot be attacked directly and if this is detected, the umpires have the responsibility to stop it.

Now let me tell you something about Harold Larwood himself. He was born on 14, November 1904 in the village of Nuncargate, Nottinghamshire to a coal miner. He was the fourth of five sons. He began working in the mines at the age of 14.  He performed excellently in club cricket and started playing for Nottinghamshire. He made his test debut in 1926. In all, he played 21 matches and took 78 wickets at 28.35 apiece.

He was reputed to be fearsome. A tall broad-shouldered and powerful man he was both accurate and fast. In 1949 he was elected to the honorary membership of the MCC. In 1950 he emigrated and settled in Australia where unlike 1932 he was accorded a warm welcome. First, he worked in a soft drinks firm, then as a reporter, and finally as a commentator. 

A stand is named after him in the Trent Bridge county ground. In 1988, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). He died in 1995 at the age of 89. A brilliant fast bowler who terrorised batsman and had no compunctions about it. One might question his ethics but no one can question his talent. He played with a no-holds-barred attitude and he did not believe in compromises. A tough but honest attitude.
Tags – #AtoZChallenge 2019 #BlogchatterAtoZ 2019

28 thoughts on “H is for (H)arold Larwood the demolition man of Body Line fame – #AtoZChallenge #BlogchatterAtoZ 2019”

  1. Such an interesting read this was, Jai. I hadn't heard of Harold Larwood before today and am close to being a fan of this class-apart fast bowler of yore.
    It must've been fascinating to see the television series on the controversy in the common room. Imagine the heated arguments and discussions then! It has stayed with you after all these years and am glad that we know about it now too.
    The letter from ABC is rather snobbish considering that Australian players have subsequently been guilty of sledging.

  2. Heard the name Harold Larwood for the first time. His story seems really fascinating. The series of letters, involvement of our Nawab Pataudi and the excitement of what's going to happen next made me read with eagerness. Brilliant series Jai

  3. I have watched Bodyline. I belive it was dirty cricket, and the beginning of what most thought was a trend. Sadly it still continues. Loved the detailed account of it and of Larwood.

  4. I feel this story could have been used for J (Jardine), as the bodyline series was more about Jardine and his mission to demystify Don Bradman and get one over the Aussies. Larwood, Voce, Allen, and Bowes were just puppets in his hands. The only ones to openly dissent against Jardine's tactics were IAK Pataudi and Warner. This story about Bodyline is very significant now as the English press and players went up in arms against Ashwin for Mankading Jos Buttler out recently. Why talk about the mythical spirit of the game and rage against a bowler who used a perfectly legal method to get a well set batsman out? Where was this spirit of the game during bodyline, apartheid, racist slurs, match fixing, sledging, batsman refusing to walk even when they know that they have edged the ball, excessive appealing, intimidating umpires etc? The so-called gentleman's game has ceased to be that long ago, maybe with a bunch of English bowlers targeting batsmen's heads instead of the stumps.

  5. Yes, he was a great bowler and you are right about the discussions. We enjoyed that serial thoroughly. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Thank you Sonia. The body line story is fascinating to hear today. I just think of what it must have been like in 1932 when the controversy actually unfolded.

  7. Yes, it marked the beginning of the era when Cricket deteriorated from being a gentleman's game to sledging and intimidation and all the degenration in the game today. Thanks for the comment.

  8. I was not born either Shubra., This happened in 1932. It is a very old story but I thought I would bring this controversial event in Cricket to people's notice.

  9. Yes, I guess J could have been Jardine as he was the chief architect of Body Line but I thought since Larwood was his main instrument to implement the scheme I would go with Larwood. Further people are already flummoxed as to who Larwood was and if I had said J for Jardine I guess no one would read it. And as far as sportsmanship and the English are concerned we saw ample evidence of their crowd behaviour in the London Olympics. Complaints from the English about Ashwin are really hypocritical considering all that the English have indulged in.

  10. This is another incredibly well-researched post, Sir! You are bringing forth legends that the present generation isn't completely aware of. Kudos to the dedication!

  11. Thanks for the comment. I am trying to bring out the stories of past greats so that the current generation gets to know about them. At the same time by writing these posts I also relive my own childhood as many of these sportspersons were active then

  12. Fast leg theory that is something new I learned today. I liked the way you explained the entire scene and series of events instead of just highlighting Harold's biography. I'm going to remember this guy. It was very interesting read.

  13. Your post was a ball-by-ball commentary. I used to keep track of all cricketing test matches and 3 day matches in my school and college days. Matches in Mumbai and Chennai we're broadcast live and I used to deliberately fall sick to evade school and watch cricket match. I remember Jeff Thomson and Imran Khan had a long run-up. Our spin trio of Chandra , bedi and Prasanna were good.


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