Fast Bowling (Harold Larwood)
Cricket is a batsman's game. When a groundsman has prepared a 'perfect' wicket it means perfect for batsmen, not for bowlers. On 'easy' wickets, fast bowlers have to batter a way through batsmen's defences, and testing the batsman's pluck with sharp-rising balls has always been the fast bowler's time-honoured right.
Ernest Jones, the South Australian fast bowler, nicknamed 'Jonah' because he was a whale of a bowler, is credited with thoroughly bruising Dr. Grace's chest with a few direct hits, and once whizzed one through his beard.
Nobody was prepared for Albert 'Tibby' Cotter, the Australian fast bowler who came on tour to England in 1905 and bagged 124 wickets. His deliveries frequently played about the ears and he was described on all sides as terrifying, except by George Gunn, a Notts. player and fine hooker of the ball who moved down the pitch, cutting and hooking and taking the sting out of his attack.
On the 1921 Tour of England, Australia fielded two ferocious fast bowlers and caused heavy casualties. Gregory, whose great kangaroo leap before delivery presented an awesome sight, bowled out one batsman with a ball that rebounded off his head; and McDonald, from the other end, hit a batsman on the jaw. With the infliction of bruised ribs, the two Aussies took 39 wickets between them in the first three Tests.
No batsman apologises when he hooks a short ball to the boundary. Every fast bowler has to intimidate, to unsettle, to test the batsman's skill and nerve. That is why cricket is so fascinating to watch.
Larwood was picked as the only fast bowler for the 1928-9 Tour of Australia. Described in the official booklet as 'a newcomer likely to create something of a sensation', Harold quickly discovered that hard Australian wickets soon took the sheen off the ball so that it did not swing. They also made his feet sore. Yet the ball did whip up off a good length and he got off to a grand start by taking 7 for 51 against Victoria in Melbourne.
The Daily Express reported: 'He was irresistible . . . and gave Australia, the home of fast bowlers, a demonstration of how utterly unplayable a ball can be . . . He took the wickets of all the best batsmen and hit the stumps four times.'
For the first time Larwood, and the English amateur Douglas Jardine (pictured right), came up against the Australian barracker and Don Bradman. Jardine was described in the official booklet as 'never known to smile on the field, but has a fund of dry humour - old Oxford boy.' Because of his Harlequin cap, he was dubbed 'Rainbow' and heckled for his slow batting.
England won the First Test at Brisbane by a record margin of 675 runs in what became known as 'Larwood's Match'. His 6 for 32 in Australia's first innings and his 70 runs in a record partnership with Patsy Hendren turned the game. And as well as taking 2 for 28 in Australia's second innings, he caught out four Aussies, two of them brilliantly.
New boy Bradman scored 18 and 1 and was promptly dropped.
Wilfred Rhodes wrote in the Nottingham Evening Post : 'Larwood has always been a fighter, always had to 'bowl uphill' because of his size, and yet he has persevered and come out triumphant.'
Trouble with the crowd started in the Second Test at Sydney. Larwood broke Ponsford's left hand with a high-rising ball and when Kippax was given out in a controversial decision, the Sydney 'Hill' turned into an angry mob.
England retained the Ashes in the Third Test at Melbourne when they came from behind - Hobbs and Sutcliffe giving a gutsy display on a sticky wicket when set 332 to win.
Prior to the Final Test, the Nottingham Evening Post reported on the return match against Victoria: 'Chapman put Larwood on to bowl and they booed and jeered him . . . Woodfall, the hero of the match with 275 not out, walked over and appealed to the crowd - in vain.'
Larwood took it all personally and was upset, not understanding the Australian character, especially when two days later they stood and cheered him when he went in to bat. England won the first four Tests but Australia won the last when Bradman scored a classy 123 in refreshing style.
A tornado hit the shores of England in the form of Don Bradman (pictured right) in 1930. Soon adapting to English conditions, he flogged the bowling to every point in the field and scored 1,000 runs before the end of May - the first Australian to accomplish the feat. Despite Larwood developing tonsillitis and a dogged century from Bradman, England succeeded in winning the First Test.
In the Second Test, Bradman pulverised the England attack with a triumphant score of 254 runs. The Press forecasted: 'It is quite likely that Bradman will prove to be the finest run-getting machine ever known.'
Larwood was fit for the Third Test at Leeds but took a pasting from the Don who scored a hundred before lunch and went on to a record-breaking 334 runs. The Sunday Times reported: 'In Bradman, Australia has a cricket phenomenon - one of the rare miracles of the game - a player who can almost beat a side from his own bat.'
On the fourth day of the Final Test at the Oval, Bradman and young Archie Jackson were caught on a dangerous drying wicket and both were hit all over the body by Larwood. Bruised but happy after scoring a plucky 73, Jackson smilingly commented: 'I've only been hit everywhere - on the jaw, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ribs and hip.' The partnership proved invaluable. Bradman went on to score 232 (Larwood took 1 for 132) and Australia won by an innings to clinch the series 2-1. Bradman had scored 974 runs in the Tests at an average of 139 and Arthur Mailey wrote: 'Bradman's performance in this match showed that he is the greatest batsman of all time.'
Groundsmen were trying to produce perfect pitches for batsmen and it was on these docile wickets that Don Bradman with such a quick eye and footwork could dominate the bowling. Good-length stuff went to the boundary like a bullet and he could jump down the pitch to the bowler just when he felt like it - which was often. When Bradman had scored a century, he settled down to score another, and then another. Good-length bowling was just not good enough and fast bowlers had to resort to other means - leg-theory.
Batsmen didn't have to play at a ball outside the off stump and couldn't be out if the ball hit his pads, but a ball on the leg stump he had to play, and if it was a high bouncing one he could well pop a catch into a packed leg-side field.
There was nothing new in bowling at the leg stump. Left-handers such as Fred Root of Worcestershire and England regularly used it on slow wickets. Larwood's opening partner Bill Voce often used it. In fact, before they played Notts in 1930 the Australians admitted: 'It wasn't Larwood's bowling we were worried about, it was Voce's.' And several people, along with Larwood, noted that Bradman didn't like playing balls rising on to his body.
By now Larwood had a growing family and responsibilities, and fearing he might be injured, or suddenly lose his bowling ability, he invested in a chicken farm. His fears turned out to be unfounded. He headed the English bowling averages for the 1931 and 1932 seasons, and along with team mate Bill Voce, was picked for the 1932-3 Tour of Australia. Douglas Jardine, dour fighter and classically correct batsman, was appointed team captain.
Notts. were playing in London when Notts. captain Arthur Carr invited Larwood and Voce to a convivial dinner with Jardine. Talk was about tactics to be used in Australia - how to curb Bradman's run-getting. Leg theory came up. 'Has Bradman a weakness to fast-rising deliveries on the leg-side?' Jardine asked.
'I thought he drew back when I bowled at his leg stump on the drying pitch at the Oval,' Larwood said.
Jardine turned to Voce: 'Bill, I think you ought to concentrate on Bradman's leg stump and bowl to your leg-theory field.' Voce was tall and powerful and Jardine believed he would be able to get the ball to come up off a good length on Australian wickets.
'Can you bowl leg-theory?' Jardine then asked Larwood. 'Well, Mr. Jardine, after two overs it's useless trying to swing the new ball in Australia.'
'Can you bowl on the leg stump to make the ball come up into the body and force Bradman to play his shots to leg?'
'Yes, I can do that,' answered Larwood, but having said it, thought that Voce would be more successful with leg-theory bowling.
The Australian Press called him 'Sardine' and 'The Man in the Cap' and other less polite names because of his sphinx-like attitude, but Douglas Jardine wasn't in Australia to improve relations. 'The team has been selected and now reposes in my pocket and will remain there until I choose to issue it. We're here to win the Ashes - not to provide stories for newspapers,' he told reporters.
Sheer contempt was Jardine's attitude to criticism. Resolutely dedicated to winning the Ashes, he had determined his tactics. 'You are my main weapon, Harold,' he told Larwood when they arrived in Australia, 'and I want you to bowl leg theory.' And Larwood did.
Gubby Allen, one of the other fast bowlers, told Jardine that he wouldn't bowl to a leg side field, but then he could afford to - he was an amateur not dependent on cricket for a living.
Despite Bradman's absence due to illness, the Sydney ground was jam-packed for the First Test and the 'Hill' wasted no time in getting on to Larwood with comments about his chicken farm: 'Eh Arrold, is that the way you chuck the chooks' eggs about?' They counted: '1-2-3 . . . 8-9-Out' as he ran up to bowl and a great howl went up every time he appealed. Unbeknown to the crowd, Larwood would reach into his pocket every now and again and take out a pinch of snuff - a habit he had picked up down the mine where you were not allowed to take tobacco and matches. After taking a sniff he would bowl his 'snorter'.
Stan McCabe came in for Australia at 4 wickets down for 82, rattled Larwood's first ball to the fence and dismissed leg-theory by hooking bouncers seemingly off his eyebrows. Carrying his bat for a magnificent 187 runs, he found it wasn't enough. Larwood and Voce took 16 wickets between them and England won by 10 wickets.
Jack Hobbs wrote in the News Chronicle : 'I have only the highest praise for Larwood . . . while Jardine's amazing keenness forced itself upon all.'
The word 'bodyline' was born on the second day of the match and subsequently coined by the Australian Press. Expecting Bradman to knock the cover off the 'bodyline' ball, 64,000 spectators turned up for the Second Test at Melbourne. The Don was out for a duck - Bill Bowes bowled one short to him outside the off-stump and he clipped the ball on to his stumps.
Amends were made in the second innings however when Bradman scored 103 not out and Australia won by 111 runs with good, fighting cricket. Australian newspapers proclaimed: 'Bodyline Beaten.'
Responding to criticism of leg-theory bowling during England's match against Bendigo, the Victorian country team, Jardine answered: 'It is a familiar cry of the Australian barracker - 'bowl on the wicket'; but if consider Larwood's record in this respect, he has taken so far on tour 29 wickets - 13 clean bowled.'
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