Alan Hill writes in "Whistling up the winners" [The cricketer, January 1996]:
The present-day dearth of English fast bowlers is arguably linked to the collapse of a great industry. Whistling down a mine shaft for a cricketer was a legend based on truth. The escape from the harsh under-ground toil was celebrated as gladly as a break-out from the wartime fortress at Colditz. The measure of the miner's martyrdom was expressed by one observer: `There was one road into a coal mine and two exits - sport and politics.'
Apparently Harold 'Dickie' Bird, first class cricketer and world class umpire, came from a mining background; his father used to work in pits. Harold Larwood was another of those 'unearthed' cricketers. [Now you know why Harolds tend to be such gems]. Alan says:
....At 5ft 8in he was a pygmy compared with the modern West Indian speed merchants. But his success, awe-inspiring in its ferocity, was a testimony to the strength he acquired as a miner.
"Had Larwood been an office worker," wrote John Threlkeld in his absorbing book on the coal industry, "one doubts whether he would have had such formidable power in his legs and shoulders, essential requirements for an intimidating bowler. It was not just Larwood's physical strength. His mental attitude had been moulded down the pit as well. He gave no quarter on the field, to give emphasis to the cliche that miners worked and played hard."
Catch hold of a reproduction of that piece here on cricinfo. If not anything else you will enjoy a rare pic of Dickie bird playing a lofted on drive for Liecestershire during his playing days!
[The wicketkeeper in the pic, by the way, looks a lot like Michael Atherton...but that can't be.]