CW Special: My Close Encounters with Cricketing Greats – Part II: Kersi Meher-Homji

Posted by on Monday, December 4th, 2017 in Cricket

 

HAROLD LARWOOD

 

 

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The Ashes Test going on in Adelaide and Anindya Dutta’s current expose of the Bodyline series in

Cricket Soccer made me go down memory lane and remember an informal interview I had with Harold

Larwood over three decades ago.

 

In that infamous 1932-33 Bodyline series he and fellow fast bowler Bill Voce made Don Bradman look

mortal; his series average being 56.57 including only one century (103 not out) in eight innings. Good

average for most cricketers but disappointing for The Don. Larwood still  remains as one of the most

feared fast bowlers the game has known.

 

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Books have been written on Bodyline and I don’t wish to add to it. This is only to present to readers the

lovable side of Harold ‘Lol’ Larwood.

 

 

How I met Harold Larwood

 

When I realised that Larwood lived in Randwick, a suburb in Sydney, I rang him on impulse one

morning in 1980.

 

Known for his shy nature I expected a polite refusal. To my surprise he replied, “Can you come over this

afternoon?

 

I jumped at the idea but was soon full of self-doubt. I had not done sufficient home work. I was as

nervous as a batsman in the 1930’s about to face him.

 

As I was driving down to his house I remembered that I had grown up in Udvada – a village in India –

watching Larwood’s portrait on the wall of my parent’s home. He was my eldest brother Behram’s idol.

Larwood’s bowling action on that portrait was poetry in motion.

 

 

What questions will I ask the living legend?

 

Touch on Bodyline where under his captain Doug Jardine’s instruction he had made Australian

batsmen, with few exceptions, nervous wrecks?  Where he had filled the Aussie crowds with hate-filled

hysteria and all but broken diplomatic relations between England and Australia?

 

I also wondered at the coincidence. Two of England’s most feared fast bowlers – Larwood and Frank

“Typhoon” Tyson – had decided to make Australia their home; Larwood since 1950 in Sydney and

“Typhoon” as an English teacher, author and radio commentator in Melbourne in 1960.

 

Came the big moment.

 

I parked my car outside his home and before I could ring the bell, the great man came out himself to

receive me. Although 75, he looked in his early sixties. In nervous excitement I dropped my pen, the

interview pad and camera as he warmly shook my hands saying, “You expected me to be bigger, didn’t

you?

 

The sprightly former demon bowler took me to his lounge as I mentally went back six decades watching

group photos of England teams to Australia in 1928-29 and 1932-33, the Nottinghamshire county

memorabilia, mounted balls, framed and autographed Score Cards of famous matches and photographs

of his contemporaries.

 

As I flitted about dazed he said, “They would not have approved of the things they are doing to cricket

now”, referring to World Series Cricket, colour clothing, the catchy tunes, the money-money-money

hooha.

 

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Obbs [Hobbs] and Sootcliffe [Sutcliffe] were the best batsmen ever,” he said. Even after 30 years in

Australia, he had not lost his Nottinghamshire accent! “No other batsman could have scored 20 runs on

that spiteful wet wicket but playing masterfully, Sootcliffe scored 135 of the very best in the fourth

innings of the 1928-29 Melbourne Test.”

 

My tongue was now free of inhibitions as I said, “My uncle Kharshed Meher-Homji often bragged about

hitting you for four fours in your first over in a Pentangular match between Europeans and Parsees at

Bombay Gymkhana in 1936.  Do you remember it, Mr Larwood?”

 

He offered me a glass of beer and replied with a smile, “That was a long time ago and you don’t

remember getting hit, do you? India has produced famous hitters. Nandu [CK Nayudu] was one.

Marshall and Amar Singh were also powerful hitters. In bowling Nissar was really quick. Among

batsmen Duleep was a stylist.”

 

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He told me a story which explained why the Notts captain Arthur Carr offered him a glass of beer before

a match. In a county match against Sussex, Duleepsinhji was in grand form, attacking every bowler

including Larwood.

 

Duleep was on 86 at loonch [lunch] and we were exhausted. So skipper Arthur Carr offered us few

glasses of beer. After I bowled my first ball after loonch, I saw Duleep returning to the pavilion. I asked

fielders the reason before I got the answer. I had bowled him but the ball was so fast only a few could

see the bail fly. After that incident, Arthur always offered me beer before a match!

 

Did Jardine do likewise in Australia?”, I asked teasingly.

You must be joking; Jardine was too much of a disciplinarian,” he responded with a wink.

 

Just then his seven year-old grandson entered the room. To my query “Does he want to be a quickie?”,

he replied, “No, a wickie [wicket-keeper]”.

 

I have five daughters but no son. My wife Lois was not interested in cricket before we were married. I

was a Test cricketer then and she had not heard of me!

 

 

Do you go out to watch cricket these days?

 

I was invited to attend the third day of the recent Sydney Test [against England in January 1980] by

the Australian Cricket Board.”

 

He opined that the first day of the Sydney Test when England lost 8 for 90 was not on a sticky wicket.

The batting technique is not as good as in the past.” However, he was full of praises for England’s left-

hand batsman David Gower. “He reminds me of Frank Woolley.

 

 

Why do fast bowlers break down more frequently now than in your days?

Look at their shoes on the field. They are meant for jogging. They are flimsy and have no ankle

support. Look at all of today’s fast bowlers with back trouble – Lillee, Thomson, Hurst, Pascoe… I had

shoes with one inch soles and wore three pairs of socks. I never suffered from back trouble.”

 

 

Do fast bowlers seek your advice?

When Colin Cowdrey was here in 1970-71, he requested me to have a look at Bob Willis.

 

 

Do you like Australia?

It’s a beautiful country and I have made many friends. Bert Oldfield [the legendary Australian

wicket-keeper of his era] was my very good mate. We met frequently and talked. In fact I had a lunch

appointment with him the day he died. Keith Miller and Bill O’Reilly are also my good friends.”

 

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‘Lol’ Larwood the bowler who the Aussies booed in 1932-33 was respected and loved when he made

Australia his home. He worked as a night watchman and a storekeeper in Sydney than use his name as a

past celebrity to gain plush jobs.

 

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In 21 Tests he took 78 wickets at 28.35. He specially remembered his batting performance in the Sydney

Test in February 1933. Sent as a nightwatchman he scored 98 runs in 135 minutes.

 

I was going along merrily when my partner Maurice Leyland told me that I was two runs short of a

hundred. The next ball was an easy one but I checked my shot. The spooned catch was taken by Bert

Ironmonger, one of the worst fielders ever! Had I reached that century, it would have been forgotten.

But because I missed it by two runs, it is remembered even now.”

 

 

As we parted, he said “You have made me think of the pleasant past; revived memories of old friends.”

 

Any thought that lovable ‘Lol’ had become a softy in his seventies vanished when we shook hands at the

end of my memorable visit. So powerful was his grip that I almost shouted “ouch”!

 

When the interview was published in Cricket World Quarterly, India, in December 1980, I sent him a

photocopy. He wrote back saying how much he enjoyed our meeting and my article.

 

He passed away 15 years after our pleasant chat at his home. I shall never forget that afternoon having

beer with him as he showed me his memorabilia galore, especially an ashtray from Douglas Jardine,

inscribed: “To Harold for the Ashes 1932-33. From a grateful skipper.”

 

 

9 responses to “CW Special: My Close Encounters with Cricketing Greats – Part II: Kersi Meher-Homji”

  1. Naresh Sadasvan says:

    WOW! This is priceless. I recall sitting with my dad who spoke at length about the Pentagular, about Larwood, and the Bodyline series. Of course, I had watched the BBC documentary Bodyline several times. First time, I am reading first hand, an interview of a great by another great. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing, Meher-Homji-ji!

  2. Kk says:

    Wow! Nostalgic!

  3. Anindya Dutta says:

    I am personally blown away by this piece. It’s such a privilege for us the readers of Cricket Writer to be able to share in your experiences Kersi. This one is especially wonderful for me given what happened with Larwood and the larger than life figure he remains despite what the MCC did to him for their narrow interests. The fact that Australia welcomed him and gave him a better life is one of cricket’s biggest ironies and blessings at the same time.

  4. Chinmoy Jena says:

    This meeting must have been an experience. Having watched Bodyline on TV and reading a number of articles and books on Larwood the feeling, after going through the contents of this meeting between you both is like reliving those moments.I wish the present day fast bowlers read this and know how to remain fit.Great reding this articl;e Mr.Meher-Homji.

  5. Naresh, KK, Anindya and Chinmoy, thanks for the complement. It was an unforgettable experience.

  6. Ritesh says:

    Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful. this is a priceless piece

  7. Somasundaram V.. says:

    Excellent..it’s another piece of nice article..

  8. Pleased you enjoyed it, Somasundaram.

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