In Duncan Hamilton’s wonderful biography of Harold Larwood, known as Lol to his fellow players, the author suggests that one of his inspirations for the work was that there existed at Lord’s no picture or painting to honour England’s greatest fast bowler.
Third Man was lucky to be at the ground for all four days of the 2nd Test between England and Australia which finished on Sunday. He too looked high and low for some recognition of Larwood’s existence in what the MCC likes to describe as the Home of Cricket. But Lol was there alright. His spirit pervaded the contest between the old foes thanks to the presence of Jofra Archer.
Indeed, there were two teams ‘out there’ and again both were playing cricket.
Watching Archer it was impossible not to think of Larwood and to be better able to capture the effect his extreme and prolonged pace bowling had on batting and batsmen eighty five years ago.
Some bald stats: in the first innings at the SCG in December 1932 Larwood bowled 31 overs, 5 maidens, 5 for 91, the extraordinary Stan McCabe making 187 in Australia’s innings of 360 all out. In their second innings of 164 a/o, Larwood took 5 for 28 in 18 overs.
At Lord’s, Archer bowled 29 overs in the first innings and 15 in the second. Steve Smith made 92.
One can only imagine what Jardine ‘s reaction would have been to Vaughan’s call for England not to over-bowl Archer. In fact we need not speculate. When the 1932-33 series was won by the fourth Test, Larwood, close to physical breakdown and bowling with a broken foot, asked if he might sit out the final Test, but Jardine required him to play and bowled him a total of 43.2 overs across the two remaining innings. And were they not 8 ball overs?
But watching Archer bowl long spells of sustained and extreme pace and witnessing the reaction of the Australian batsmen, including Smith the Bradman of the day, spectators were transported to Sydney, to Melbourne, to Adelaide, to Brisbane and back to Sydney.
Larwood long protested that Leg Theory did not require him to aim at a batsman’s head, or willfully to try to hurt or injure the batsman, and held to the end of his life that he did not do so. He was a short man, blessed with a wonderful action, natural and dependable rhythm and a powerful physique. Leg Theory produced a serious examination of batting technique, courage and mental orientation.
At Lord’s, Archer hit a number of batsmen on the helmet, on the grill, in the armpit, on the chest, in the stomach and on the inside of the thigh. The Australian captain Tim Paine’s press comments were commendable. In effect, ‘we are used to facing bowlers bowling at 145 and 155kph, we have to cope with the challenge’.
What spectators at the ground and in front of their screens saw was the effect on the batsman’s mind of extreme pace; the way it scrambles thinking and chisels out from deep deep down, not the usual responses of the trained and grooved muscle memories but the animal reaction of self-preservation. When we cannot fight or fly we turn our backs, instinctively we make ourselves as small as possible, we abandon poise. We duck into danger.
So it was at Lord’s, so it was at Adelaide.
The abiding memory from last week’s match was not the sickening near beheading of Smith, though that will remain seared on the mind, no it was the playfulness of Archer when, on the final tense day when all results were possible, fielding at third man to a left hander and thus on the boundary at the point where the Grandstand and Warner Stands meet.
A 12th man had come round with a bottle of water for him, but keener yet to share a word or two with this other young man, every time his right arm raised the bottle to his lips, Archer thought of another word to say and, eyes still fixed forward on the state of play, he lowered the bottle to his side untouched. Then he raised it again to his lips only not quite to get there before another word occurred to him and the bottle returned to his side.
In their thousands, those in the Grandstand and the Warner, picking up the restrain of this armography, began a rising accompaniment which climaxed in a roar the instant that Archer’s hand dropped to his side. Some players intent on the match may have ignored this game or turned to wave and smile. Not Archer. Still looking forward, he played with the crowd, accentuating and repeating over and over again the rise and fall, the action and even delaying the denouemont, as if totally unaware and innocent, while the crowd Laughed Out Loud.
One could sense Larwood doing such a thing.
Come on MCC, if Australian batsmen can react so well today, it’s time you admitted your prior errors and honoured the great fast bowler of Nottinghamshire and England.