Street cricket is a thing you don’t much see these days, but if you were to approach the centre of Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, taking the route you would be likely to take, and had, perhaps, taken a glass or two at lunchtime or your glasses were obscured by rain, you might, in a passageway between a boarded-up* library and a branch of Morrisons, fancy you had come across a rare example.
If you were to come nearer and wipe the rain from your glasses, you would see that you had stumbled across a tableau and, if you were to read the plaque nearest the figure of the bowler, you would realise that it was meant to represent Harold Larwood, whose home village of Nuncargate forms part of Kirby-in-Ashfield.
I think this is a fine statue, though I’m not sure it’s Larwood, or, rather, which Larwood it might be. It is not the chthonic Larwood of the imagination, bred in darkness, brutish and mercurial, or the Larwood of biography, the shy young Methodist or the kindly Victory Road sweetshop-owner; nor is it the kinetic Larwood of the newsreels, knuckles dusted red from brushing the earth at the beginning of his delivery arc, toecap frayed from ripping through the crease, knees buckling under the downward force of his own upper body-strength.
The sculptor has captured, if anything, not Larwood but a Platonic ideal of the fast bowler, a frozen embodiment of pent-up energy, an Agincourt bowman on the verge of release, a hawk at the height of his stoop.
Approaching from the other direction, you would first come across a figure who is unmistakably, without the aid of his plaque, Donald Bradman, prematurely playing forward with a smug expression on his face, rather than, cunningly or otherwise, backing off in the direction of square-leg, as was his wont when confronted with Larwood.
The Don is also confronted here, at sillyish mid-off, by this figure, rain dripping from the end of his nose and looking like a rugby full-back preparing to stop a speeding winger in his tracks.
In his case, I don’t think I would have identified the sturdy, but diminutive figure as the 6’4″ Bill Voce (also a local) without the aid of this forthright quotation:
Now the Larwood statue is, as I have said, very fine and Bradman and Voce seem to fit together well, but moving from one end to the other and considering the piece as a whole there is something odd about it. For one thing, the Bradman statue is slightly less than life-size and Voce, as I have said, considerably less so, whereas Larwood (a short man in real life) is at least seven feet tall. For another, Larwood is clearly, whichever no-ball rule you apply, about to delivery one which would nowadays arouse the suspicion of the authorities:
An uninstructed viewer might well come away with the impression that the cause of the unpleasantness on the Bodlyine tour was that the Don was in the habit of blindly playing forward to massive no-balls delivered from about 18 yards by a giant, which would indeed have led, inevitably, to injuries and ill-feeling.
A little sleuthing suggests a reason for the oddity of the composition : the statue of Larwood (intended to be more than life-sized) originally stood on its own in another location and was mounted on a plinth. Only recently was it moved to its current site, where the other figures were added to create the current street cricket scenario.
(This is carping, by the way. I was in Kirkby-in-Ashfield specifically to see the statue of Larwood and thought it well worth the visit. I also liked the town and the surrounding countryside and have added it to Duffield and Buxton on my mental list of places I’d like to watch some cricket in the near future, if I’m spared.)
*Only temporarily so, I think.