Harold Larwood was the most feared and celebrated fast-bowler of his generation. He topped the season’s bowling averages five times during a seven-year period from 1930 to 1936 and took 1,427 wickets over his career (at an average of 17.51) – but none had greater significance than the 33 wickets, at an average of 19 runs a piece, taken in the sensational ‘bodyline’ series in 1932/33 when England regained the Ashes in Australia.
Test matches with Australia had been a major part of the sporting fabric since well before the end of the 19th century. In the early 1930s the Australian team, with Don Bradman averaging well over a century each series, were indomitable. How could the touring England side in 1932/33 counter the force of the world’s greatest batsman?
England’s captain Douglas Jardine may have been the tactical brain but Harold Larwood was the principal executioner of his plan – balls pitched short on the leg-side and aimed at or around the body of the batsman with five or six close short-leg fielders ready for any catch as the batsman took evasive action. By the third Test the Australian Committee was formally cabling the MCC in England that: “Bodyline bowling..... is unsportsmanlike.” Made the scapegoat, Larwood never played for England again after that series. It is one of sport’s ironies that, disillusioned with life in Britain, Larwood and his wife emigrated in 1950 to Australia.
In June 2002, his memory was vividly revived with the unveiling of a splendid nine-feet high statue by Graham Ibbeson in the town centre of Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. It shows Larwood in fearsome action, about to unleash another delivery. Larwood is back at the top of his form.