When I was messing around with the various images that appear above, the ones where the parrot appears somewhere, I really wanted to include one on a cricket theme. More specifically, the infamous Bodyline Ashes series of 1932/33.
I’ve always enjoyed cricket, although more as a spectator than a player. Playing the game is a little like war — long periods of mindnumbing tedium interspersed with short spells of gut-wrenching terror.
The tedium is when you are yawning and fielding deep, returning the occasional ball that comes your way [although standing with your hands clenched waiting to catch a skyer can test your nerve] while the sheer terror is standing at the crease armed only with a bit of wood as someone hurls a rock hard ball at you at what seems like 120 mph.
No, cricket is a much better as a spectator sport as far as I’m concerned, better still as an auditory experience courtesy of Test Match Special. But my distant memories of what it felt like to be a player only magnifies my admiration for those who can deftly flick away the ball for four that would only land me in hospital. And even more for the bowlers who could deliver that missile with such venom and accuracy.
I have quite a few heroes of the bowler’s art, both quick and slow. Muttiah Muralitharan for one who played his last test match today, dismissing the last Indian batsman to reach a remarkable 800 wickets, a feat unlikely to be equalled.
Flat Jack Simmons was another favourite. Anyone less athletic-looking it would be hard to imagine and yet his right-arm off breaks were a joy and he was nippy in his close fielding well into his 40s.
But it’s the ‘quicks’ that really get your heart pumping. Like Michael Holding, or Whispering Death as he was known because he ran so quietly the umpire couldn’t hear him approach the stumps. Or Fiery Fred Trueman, Glenn McGrath, Freddie Flintoff, Bob Willis, Wasim Akram, premier exponent of the reverse swing ball, the list is a long one.
For me though, there is only one — Harold Larwood — the ‘villain’ of the Bodyline series. Only 5′ 7½” tall, he was the fastest bowler in the world, arguably the fastest the world has ever seen. Not only was he quick, he was consistently accurate and brave too, bowling when his boots were leaking blood from damaged feet.
He was also a ‘player’ not a ‘gentleman’ from the coal mines of Nottingham, but his prize-winning biography by Duncan Hamilton is the best place to learn more of the man.
The point here is that he terrorised the batsmen that summer in Australia in the early 30s, hence the headline. But it occurred to me that the fast bowler is a terrorist in another way too. If the batsmen are the security services, defending attack after attack on their wicket, the fast bowler, like the terrorist, only has to get lucky once.