Obituary

Ray Lindwall

LINDWALL, RAYMOND RUSSELL, MBE, died on June 23, 1996, aged 74. Ray Lindwall was undeniably one of the great fast bowlers, arguably the greatest of all the Australian practitioners, and perhaps the man who established fast bowling's role in the modern game. In the 1930s the game had been dominated by batsmen, with the brief, unacceptable, interlude of Bodyline. Lindwall began a new era in which bat and ball were more evenly matched, when the bouncer (or "bumper" as it was then called) was an accepted weapon, provided it was not overused. He bowled the bumper sparingly but brilliantly, and the mere possibility of it made batsmen uneasy. He thus paved the way for all the other great fast bowlers of the post-war era, from Trueman to Ambrose. But in fact more than two-fifths of Lindwall's 228 Test victims were bowled.

Ray was a Sydney boy and watched Larwood during the Bodyline series. He played with other kids on patches of green and in the streets, choosing - it is said - the street down which the great leg-spinner Bill O'Reilly walked home in the hope of catching his eye. He was also a promising batsman, scoring a double-century and a century in different junior matches on the same day. At the St George club, he came under the wing of O'Reilly, who used the novel technique of photography to help the lad correct his faults. But Lindwall was a smart learner and dedicated to practice; during the war, when he was in the South Pacific and suffered horribly from tropical diseases, he marked out his run-up between the palm trees and got his bowling into a beautiful groove.

Halfway through the home 1946-47 series against England, he and Keith Miller emerged as the undisputed leaders of Australia's attack; on top of that Lindwall actually beat Miller to a Test century, scoring 100 at the MCG in the New Year Test of 1947, batting at No. 9. At Sydney two months later, Lindwall took seven for 63 and, after getting seven for 38 against India in 1947-48, came to England in 1948 an established star.

On that tour, he rose to even greater fame as the leader of the attack in Australia's 4-0 triumph. And though Bradman used him carefully, his very presence dictated the terms. Lindwall was injured during the First Test, but in three of the subsequent four he was devastating, reaching his peak at the Oval when he took six for 20 as England were bowled out for 52. He had a clever slower ball (which would have stood him in good stead in modern one-day cricket) and, though his arm was too low to satisfy the sternest purists, he was close to being the complete fast bowler. The low arm meant his bowling had a skidding effect, which made the bouncers all the more fearsome. Sir Pelham Warner once exclaimed "Poetry!" and Lindwall, watching himself on film, discovered that all the effort and pain failed to transmit itself to anyone else. "I don't look tired," he murmured with surprise.

Lindwall never quite reached such a peak after 1948, but he played Test cricket for more than another decade. Jack Fingleton said Lindwall never liked bowling much, and always preferred batting, but he was opening Australia's attack as late as January 1960, when he was 38, and played the last of his 61 Tests a few weeks later. Lindwall simply would not go away. Inevitably, his shock effect had declined by then but, like his eventual heir Dennis Lillee, he compensated by his canniness, mastery of technique - he began to use the in-swinger far more - and utter determination. He captained Australia once and, for several seasons, Queensland, having moved from New South Wales, before finishing with 228 Test wickets at 23.03 and 794 first-class wickets at 21.35.

He was a much liked man but not a flamboyant character like Miller. Cardus rated Lindwall alongside Ted McDonald as "the most hostile and artistic fast bowlers I have ever seen" - but preferred to write about Miller, who was better copy. Lindwall was a quieter man, whose strongest adjective was his own concoction, "blooing". He was a phenomenal all-round sportsman: had he not played cricket, Lindwall could easily have been a rugby league international, and he ran 100 yards in 10.6 seconds. But when he retired he ran a flower shop with his wife in the centre of Brisbane. If anyone in Australia ever imagined floristry was unmanly, his presence in the shop provided an answer, though he concentrated on the figures, and his assistant claimed he could not tell a rose from a dandelion.

While still playing for New South Wales, he once saw the young Alan Davidson bowl a bouncer at an opposing No. 8. "You've just insulted all fast bowlers," Lindwall told him. "You've admitted No. 8 can bat better than you can bowl. Get into the nets and learn how to bowl." And he took him there, and taught him.

© John Wisden & Co