Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 22, 2013

The Bodyline Hypocrisy Conversations With Harold Larwood – Michael Arnold

51VrDzfk5lL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_England have bullied Australia before – in 1932-33 – and it was a much better set of Australian players who shrivelled under that English onslaught, one that included Mr 99.94 himself, Sir Don Bradman. England did it – so legend has it – by bowling fast at the batsmen: hence Bodyline. But separating truth from legend is never easy, and it may have suited all parties to let sleeping dogs lie, with legend suffocating truth. But it doesn’t suit Michael Arnold, whose chance meeting with Harold Larwood led to conversations, some research and now, a book.

Rather like the tactic itself, Arnold’s book is relentless, effective, brutal, repetitive, occasionally dull but, in the final reckoning, wins out. It’s good on providing a context for the reception of Bodyline amongst the Australian public and English establishment. The impact of the Great Depression on Australia is presented in detail, as is the coarse discourse in local politics, media and amongst the men in the cheap seats at the MCG and SCG. Gambling too, played a role in the reaction of fans to their champions’ (especially their Champion’s) near capitulation in the face of England’s ruthlessly conceived and executed plans. It won’t make for pleasant reading for today’s Australians.

They will find some solace in a writing style that leans too heavily on posing rhetorical questions at the end of paragraphs in a format that suggests, “Well, if it’s like that now / in the 90s / in the 70s etc, imagine what it was like in the 30s?” Arnold is not a professional historian and, though well read and drawing on thirty years living in Australia, his conclusions often have rather more of the assertion about them than the inevitable conclusion based on the evidence. It’s an unabashed polemic, so alternative explanations given short shrift – if any – and there’s no obligation to be balanced.

The series of ’32-’33 will always excite strong emotions and this book will do little to turn down a heat that still bubbles. What it will do is add weight to the growing acceptance that Douglas Jardine, whose plan it was, and Harold Larwood, who was his weapon of choice, deserve to be acknowledged unequivocally as greats of the game. And that those who saw to it that they paid a price for their ruthless pursuit of victory (and there were plenty, both in the UK and Australia) should be seen as smaller men than the two giants who took their propaganda, hypocrisy and ostracising without complaint. Because that was how a Gentleman captain and his Professional bowler were expected to behave – they wouldn’t today.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

 

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