By Gautam Bhattacharya
When this correspondence visited the Larwood family located in downtown Sydney, Mrs. Larwood appeared to be slightly upset with her husband. His constant enquiries about a little batsman where proving to be the case of irritation. “Why don’t you ask him” she said, pointing a finger toward me. T-e-n-d-u-l-k-a-r. Larwood is still not very adept at pronouncing his name but that does not stop him from asking question about the boy. When you tell him about tendulker’s phenomenal exploits, his face light up. when you tell him how expert all over the world are goning ga-ga bovver his near flawless technique , Larwood’s parched face smoothness out into a smile. Potentially he must be want of the four best batsman of all time, who are other three?
“ Archie Jackson, Stan McCabe and of course Don Bradman,“ Larwood replies, and then those questions from his again”.” What is his(Tendulkar’s) stance like? Is he a good player of fast bowling? The questions comes in streams. But why the hell can’t Larwood find out for himself? The simple answer is that he is physically handicapped .Harold Larwood is blind. He defense his inadequacy why explaining,” I am quite old you see. Actually the oldest living test cricketer around. Some time had to go. Either your eyes, your legs, or your heart. In my case it is the eyes? If asking him about his eyesight is not painful enough, then asking him for an autograph is perhaps worse.
“Yes you’ve written ‘II’, now come down . Sign ‘A’. again further up, now climb down,” his wife instructs and Larwood obliges. In the middest of the painstaking that he is forced to undergo, one is reminded of his age old enemy. Granted that he is six years younger, but Don Bradman is still better off. Nevertheless. Larwood has retained enough of his memory to at least analyse the cricket that was played during his time and thru cricket that is played today. He wasn’t tuning into the commentary during the world cup.” What do you call that” The World Cup? The tone is edged with sarcasm. “That’s not cricket” he finished candidly. The discussion is closed.
But given the choice wouldn’t he love to play cricket in this day and age? Today cricket is a game where there is more money, more glamour, more publicity. It is an where even if a player of the caliber of Larwood is sacrificed at the altar fo cricket, he would at least in the sideline with a lot of financial comforts.
“No mate I think you are wrong”he shrugs and says confidently.“ Why can’t you understand the simple fact that in our time only cricketers played cricket. Real cricket. These days you only get to see players,they are not only cricketers. “so saying he goes down memory lane…”you know , we were very fierce competitors on the field then , but there was a lot of camaraderie too. I remember when Archie Jackson coverdrove me for four to complete his hundread,I stood back and clapped. My teammates where simply amazed, “Haold you’re clapping for his hundred “, they cried in disbelief!
I shot back “ you fools, I am not clapping for his hundred , I am acknowledging the short. That delivery would have knocked out any other batsman.” So saying he gets up and returns shortly with a telegram. It looked like a piece of paper that was well preserved , even after 60 years.the message on it was quite legible. It read :” well bowled Harlod, heartist congratulation Archie.” “ do you know who the sender was ? Archie Jackson, “Larwood said and added “ do you know where he sent it from? From his deathbed. He was congratulating me on my performance in the series(Bodyline). Archie died three weeks after sending he telegram.” He said a little wistfuuly.” He was a man , a real man, unlike a fewnwho grumbled, “ Larwood’s voice was choked with emotion.
Bodyline! One of thecenter points of Larwood’scricketing life. It was a sereies that went on to uproot everything that the ‘ gentleman’s game’ had stood for. It also a topic that Larwood is uneasy with. Larwood detests giving interviews and bodyline is one of he reasons. Did he match the serial Bodyline? “well, acouple sccens. Rubbish it was “he stated firmly, “ they showed me bowling in grounds (in the formative years) with trees at he background. I never bowled at such grounds. I was acoalminer and has a tough upbringing .” did he think that he was treated unfairly in the post-Bodyline period?
Larwood pondered over the question, got up andcameback in a few minutes, armed with an album , the pages which was torn. The album contained numberous pictures. Picture which will have to undergo a better system of prevension if they are to be shown to a visitor in the next two or three years.
Who says the blind can’t see? They can sense , which is as good as seeing . As Larwood turns the page, he suddenly stops and points to a particular picture . it is a famous picture of Bill Woodfull being felled by a Larwood thunderbolt.”tell me what you see in this picture ,” he asks excitedly. “You are a cricket correspondent you ought to know , “I is obvious that Woodfull’s left leg is parrel on the stamps,’ oh no, “ he ball was bowled at the rib cage . today you hear the commentators praising the west ndian fast bowlers for bowling waist high, for me that was bodyline…”.
Sixty years have past. Sixty long , agonist years. But for Larwood , he wound still bleeds. His mind continue to wander in the past like a restless soul that is looking for release. You break into his thoughts which a question : who was the best batsman he has bowled at?
“Jack Hobbs, on all kinds of wickets, he was the best that I’ve ever seen,” the reply was spontaneous. But what about Bradman, you counter?
“well he was an accomplished player on a helpful wicket, but Hobbs was definitely better on all kinds of wickets. “ so saying. Larwood went on to shower praises on Archie Jackson and Stan McCabe. “ they were excellent players”. He remarks, and he manne with which he used the word ‘courageous’, makes one believe Larwood did not have place of Bradman I his list.
One would obviously expect the major portion of Larwood’s memory would be clouded over with the various of age. But no, the man remembers everything as though he had played cricket only yesterday. He remembers Bradman too. How could he forgot a man with whom he had formed one of the greatest rivalries in cricket. Bradman still remains Larwood’s arches enemy and he derives a sadistic pleasure if anyone tries to bring down the Don.
The ideal thing to do would be to stoke the fires of a long time rivalry in Larwood’s heart, to goad him into speaking out the feelings he had nursed Bradman. Was he aware that a few of the modern day British writers were challenging Bradman’s supremacy as a Bradman? Their reasoning was that had Bradman faced the four west Indian speedsters of today structures he wouldn’t have been half the batsman he was.
“Who has written this?” Larwood enquired softly. One or two names console him. Surely the Don would have failed in the light of today’s fast bowling attack and ultra defensive field placing? Larwood suddenly flares up…”Judging Don’s supremacy! Thank God my eyes have gone, I don’t have to read all this garbage.” He turns up the pages of his album. it was fascinating, almost three fourths of it is occupied by pictures of Bradman. bradman batting, Bradman relaxing…..
How good was he?” Very good,” he had superb eyesight and was capable of hitting genuine good length stuff. One a good wicket, he would murder you.” Would he rank great batsman like Greg Chappel, Viv Richards or Sunil Gavaskar alongside the Don? Larwood shakes his head ruefully.” Chappell would not be in the same street,” he says categorically, “Viv Richard too. I had a lot of in him, but when I saw him batting….” Larwood’s tone is a trifle sad : “Don was ten times a better batsman.Watcing Viv’s bat, I always got the impression that he gave the bowler an equal chance. On any kind of wicket. I would always have 50-50 chance with Viv…but Bradman won’t give you achance my friend.”
And Gavaskar?” No chance. Whoever plays with a helmet cannot be a great batsman”.”Larwood stated emphatically. But what Gavaskar used was a skull cap.” It’s a same thing,” Larwood argued.
“He also used an arm guard. Not my cup of tea, “He stated dismissively. how did larwood manage to garner such a lot of information about gavaskar?Larwood continues,” The man is such a prolificrungetter.I had expected so much from him” then he mutes to himself”No,not even your little fellow (Sachin) will manage to surpass the Don. Don was too good. There will never be another like him.”
It is all too apparent that Larwood hasn’t forgiven Bradman through the year. And since his ignominious exit from Cricket.Hearld Larwood is still in search of someone who will manage to surpass the Doninterms of talent. Only that would satisfy his frustrated soul. After bodyline Larwood was a pale shadow of his former self. It was almost as thought he was praying fir his sins. in kind. Injuries followed and he had to take a break from first class cricket in England. Things did begin to look up for him, when after an operation on his left foot he tried to prove himself in the country cricket. He turned out to be the leading wicket taker on three occasions and by virtue of his performances. he stood a genuine chance of getting back into the England team….all he had to do was say “sorry for the short pitched stuff. Larwood doesn’t try to counter these charges. He just shakes his heard and admits candidly.” after he operation .Ilosta yard ot vtwo in terms of peace.” So one could safely opine that he backed out of the team because he stood an unequal chance against Bradman.
“Chance?”Larwood said incredulously “Don would have murdered me!”How daos one explain such a varied range of emotions that are so tightly packaged into one person? Love, hate, respect, compassion.Surely Larwood and Bradman must have been the two greatest antagonists ever to meet on the cricketing field. It was perhaps only their intense rivalry that brought out such varied emotions I Larwood. Whoever said that time was a great healer was definitely wrong. For Larwood, it only seemed to deepen the wound. Sixty years, and the fire still burns.
Bradman stays in Adelaide and Larwood in Sydney. Apart from the geographical barrier there is a definite lack of personal vibes between the two. The last time they met was in 1977 at the Century Test in Melbourne.Bradman made a speech at the Board dinner, and at the end of it was given a standing ovation. Every cricketer and the cricket administrator worth his salt stood up to felicitate the man. Only one man didn’t budge……Harold Larwood.
That was the last time Larwood watched a Test match. Surely he’s been to the museum at Bowral,200 kilometers from Sydney? The museum came up in 1989 and is filled with pictures, oil paintings, bats and souvenirs of cricketers from all over the world. The authority for the final selection of pictures and artifacts rests with Bradman.One would find a W.G.Grace,Ranjit Sinjhi,Gary Sobers, Victor Trumper,lillee,the Chappell brothers But two personalities are notable in their absence: Douglas jardine and Harold Larwood.Wasn’t it significant?
“Not a single picture?”Larwood says, taken aback, then he controls himself and breaks into a hearty Laugh. “don’t’ worry’ my picture will be there. It will take some time though.’’ How could he be so sure?’ ‘after all the pictures are coming from Adelaide. It has to take some time. He replies, his tone with sarcasm. What is surprising is not the spiteful attitude that Larwood harbors towards Bradman and vice versa but the absolute, detached way that he lives life today. Larwood did not know that Gavaskar had retired. He did not know the captain of the English team. He did not know that the Sidney Hill was Now non existent, neither had he heard of Sir Richard Hadlee or Michael holding. So who told him about Tendulkar.
‘’An old friend of mine’ he replied guardedly. One suspected that it might have been Bill O’Relly. On asking for his phone number’ the old man could not produce it and handed over the yellow directory. I gently pointed out the error “so what”. He countered. He was reminded that the yellow page directory contained the numbers and addresses of companies. The white directory had the residence numbers.
“Oh’is that so” he replied puzzled. His wife got up to get the white page directory. Did I really meet him? Or was it all a dream? Thoughts raced around my head on my way back how could a man actually live in 1932, in this day and age. Larwood had not kept pace with time . it took a good two weeks for me to get rid of the Harold Larwood experience .Strange maybe. But that’s what Harold Larwood does to you. Or for the matter bodyline. It always goes to your head.
February 2000, We were walking up and down, from one end of Leonard Avenue to another. In down town Sydney. “ where could be the house,”I kept on asking myself. A middle aged man armed with a dog comes out on a Sunday evening stroll. As luck would have it, he doesn’t know the significance of his neigh hour one Mr. Harold Larwood. He only knows, Larwood died a few years ago in Sydney. But for me that’s not good enough. a) I would like to know the exact location of Larwood’s cemetery. b) I would like to inform Mrs. Larwood that finally her husband has got his rightful due from Bradman museum, known as ‘Bradman collection’ in Adelaide. A few hours later I returned to my hotel, quite dejected. There seem to be no cemetery for Harold Larwood. According to a source , Hindu rites were performed to him as per his last wishes. And his family has also vacated the Leonard Avenue flat. No one knows where they have gone.
Harold Larwood,after all was never a Bradman! The don’s life times are very well documented well preserved. Even though Harold Larwood came to terms with this disparity in his life time, he still would have welcome to Don up above. How could be leave all by himself without his greatest enemy—-without his reason for existence?