Obituary: Ray Lindwall

Ray Lindwall was the best fast bowler I ever saw. His faster ball was of such speed that it has been matched since the Second World War only by Michael Holding and exceeded only by Frank Tyson.

He could also employ a vicious bouncer, ferocious enough to embarrass or endanger - before helmets and body padding - batsmen of the class of Hutton, Compton, Weekes and Worrell. Add an outswinger that moved late enough to have even the great players committed, a break-back savage enough to break a shin, a devious slower ball and assorted cutters.

All these were the end- product of Lindwall's art. It emanated from a most beautiful, rhythmical run-up and delivery, the left shoulder turning into the batsman, the final delivery stride ending with a leap as the right arm completed the circle, leaving the man facing praying, in the fraction of a second left to him, "Oh, dear Lord, what's next?"

In those days the great professionals did not rush into print with tittle- tattle about their friends, their foes or themselves: we shall never really know how frightened were Hutton and Compton, the two English champions who, for a decade, bore the brunt of Lindwall's reign of terror. We do know that Compton has admitted paying visits to "the little room" before going out to face Lindwall and his fast- bowling comrade Keith Miller.

Hutton, less physically strong and with a left elbow damaged in a wartime accident, would emerge from the pavilion even paler than usual. We can surmise that Hutton would be most concerned with his dignity, Compton determined to give as good as he got. The quartet between them, in the years 1946-56, provided some of the most entrancing cricket in the game's history.

As a child Lindwall saw Larwood bowl. He joined the St George club in Sydney, whose previous roster included the names of Bradman and Bill O'Reilly. He learnt to bowl in his street, at paraffin tins. He served with the Australian army in the Solomon Islands; a harrowing experience.

England had some inkling of what to expect when Hammond took the first post-war touring team out in the autumn of 1946. An Australian Services team had toured England in the victory year of 1945 and virtually matched England, blow for blow. The shock came in Australia when only two of that fine Services side, Miller and Lindsay Hassett, were considered good enough for the full Australian team. Among the new names was Lindwall's.

He was then 25, just under six feet, fair-haired. What might he have done had he played Test cricket earlier? Lingering malaria, followed by chicken pox, limited the impact he had on that series, Australia winning 3-0, but when he arrived in 1948 England were soon conscious of a new mega-star.

He took 27 wickets in Tests, 86 on the tour. Bradman used him in controlled bursts, although any incoming batsman knew that he would have to face either Lindwall or Miller very quickly, the new ball being then available after 55 overs.

Jack Robertson, a Middlesex opener good enough to play for England, ended in hospital with a broken jaw. Compton was carried off, in the middle of a courageous 145 at Old Trafford, after trying to hook a no ball. Yet Lindwall, compared with the West Indians of recent vintage, used the bouncer sparingly; it was the ace up the sleeve, not the cosh.

World-famous, he returned to complete his education on using the seam by playing in the Lancashire League. The league's amateurs were simply not good enough to get near his stock ball, the outswinger, and, when he showed his exasperation one day at Nelson, he was told, in forthright Lancastrian terms from the pavilion: "Bowl at t' bloody stumps."

He made three tours of England and visited South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand. For 12 years he took the cherry for Australia. He was a more than useful batsman as his record in 29 Tests against England proves: 759 runs at an average of 22 (and 114 wickets, also for 22). He will be remembered at the Oval for his 6-20 when England were dismissed for 52.

He was amiable and polite with admirers off the field. I once asked for his autograph, explaining that an associate editor of the Daily Express in London thought him "the best there ever was". Ray looked startled at such an assertion, then grinned: "Tell the bloke to come over. I'll buy him a beer."

One noted cricket writer summed up his career: "Most of his cricket was played at the highest level, on the best wickets and against strong opposition. His skill, unaccompanied by histrionics, was something for the connoisseur to savour."

He moved from NSW to Queensland in 1955, was appointed MBE and became a successful florist in Brisbane. His lifelong friend and comrade, "Nugget" Miller, a feted guest during the current Test match at Lord's, will grieve.

Whenever Lindwall began his limbering-up exercise in the outfield the ground became electric as the crowd waited for Bradman to call him up to bowl. It was the signal that Australia were about to go nuclear.

Derek Hodgson

Raymond Russell Lindwall, cricketer: born Mascot, New South Wales 3 October 1921; married (one son, one daughter); died Brisbane 23 June 1996.