Not many bowlers troubled Don Bradman and fewer still caused him genuine
concern. Harold Larwood was one who did. Like the very best express bowlers,
there was a lot more to Larwood than extreme pace. In his case, he had one of
the most vicious break-backs in the game. ‘At times [he] makes the ball come
back so much that he is almost unplayable,’ said Wisden of Larwood when he
was still at quite an early stage of his career.
Judging purely by Bradman’s scores in his first two series against England, it
is not immediately apparent that Larwood caused him much of a problem at all.
Larwood was England’s match-winner in Bradman’s first Test at Brisbane in
1928, taking six for 32 as Australia were skittled for 122 in the first innings and
two more in the second, but although he failed twice, Bradman did not get out to
him either time. Indeed it was not until the final Test of the 1930 series in
England in which Bradman shattered so many records that Larwood actually
took his wicket. But what the scorebooks do not reveal is that Larwood and the
rest of the England players were convinced he had Bradman caught behind off a
short ball before he had scored the first of his 334 runs at Headingley – a snick
Larwood said could be heard all over the ground – and that Larwood’s shortpitched bowling severely discomfited Bradman during the Oval Test in which he
scored 232, hitting him in the chest and on the wrist.
It was this that led directly to Douglas Jardine’s adoption of Bodyline tactics
in Australia in 1932–33. In Larwood, Jardine believed he had the means to keep
Bradman quiet. Larwood was not quite 5ft 8in in height but with a superb
sprinting run-up he was able to generate great pace off the ground while
remaining highly accurate. Jardine thought that if Larwood was instructed to
bowl like this on the line of Bradman’s body, or the body of anyone for that
matter, with a packed leg-side field, then run-scoring would be very difficult.
And he was proved right: scoring runs off Larwood was very difficult. Bodyline
tactics were not in fact adopted on all occasions but Larwood dismissed
Bradman four times in the four Tests in which he played, as well as twice more
in a warm-up match. Bradman got past 50 only once in those six innings and was
bowled three times. It was one of the most sustained periods of success any
bowler ever enjoyed against Bradman

Larwood took 33 wickets in the series before hobbling from the field during
the final Test with a foot injury. Although he never bowled as quickly again
because of that injury, which forced him to miss most of the 1933 season, he
would certainly have played for England again had not MCC been so eager to
appease the feelings of the Australians, who felt Bodyline was unacceptable.
Ahead of the next series in England in 1934, MCC effectively made it a proviso
of his selection that he should apologise for his part in Bodyline and – totally
admirably – he refused, insisting he had done nothing wrong. That Larwood’s
Test career was over before he turned 30 was a personal tragedy but there was
something heroic in his refusal to publicly express regret over something in
which he felt only pride. His bowling in that series had been astonishingly good
and the Australians – Bradman apart perhaps – had no personal issue with
Larwood, even those such as Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield who were injured
by him.
As fast bowlers do, Larwood rose fast. Emerging from a mining community
at Nuncargate near Nottingham, he played his first match for Nottinghamshire at
the age of 19 and within two years had sealed his Test selection by bowling Jack
Hobbs twice in a county match and England captain Arthur Carr, who also
happened to be his county captain, during a Test trial. In his second match for
England he helped them regain the Ashes with six wickets in a famous victory at
The Oval in 1926.
For the next ten years Larwood was a scourge of county players who found
the prospect of facing him from one end and the left-armer Bill Voce from the
other – Voce was another member of Jardine’s Bodyline attack – as perhaps
their least comfortable appointments of the summer. Larwood took 80 wickets at
18.43 when Nottinghamshire claimed the championship in 1929 but that was
actually one of his more expensive years. He had topped the national bowling
averages in 1927 and 1928 with figures of 16.95 and 14.51 and did so again in
1931 and 1932 when his wickets cost only 12.03 and 12.86 respectively. Even as
late as 1936, when he took 100 wickets in a season for the eighth and last time,
his average was again under 13. These figures bear eloquent testimony to his
destructive capabilities, as does the fact that more than half his 1,427 first-class
victims were bowled.
The irony of the Larwood story is that in retirement he emigrated to
Australia, the place where he had been such a figure of opprobrium, and lived
there contentedly while counting former opponents such as Jack Fingleton,
Woodfull and Oldfield among his friends. He was belatedly and rightly
recognised by his own country with an MBE in 1993 when he was 88 years old.