Harold LarwoodHarold Larwood

Demon Bowler

'I'll tell you about that 'Silent Killer' nickname I gave him. I used to field at cover point and as Loll came up on that smooth, carpet-slipper run of his, and I moved in to the batsmen I used to listen hard - to find out what kind of delivery he was going to bowl. If I could hear his feet tip-tapping over the turf I knew he would be well within himself - he would still be quick, mind.

But when I couldn't hear him running up I used to look at the batsman and think: 'You're a split second away from trouble, son,' because I knew that Loll was coming in on his toes and he was going to let slip the fastest he'd got.'

Joe Hardstaff Jnr. - Notts. and England

'Harold, I'm afraid you'll have to apologise to the MCC,' Sir Julien told him.

'Apologise sir? What for?'

'For your bowling, Harold.'

'I have nothing to apologise for, sir.'

'Oh, but you must Harold. You must apologise to the MCC and agree to bowl legitimately in future. If you do, you will be picked in the Tests against Australia; but unless I have your word, you will not be considered at all.'

Harold couldn't believe what he was hearing. Recalling how, at his captain's orders, he had bowled his heart out in Australia to help bring home the Ashes, he felt sick. And then the telegram reading: 'Bravo!' that he had received from the MCC during the last Test in Australia. Suddenly he felt betrayed. 'I'm an Englishman,' he told Sir Julien. 'I will never apologise.'

In the previous winter tour, 1932-3, England had beaten Australia 4-1 to take the Ashes in the sensational 'bodyline' series. Relations between Australia and England had reached a low ebb, and now preparing for their 1934 Tour of England, the Australian Board of Control wanted an assurance that the 'bodyline' form of attack would not be used again.

The MCC could give no such assurance, though they did affirm that 'a direct attack by a bowler on a batsman would be against the spirit of the game.' However, to placate the noisy protests coming from Australia, the MCC had secretly asked Sir Julien Cahn to prevent Larwood bowling bodyline.

Sir Julien had made a fortune in business, been knighted, bought Newstead Abbey, and presented it to the City of Nottingham. His passion was cricket and he was a past President of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. If the MCC thought they were dealing with a man who would humbly bend his knee to a knight, they had made a mistake - this was a man true to himself, this was Harold Larwood, the greatest fast bowler in the world.

Cricket Before Breakfast

Nuncargate, where Harold Larwood was born on 14 November 1904, only existed because of the colliery at Annesley three miles away. As black goes with white, mining went with cricket and his father was a collier, a slow bowler and captain of the Nuncargate cricket team. But out of four brothers, Harold was the only one who fashioned fence paling into bats and passionately hit cricket balls through neighbours' windows.

Their father always told his sons to do the right thing by everybody and every Sunday the family attended chapel. If their parents could afford it, they sometimes sent their sons to the local cinema for the 'Saturday afternoon rush'.

Harold didn't much like school but was usually up early since he liked to play cricket or football before breakfast, usually in the street. Cricket seemed to be in the air at Nuncargate - its local school produced seven Notts. players, four of them internationals.

Into the Sunlight

At 13 years-old, four feet tall and skinny, he began work at the local Co-op weighing flour for the customers. Sometimes the bags were bigger than himself. There was more money to be had down the mine and when he reached the legal age of 14 he joined his mates as a pony pit-boy at Annesley Colliery, driving the ponies that pulled the tubs of coal. Working mostly on his own with his oil lamp providing the only light, he talked to his ponies, especially his favourite, friendly one named Tinker.

Above ground, in the sunlight, he played for Nuncargate second team taking 76 wickets in his first season. Three years later he joined the night shift at nearby Langton Colliery. The digging and shovelling in only a three-foot clearance developed his hard muscular frame, though he often lost the skin off his back from jagged coal edges.

Even after a night shift he still opened the bowling for Nuncargate first team. In one game his nose began to bleed while bowling. Rejecting advice to leave the field, he got a hat-trick - the first indication of his single-minded, stubborn streak. Cricket had become his reason for living.

Trial

Only two streets away in Nuncargate lived Joe Hardstaff Snr., the Notts. and England player, and in the summer of 1923 Joe approached him: 'Harold, my boy, how'd you like to go to Trent Bridge for a trial? I think you have the talent to make a good player, that is if you want to?' If he wanted to!

No bigger than 5ft 4ins in his new spiked boots - it cost his father a small fortune of 9 to kit him out - Harold looked skinny and pale from working underground, but bowling off a run that was all of twenty paces he made a good impression. After agreeing to sign on for a year at the same wage he was getting at the pit, 32 shillings a week, he was sharply rebuked by his father: 'Why didn't you ask for more?' Harold never thought.

Balance, smooth run-up and follow through was what the Notts. coaches taught him - the secret to his speed and the one that 'turned 'em pale.' It took three years of hard work to perfect his run-up and delivery, and how to swing the ball. They also showed him how to bat - it seemed nobody had ever mentioned footwork to him before.

Half-way through the 1925 season he got his start in County cricket against Yorkshire. Surprised at the speed of the first ball that went past him, Herbert Sutcliffe, England's opening bat, got an edge to the next one and was caught at slip. Two more wickets in the match won Harold a regular place in the Notts. side. The young fast bowler believed he had reached the top. Soon after he had taken his first 50 wickets, Harold scored his first half-century and heard his uncle shout above the cheering crowd: 'Hoo-bloody-ray!'

Picked for England

The following season in the match against Surrey, Harold bowled out the great Jack Hobbs with one that fizzed back from the off - not once but twice. No coincidence then that Jack Hobbs sat on the MCC selection committee and Harold was picked for England.

The young bowler was overwhelmed. Out of the coal seams of Nuncargate and into an England cap inside four years - who'd have believed it? Opening batsmen facing his sizzling pace and accuracy would have. He was 21 years old, 5ft 8ins tall and under 11 stones.

'Plum' Warner reported on his first Test Match: 'The wicket was on the slow side for a bowler of Larwood's pace but he made the ball swing away sharply from the batsmen at the last moment.' The selectors passed Larwood over till the Final Test at the Oval - the game to decide the Ashes. In case he didn't get another chance, Harold decided to put the devil into his bowling. When rain fell on the fourth day, followed by a hot sun, he took his chance. Taking 3 for 34, he helped skittle out Australia for 125 runs and England had won back the Ashes. 'Thousands of wildly excited men and women dashed onto the field . . . and Larwood was obviously affected by the warmth of the reception given to him.'

Tributes flew thick and fast for 'Demon Boy Larwood'.

The Daily Sketch wrote: 'Larwood's bowling was the fastest we have seen since Gregory in 1921. . . Not for years have we been able to enjoy the spectacle of Australian batsmen ducking.'

There were few spectators at a special 'match' when Harold married Lois Cynthia Bird, a charming girl of twenty from the village of Huthwaite. Only families were present at Basford Registry Office, for the whole district would have been there had it become known, and the couple wanted no fuss. After a honeymoon at Blackpool, they bought a house at East Kirkby and it was not until many years later that Lois admitted that she preferred golf to cricket: 'I never understood anything about cricket. Never been interested.'

Bill Voce

Bill VoceAt Trent Bridge, Harold also gained a new ball partner in Bill Voce (pictured right). A powerful 6ft. 3 ins. with an aggressive delivery, Voce had joined Notts. from the mines as a slow left-arm bowler but soon switched to speed.

At the start of each new season Harold was always terrified that he had lost his hard-won pace and accuracy. No worry, the following 1927 season saw him top the England bowling averages with 138 wickets at 14 runs apiece and he was Wisden's Cricketer of the Year.

Whilst on the field during a match against Hampshire, Larwood received a telegram breaking the good news of the birth of his first daughter. His pace quickened and he immediately took 5 wickets which prompted a Hampshire player to say: 'Harold, I'm only glad it wasn't twins.'

For Next Page of Harold Larwood click Fast Bowling

Sherwood Times