|Ireland v Australia One Day International 2012|
Walker and Linehan Meet Larwood
Cecil Walker of Lisburn and his friend Alfie Linehan of Downpatrick - both former Presidents of the Irish Cricket Union - can lay claim to innumerable cricketing memories, but none remains more vivid than a visit to a modest home in the suburbs of Sydney 10 years ago, and a meeting with a man who played a leading role in the most controversial episode in the history of Ashes cricket.
The two men and their wives had gone speculatively to the home of Harold Larwood in the hope of a word or two with the great English fast bowler who immortalised the 1932-33 Ashes campaign in Australia with his devastating "bodyline" bowling. He was rejected by England on returning home and, ironically, in 1950 went back to Australia where he was to spend the rest of his life with his wife, five daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Alfie Linehan (left) and Cecil Walker (right) with Harold Larwood at the controversial fast bowler's home in Sydney.
The Irishmen were richly rewarded when a frail man of 86 with fading eyesight opened the door and invited them in for what was a lengthy chat and a trawl through priceless cricketing memorabilia. In a detailed article written for Ireland's Saturday Night on his return from Australia, Walker described the visit as a "memorable pilgrimage". The article included these reminiscences of a small man - he stood only 5'8" - who, with his captain Douglas Jardine, was the scourge of the Australians, almost brought about the cancellation of the 1932 tour and raised questions in the House of Commons.
Larwood on the "Bodyline Tour"
"I bowled Leg Theory. `Bodyline' was a misconception and a term sensationally created by the Australian Press."
On the Australian captain Bill Woodfull's comment after being hit:
"There's only one team playing cricket out there" - Harold Larwood poked his ribs and said : "That's where I hit Woodfull. Nowadays I hear on the radio bowlers being praised for good deliveries directed in that area. Bertie Oldfield's injury was caused by a mis-hook, played outside the off stump."
Larwood on Jardine:
"I liked Mr. Jardine. He had guts and was a strict and strong captain. He wouldn't let me leave the field when I broke down in the final Test. My left foot was black and blue from toe to heel after months of pounding it down on those hard Australian wickets. Jardine looked at the foot and said I would never bowl again unless I had an operation. I was, therefore, amazed when he told me to stay on the field and go into slips. Nodding in the direction of Bradman he told me : 'You can leave the field when we get that wee bugger out.' When Verity bowled Bradman, Jardine signalled that I could go off. Bradman and I walked off together. I never spoke to him and he didn't speak to me."
(Harold Larwood, partly due to injury but more to do with the MCC's diplomatic policy of wooing the Australian Board, never played cricket for England again, while Bradman was to be the plague of English cricket for another five Test series.)
Larwood on the best batsmen he bowled to:
"Bradman was the most prolific, but he wasn't the best technically. Hammond, Ponsford, Kippax and young Archie Jackson were better."
Larwood on speed:
"People never saw me bowl quick in England, the wickets were too slow. In Australia, I was clocked at 95 mph and I was as quick at 6 pm as I was at 11 am. No breakfast or lunch, but a good evening meal and plenty of beer to prevent dehydration."
Larwood on the day he emigrated to Australia: April 28, 1950.
"I didn't want any publicity and the shipping line agreed to co-operate. But in fact one man was there to wave us goodbye. As my family and I were about to board the Orontes, John Arlott appeared from the shadows of Tilbury Docks. I asked him how he knew we were leaving and all he said was : `A little bird told me.'"
Harold Larwood's arrival in Australia was equally unheralded: he worked under an assumed name in a Pepsi Cola factory, continuing to shun publicity and the limelight which, he felt, invariably brought controversy.
FOOTNOTE: England won the 1932-33 Test Series 4-1. Larwood's figures were: 220 overs, 42 maidens, 644 runs, 33 wickets at 19.5 each. He scored 98 as `night watchman' in the Fifth Test. Harold Larwood was made an MBE in 1994. He died in 1995 at the age of ninety.