Ray Lindwall © Getty Images
Great sportsmen generally respond to nasty press articles through their performance on the field. Ray Lindwall did that on January 4, 1950. However before that, he also chose to respond on the dance floor. Arunabha Sengupta recalls a side-splitting incident from the Australian tour of South Africa 1949-50.
The greatest of cricketers respond to criticism by delivering the goods on the field, making the critics eat their own spiteful words.
And without doubt Ray Lindwall was one of the greatest of them all. He did respond on the pitch.
But he also had a sense of humour that hit back stingingly off the field — on the dance floor.
Lindwall had arrived in South Africa with the reputation of a fearsome fast bowler. He had 65 wickets in Test matches at an average of 19, having demolished the Englishmen at home and in England.
Hence, when he remained wicketless in his 18 eight-ball overs in the Johannesburg Test, it came as a disappointment. In particular Sydney Sun’s Dick Whittington, a former opening batsman of South Australia, was less than impressed. He hit out at both Lindwall’s rather insipid bowling and increasing bulk by describing him as ‘the poor portly ghost of a once great fast bowler.’
Lindwall’s doting sisters loyally wired him Whittington’s report at Cape Town’s Langham Hotel.
Shortly after that a dance was arranged at the Cape Town Rotunda for the players and accompanying press. During the evening, Lindwall spied Whittington indulging in a rather smooth ‘excuse-me’ Foxtrot with a stunning lady for his partner. The fast bowler quietly made his way to the couple and tapped the critic on the shoulder before extending his arm towards his pretty woman. “May I have the rest of this dance? Don’t mind me, I’m only a ghost!”
He was not done with just this retort, though. On January 4, 1950, the last day of the second Test at Cape Town, Lindwall picked up five second innings wickets to help Australia to an eight-wicket victory.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)