'Better late than never, isn't it?': Richard Williams talks to cricketer Harold Larwood, now an MBE at 88

'TO TELL you the truth, I haven't heard anything official yet,' Harold Larwood said last night, his broad north Nottinghamshire accent still more authentic than anything in Ken Russell's version of Lady Chatterley, despite 45 years of living in an Australian suburb. 'All'us I know about it is from such as you. But John Major rang yesterday to congratulate me, so maybe it's true.'

Harold Larwood's MBE, announced in the birthday honours list on Friday, may represent John Major's most meaningful act of classless-society warfare to date, the righting of an historic wrong by which a Nottinghamshire miner was made to take the blame for decisions made by his boss.

'Oh yes, I'm pleased,' Larwood said perkily on the phone from his home in Kingsford, a suburb of Sydney, where he lives, aged 88, surrounded by his wife, five daughters and cricketing mementos that he can no longer see. 'It's better late than never, isn't it?'

Larwood was born on 14 November 1904 in Nuncargate, in the Nottinghamshire coalfields. He made his first-class debut for the county in 1924, aged 19. Two years later he made the first of his 21 Test appearances for England, and also topped the national bowling averages, as he was to do five times in the next 10 years, a feat unmatched by any other bowler this century. He was the fastest and most accurate English bowler of his time, despite his unimpressive physical stature.

He is most closely identified with the 'bodyline' tour of Australia in 1932-33, when he and his fellow Notts opening bowler, Bill Voce, obeyed the orders of their captain, Douglas Jardine, to aim at the bodies of the home side's batsmen - principally Don Bradman. Evidence is still being unearthed to attribute the blame for this most lurid episode in cricketing history, which almost led to Australia's departure from the Commonwealth.

During the fifth and final Test of the series, Larwood broke down. It was later discovered that he had cracked several bones in his left foot through landing on the hard pitches. His bowling, he says, was never the same again: 'I had an operation, and when I came back I cut my run in half and bowled medium pace.' His first-class career ended in 1938 with a total bag for Notts of 1,247 wickets at 16 runs apiece.

To the England selectors, he symbolised an unhappy episode. 'Politicians are trying to hound me out of cricket,' he told the Sunday Dispatch, prompting the next day's headline: 'Cabinet Ministers deny Larwood's allegations. Bowler's charge of political interference described as 'Extraordinary Moonshine' '. He was never to play for England again, and emigrated in 1949.

However bitter the controversies may have been, his memories seem mellowed by the years. 'We left England in mid-September,' he said of the Australian tours, 'and I didn't see my wife again until late April, just in time to start the English season. For that we got pounds 400. And because we sailed first-class, I had to buy a cabin trunk and evening dress and shirts. That cost me about pounds 100 before I'd even left England. But I enjoyed it all.'

In Nottinghamshire, he has always been revered: the latest addition to the Trent Bridge ground is a smart grandstand dedicated to Larwood and Voce, the kind of opening bowlers England are in such dire need of today.

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