Larwood: Speed Unparalleled

09 Aug

Strong-backed, flint-eyed, spurred on

At lunch by beer and Top Mill snuff,

(And, in the brutal heat of Brisbane,

Dry-mouthed slurps of cold champagne), 

He was England’s secret weapon,

Jardine’s pick to smack Bradman’s

Unbruised arse. The ascetic captain’s

‘Leg theory’ required something beyond

The ordinary – run-of-the-mill medium

Would not do; instead, it must be searing pace,

Plus forensic accuracy, someone who could

Put the ball where it would hurt the most,

Ball by ball, over by over, day by day.

‘Larwood, you’ll open, downhill,

Downwind, and remember what we said:

The Don will flinch and step away

If you’re fast enough and unforgiving.’

Without cricket, where might Harold Larwood’s

Life have taken him? Instead of confinement

In the pit’s foul air, he was transported

To the greenest of fields, garbed in cricket

Whites and boots, the colliery quite forgotten.  

His was a speed unparalleled, a thing of

Grace and beauty, a kind of poetry, all

Belying the stark brutality of his intent,

The humbling of the lonely man facing him. 

Unnerved, batsmen padded themselves with towels

To dull the pain, ducked and dived, all

Too aware that their precious heads

Were unprotected, bar baggy caps and Brylcreem.

There was no answer to Larwood’s onslaught,

Australia outplayed in a flurry of shattered

Stumps and discarded bats, haunted by

Images of batsmen poleaxed by another

Larwood thunderbolt.  Jardine’s Ashes

Quest was won.  The price? A sullen fury

Down under, a diplomatic froideur,

And a search for a scapegoat.  Well,

Look no further than Harold Larwood!

He must be told, in no uncertain terms,

‘I’m afraid, Larwood (no matey ‘Harold’ now),

You will have to apologise

For the damage done.’  It was as

Brutal as Bodyline itself, this apportioning

Of blame, Harold shunned like a pariah by

The powers that be, oily men, suited by

Savile Row and shod in expensive brogues

For whom Larwood was one more

Humble subaltern who should just be

Blindly grateful for what cricket had,

All too briefly, given him. 

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