Cricketer of hostility and humility

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THE PICTURE that emerged yesterday of Harold Larwood, the former England fast bowler who has died in Australia aged 90, is of a uniquely hostile cricketer, but a quiet, self-effacing man.

Tributes from those who played with him were scarce, for he outlived almost all his contemporaries. Not many in English cricket knew him well, as Larwood had spent the second half of his life living in modest seclusion in Sydney, occasionally emerging to attend a Test match in the city that became his home in 1950.

Don Bradman was the player whom Douglas Jardine, then England captain, had chiefly in mind when he took Larwood's ferocious pace and devised around it his infamous Bodyline tactics for the 1932-33 series Down Under. But the legendary Australian never allowed his confrontations with Larwood to affect their relationship.

"I am sad to learn that my old cricket rival Harold Larwood has passed away," Bradman said in a statement. "Although we were arch enemies on the field, this was because of Jardine's tactics. There was no personal animosity between Larwood and me and we always remained good friends. His name will live in history as one of the greatest bowlers of all time, and the fact that he made Australia his home showed his love of this country."

The career of Denis Compton, the former Middlesex and England great, did - just - overlap with Larwood's. Compton, now 77, remembered: "He bowled at me in my first year in county cricket - 1936. He was in the twilight of his career and only coming off a short run-up, but it was still the fastest thing I ever came up against.

"We have lost a great man. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was in Australia for Bradman's 85th birthday. I travelled from Adelaide to Sydney to see him and his wife. We had a drink and talked about Bodyline. He still referred to Douglas Jardine as Mr Jardine."

Ray Illingworth, chairman of the England cricket selectors, met Larwood twice on England tours to Australia, in 1962-63 and 1970-71. "The thing that really struck me about him was how small he was," Illingworth said yesterday. "He didn't look to have big shoulders. I was just amazed at his size for a quick bowler.

"I don't think he went to a lot of matches. His eyesight wasn't too good. He mainly followed cricket through the media. He seemed like a very nice, modest man. I met him at the ground in Sydney. He just came into the dressing-room for a word, that was all. He wasn't really the focus of attention, just a quiet, mild-mannered man."

Of Larwood's role in Bodyline, Illingworth said: "I think Harold just bowled to order. The law was such in those days that you could have the field placing to do it. You can see on film what a smooth action he had.

"I just think he's the biggest name there's ever been in cricket from a quick bowlers' point of view. OK, he didn't play as long as Fred Trueman, he didn't take 300 wickets, but I think everyone who knows anything about cricket has heard of Larwood."

Darren Gough, the Yorkshire and England fast bowler, cherishes a very special memory of Larwood, who made a point of ringing him during the Third Test at Sydney last winter. "It was a very great honour for me to meet Harold Larwood," Gough said. "He was a very great bowler who did a lot for cricket and it is a sad day for cricket throughout the world."

Larwood and the English cricket Establishment were never close, but he received a warm tribute from Alan Smith, the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, who said: "We are sad at the passing of the last central English link to an era of high drama.

"Perhaps the fastest English bowler of all time, Harold Larwood was throughout his life a man of integrity, modesty and good humour. The affection shown to him by Australians is a measure of the man. In recent years he was always delighted to give a warm welcome to members of touring England teams in Australia."

Appreciation, news section, page 3