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Ray Lindwall – Australia’s Finest

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It was only a few weeks after his eleventh birthday that Ray Lindwall and his elder brother Jack watched their first Test match. They had to queue outside the Sydney Cricket Ground for almost six hours in order to get in but, for the personal performances they saw if not the result, the two boys chose wisely.

The match, the first of the famous ‘Bodyline’ series, produced an innings that, when Lindwall wrote an autobiography more than twenty years later, he still described as easily the most dazzling exhibition of batsmanship I have seen. The batsman in question was a 22 year old Stan McCabe, and the innings the unbeaten 187 in which he took on the leg theory attack of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. He didn’t smash them to all corners, but did to the two that mattered, leg side bumper after leg side bumper thumping into the pickets between fine leg and mid wicket.

Of course McCabe’s was a lone hand, and the other performance in the match that the young Lindwall was in awe of was that of Larwood. The Notts Express took five wickets in each innings, the eleven year old being struck by the smooth approach and gradual acceleration, the fire and control in delivery and the whipped follow through were combined in an action that could not be faulted.

There are snippets of Larwood and Lindwall in action all over the internet. Here is a brief clip of Larwood, and also one of Lindwall. You can make up your own mind about how similar the two men are, but I find it very difficult to believe, as Lindwall asserted was the case, that he did not model himself on the great English fast bowler.

The origins of Lindwall’s story date back to 1853 when his grandfather, a Swedish clergyman, decided to emigrate to Australia. After that migration, at the age of 41, Nils Lindwall married an Australian girl. Despite Nils’, in relative terms, advanced years, the couple went on to have as many as fifteen children. Lindwall’s father was the middle one of seven sons. Certainly in 1954 Lindwall was happy that every Lindwall in Australia was descended from his grandfather.

The mere five offspring that Lindwall’s parents produced were therefore relatively modest, two boys and three girls. The family was spared the worst excesses of the Great Depression because Lindwall’s father, after starting his working life as a miner, had a decent job with the local water company. Tragedy stalked the family however as Lindwall’s mother died in 1929 when he was just eight, claimed by a bout of pneumonia that modern antibiotics would doubtless have seen off easily enough. Much parenting of young Raymond was therefore done by his older sisters, and he was only seventeen when he lost his father as well. Lindwall senior collapsed one morning on his way to work. He had had a cold he could not shift for weeks, his lungs seriously damaged by his years in the mines.

After leaving school at 18 Lindwall got a clerical job with a Sydney company that manufactured aeroplane parts and bomb fuses. He played cricket and Rugby League for St George under the watchful eye and careful tutelage of ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly. He might well have developed into an international Rugby League player had he opted for that, but he chose cricket. Above all Lindwall was a fine athlete, with a personal best for the hundred yard dash of 10.6 seconds, at a time when the world record was 9.4.

At one point Lindwall sought to join the Air Force, but was rejected on the basis that the nature of the business of the company which employed him, despite his administrative role, meant that he had a reserved occupation. Once the threat of invasion by Japan grew larger however that rule was relaxed, and Lindwall joined the Army. He showed an aptitude for signals work and spent most of his war in New Guinea and on various Pacific islands. There were plenty of bombs around, but Lindwall was not directly involved in any fighting. He did however suffer more than most from a variety of tropical diseases, and also developed the skin condition dermatitis, which from time to time flared up for the rest of his life.

When cricket resumed after the war Lindwall was quick to rise to the top and was chosen for the Australian trip to New Zealand in 1945/46. Three years later the solitary match between the two countries was given Test status. Lindwall took a couple of inexpensive wickets in a crushing victory, but in truth the slow wickets did not suit him and his overall record on the trip was unspectacular.

The description of Lindwall that comes over time and again from those who saw him and who played with him was that he was the ‘complete’ pace bowler. Genuinely fast he had a late away swinger that would trap the best, and a break back of which Larwood himself would have been proud. He also had the sort of slower ball that would have made him a big hit in today’s white ball cricket, and if conditions dictated he would slow down a little and cut the ball either way. Purists would say that his arm was a little low, but that served mainly to increase the effectiveness of the famous Lindwall bumper.

Lindwall really came to prominence in the last three Tests of the post war Ashes series of 1946/47. He made what he thought was his Test debut in the first match of the series, but he bowled just twelve wicketless overs in the first innings and, laid low by chicken pox, did not bowl at all in the second and missed the second Test. Back for the third match with Australia already 2-0 up he took his first wickets, but his main contribution came in his second visit to the crease. He came in at 341-7 with England still in with a chance if they could get the last three wickets cheaply. Less than two hours later, when Lindwall was dismissed for exactly 100 that chance was gone. At the time it was the second fastest Test century recorded by an Australian.

Amidst all the praise for his bowling Lindwall’s talent with the bat is often overlooked. It was a part of the game he much enjoyed and he had a fine eye for the ball, most of his better innings being aggressive cameos rather than stubborn rearguard actions. In time he made one more Test century, coming in at number eight and flaying a disillusioned West Indian attack for 118 in the Caribbean in the fourth Test of the 1954/55 series. There were three other centuries in the First Class game, and another 19 fifties, but Lindwall never stepped out of the lower order so, given that he clearly had the talent to do so, must never have had the inclination to seek to turn himself into a genuine all-rounder.

In 1948 Lindwall was at his peak and his partnership with Keith Miller was one of the major reasons why ‘The Invincibles’ came to be so known. Lindwall and Miller hurled down their thunderbolts at all the England batsmen and none of them faced the pair with confidence. Don Bradman fully exploited the playing conditions that allowed his spearheads a new ball every 55 overs. They bowled in short bursts and no new batsman was allowed to settle in without one or other or both of them quickly being brought into the attack. Lindwall was the main destroyer however, taking 27 wickets at 19.62 in comparison to Miller’s 13 at 23.15.

Australia’s next series was in South Africa in 1949/50, a series they won comfortably enough by a 4-0 margin. Lindwall had a few fitness niggles on the tour and took just 12 wickets in the first four Tests, albeit at the perfectly respectable cost of 20.66, and it was a surprise when he was dropped for the final Test. The reason is not entirely clear. He certainly wasn’t unfit and it is clear from his autobiography that he wanted to play. Some sources suggest it was a disciplinary move, but do not give any detail. I have also read that the two captains, Lindsay Hassett and Dudley Nourse, had agreed between themselves to restrict the number of bouncers bowled and that therefore Lindwall’s speed was not needed. The reality would seem to be a little more prosaic, simply that with the series already won at a canter Lindwall was rested to give others (in this instance Geoff Noblet) a chance to show what they could do.

There was never any question of Lindwall being other than ever present during the 1950/51 Ashes series. Australia, not without the occasional alarm, went 4-0 up before England grabbed a victory in the final Test. It was Australia’s first Test defeat since 1938 and perhaps Lindwall would not have minded being rested in that one. In any event he was not so prolific as his debut series, taking only 15 wickets but, at 22.93, still at a very reasonable cost.

Back in the early 1950s, as far as fast bowling was concerned, life was much like in the aftermath of the Great War. Australia had two great fast bowlers in Lindwall and Miller, and nobody else had anyone above fast medium. There were complaints about too much short stuff coming down in the same way that Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald had attracted the same criticism. Much was made in England of Australian complaints about Harold Larwood and Bill Voce in 1932/33 and the issue finally came to a head in 1951/52, from an unexpected source.

West Indies, fresh from their triumphant series in England in 1950, were the much heralded visitors. They didn’t quite fire however and lost the series 4-1. During the fifth Test Lindwall’s old mentor, O’Reilly, now a respected journalist, thundered from the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald; The rule relating to systematic short pitched balls should have been applied against Ray Lindwall in the fifth Test yesterday. As one who played in the famous series of 1932-33, against England, I must deplore the means by which he took the wicket of West Indian Everton Weekes. He added, presciently; Here’s hoping officialdom will not raise its eyelid when the same stuff is bowled back at us. This will happen as soon as another country has bowlers fast enough to do it.

That didn’t quite happen over the next two series, at home against South Africa in 1952/53 and the Coronation Year Ashes in 1953. A series that was expected to be a routine victory against the Springboks turned out to be an interesting 2-2 draw. Lindwall, who missed the fifth Test that South Africa won to square the series, was certainly not to blame. He took 19 wickets at 20.15. In England the first four Tests were drawn before England regained the Ashes with victory at the Oval. Again Lindwall was at his best. He took one fewer wicket than in 1948, 26, but actually paid less for his wickets, 18.83 as against 19.62, than he had for the Invincibles.

It was 1954/55 that the series dawned where the searing pace was in the opposition ranks and, after the Australians comfortably won the first Test against Len Hutton’s England, they were on the receiving end of a new model Frank Tyson and Brian Statham. Lindwall and Miller were still there for Australia, but Lindwall was a little slower and used more in the role of a stock bowler than previously. He missed the fourth Test through injury and, with 14 wickets at 27.21, he was less effective than he had been.

After their defeat by England the Australians went to the Caribbean and won 3-0. On some good batting tracks Lindwall’s average for the series slipped above 30, although he still managed to take 20 wickets. In 1956 England reasserted their superiority thanks to Jim Laker and Tony Lock on wickets which, with some justification, the Australians complained had been made to order for the Surrey pair. The tour was as disappointing for Lindwall as it was for the other Australians. He went lame in the first Test and missed the second Test as a result. He still bowled well enough, swinging the new ball as well as ever, to finish second to Miller in the overall tour averages, but in the three and a half Tests in which he played there were only seven wickets at 34 runs apiece.

On the way home the Australians stopped off in Pakistan for one Test followed by three in India. On the Karachi mat the visitors had no answer to the cut of Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad and lost the inaugural Test by a distance. In India however they won 2-0. In the first Test Lindwall had to leave the field with stomach problems in the first innings and bowled just nine wicketless overs. He roared back in the second innings however and took 7-43 as the Australians completed an innings victory.

At the end of the tour there was some controversy as Lindwall was obliged to forfeit £50 from his good conduct bonus. His ‘crime’ was that newspaper articles in his name appeared before his tour contract ended, although it would be surprising if his fee for the articles, not in any way sensational, did not exceed the penalty. Miller, who did the same but even earlier in the tour, was docked £100.

During the 1957/58 season Lindwall turned 36. He was not chosen for the Australian party that toured South Africa. He had thought he might be named as captain and was bitterly disappointed to be overlooked. Before the party left Ron Archer pulled out, but the call went out to ‘Slasher’ Mackay to replace him. Lindwall must have feared his Test career was over when, later still, two of the pace bowlers, Ian Meckiff and John Drennan, were sidelined and it was the uncapped Ron Gaunt who was flown out as a replacement rather than him. Lindwall was enjoying a decent season in the Sheffield Shield, and old friend Miller raged in his newspaper column about the decision; What else did he have to do to make the team?

According to his biographer, John Ringwood, Lindwall was offered £6,000 by an English newspaper to report for them on the 1958/59 Ashes series, but he turned them down in the hope he might yet force his way back into the Test side. Given that the 2017 equivalent of that sum is around £130,000 Ringwood is surely mistaken, but whatever the true figure Lindwall clearly felt that not only did he have a point to prove, but something to offer as well.

When Queensland played the MCC before the first Test Lindwall was at the top of his game. He had match figures of 7-73, all bar Laker front line batsmen. None of the Australian selectors were there to see what happened. Former England captain Len Hutton was present and he wrote that not only was Lindwall still the finest fast bowler in Australia, but that he should be given the captaincy for the first Test. He was not however selected. Perhaps the Australians were suspicious that Hutton and England were trying to influence the selection of the their side.

It was difficult to criticise the selection panel as Australia dominated the series, and after three Tests were already 2-0 up. Lindwall was delighted to be recalled for the fourth match. It had been a controversial series, the Australian pace attack of Ian Meckiff and Gordon Rorke having extremely doubtful actions. When congratulated on his recall by former England paceman turned writer Bill Bowes Lindwall famously quipped; Yes, I’m the last of the straight arm bowlers.

There were three wickets for Lindwall in that fourth Test, and he retained his place for the fifth when he took four more. He dismissed the obdurate Trevor Bailey, being tried as an opener, for a duck in each innings. The second innings dismissal represented his 217th Test wicket, and he moved past Clarrie Grimmett to the top of the all time Australian wicket taking table. He was, naturally, a happy man, but made it clear to anyone who asked that despite the record he wasn’t ready to retire from Tests.

There was to be one more full season as a First Class cricketer for Lindwall. In 1959/60 he was selected for the party that toured the sub-continent with three Tests in Pakistan and five in India. There was a good deal of illness amongst the tourists and Lindwall did not escape it, although he did not suffer as badly as some. He was fit for two Tests in each country and added another nine wickets to his tally, albeit at a cost of almost 40 runs apiece. His Test career ended in Calcutta, his final victim being Bapu Nadkarni, caught at the wicket by Wally Grout.

When Lindwall got home he had lost six inches from his waist measurement, but still made himself available for the one remaining Sheffield Shield game of Queensland’s season. He was a tired man however and announced on the eve of the game, for which he was appointed captain, that it would be his last. The game against Western Australia was drawn, and there was just a single wicket for Lindwall, tailender Bob Mateljan, fittingly caught by Grout. It was a significant catch as well, Grout’s eighth for the innings, a new world record. In the second innings Lindwall bowled five more overs, his final delivery, entirely inappropriately but perhaps fittingly given his 38 years, was a slow spinner.

Outside the game Lindwall had, with an eye to the future, joined Custom Credit Finance Company in Brisbane as a state sales manager. Two years later, with an insurance company linked to them, he and his family went to England. They stayed for about a year during which Lindwall was given sufficient time away from his duties to enable him to cover the 1961 Ashes tour for a newspaper and after the series ended, with a 2-1 victory for the visitors, a book was published in Lindwall’s name, The Challenging Tests. In 1963/64 he did some radio work on the South African tour of Australia, but did not greatly enjoy it.

In 1965 Lindwall, together with Keith Miller and Arthur Morris were granted benefits. They did not make a huge sum, and everything Lindwall gained had to be spent on medical fees when he slipped whilst bowling in one of the games and suffered a serious knee injury. After that he joined his wife in a florist venture she had set up on a small scale a few years previously. Lindwall was no horticulturalist, but he was a decent salesman and had a wealth of contacts to go with his enduring popularity.

Lindwall has a wonderful record. All told in 61 Tests he took 228 wickets at 22.03. Of those 103 were bowled. Add in his lbws and almost 60% of Lindwall’s dismissals required no assistance. Another telling statistic is that more than 60% of his wickets were top six batsmen, and 67 were openers. His great contemporary Fred Trueman described him as the greatest fast bowler that’s ever lived. West Indian great Weekes’ verdict was that he was easily the greatest fast bowler I ever batted against and the words of England batsman Tom Graveney were Ray was certainly the best I ever played against. He had everything.

There was one last crack at the oldest enemy for Ray Lindwall, albeit an indirect one. In 1970/71 Ray Illingworth’s England went to Australia and emulated Jardine’s side by regaining the Ashes. A young Dennis Lillee played in the last two Tests. After the series was over Lillee approached journalist Miller to ask for Lindwall’s contact details in order to seek his advice. Lindwall was a great help to Lillee, who summed him up thus; He was a lovely guy, unassuming and soft spoken, who enjoyed himself with a few quiet beers. Ray Lindwall died in 1996 in his adopted home of Brisbane. He was 74,

 

 

 

 

 

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