Ray Lindwall raised the standard for fast bowlers in the ten years after the
Second World War. He was a terrific athlete who could have excelled at several
other sports had he not chosen cricket and the mechanics of his run-up and
delivery were widely admired. Fred Trueman, who, like Richie Benaud (writing
in the 1970s), rated Lindwall the finest fast bowler he had seen, described
Lindwall’s approach to the wicket as the most rhythmical of all.
Genuinely fast bowlers of earlier eras had rarely maintained their speed and
menace for long in Test cricket but Lindwall did. No out-and-out quick bowler
had previously taken even 100 Test wickets; he not only became the first to 100
wickets but was the first past 200 as well and by the time of his last match in
1960 had 228 to his name (exactly half of them against England). At that time
only the fast-medium Alec Bedser of England, with 236, had taken more.
Lindwall in full cry was reckoned to be one of the great sights of the era.
His action was not without its impurities. His arm was not as high as it might
have been at the point of release but this slinginess helped him make the ball
leave the right-hander very late in flight. Trevor Bailey said that he never
encountered a genuine fast bowler who moved the ball in the air as much or as
late as Lindwall, adding that he was also the most devastating exploiter of the
new ball. By way of variation Lindwall brought the ball back in off the seam.
Lindwall’s ‘drag’, a method by which bowlers took advantage of the back-foot
no-ball rule then in operation (no-balls were measured by where the back foot
landed rather than the front foot) to steal some extra distance before release, was
controversial but also perfectly common. It gave batsmen less time to react than
they have under today’s laws – and in Lindwall’s case you needed every split
Lindwall was the most feared fast bowler in the world in the later 1940s.
With Keith Miller as his new-ball partner, Australia knew they had a
combination of bowlers of rare power and menace, and neither of them was
reluctant to use the bouncer. They first came together properly in the Ashes
series of 1946–47 – they had appeared in one Test before that against New
Zealand but did not open the bowling – and Lindwall’s seven for 63 in the first
innings of the final Test in questionable light was a chilling portent of torments
to come. When the sides met again in England 18 months later Lindwall made
the new ball count in almost every innings and finished with 27 wickets at just
19.62 apiece, even though he played only a small part in one Test because of a
strain. He bowled more than half his victims and when he shattered England’s
first innings at The Oval with figures of six for 20 – England all out for 52, still
their lowest total at home – and followed up with three for 50 in the second,
seven of his nine victims had their stumps hit. Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ won the
Test series 4–0 and went through the entire tour unbeaten, Lindwall taking 86
wickets at 15.68 in all matches.
The following year the South Africans prepared for the arrival of Lindwall
and Miller by practising against baseball pitchers, although as it turned out
Lindwall was not at his fastest because of a groin problem. He still took 12
wickets in the series at 20.66, and claimed another 15 at 22.93 when England
were trounced in Australia in 1950–51. It was then the turn of the West Indians
to endure Lindwall and Miller on their own pitches. Lindwall captured 21
wickets to Miller’s 20.
So dependable was his action and physique that Lindwall did not have what
could be remotely described as a bad series with the ball between making his
debut in 1946 and the tour of England in 1953; during that time his average
never rose above 23. So accurate was he that even if he did not take wickets he
rarely went for runs. He suffered a dip when England regained the Ashes in
Australia in 1954–55 but within weeks was back among the wickets in the
Caribbean, where he also scored one of his two Test centuries.
Lindwall was a more than useful lower-order batsman although in what was
generally a strong and successful side – Australia lost only nine of the 61 Tests
in which he appeared – runs were rarely needed from him. The hundred he
scored in the third Test of the 1946–47 series at Adelaide made good what was
already a strong position, but nevertheless the way he struck the ball was a fair
indication of his class; coming off 90 balls, it was at the time the second fastest
scored by an Australian.
As a youngster, Lindwall was inspired by watching Harold Larwood bowl at
Sydney during the Bodyline series and there was perhaps something similar in
their styles. Lindwall was lucky in his mentors. He played his early cricket for
the St George club in Sydney under the captaincy of Bill O’Reilly, and Bradman
took him under his wing during his first tour to England in 1948