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Fingleton, John Henry Webb (Jack) (1908–1981)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

John Henry Webb (Jack) Fingleton (1908-1981), journalist and cricketer, was born on 28 April 1908 at Waverley, Sydney, third of six children of Melbourne-born James Fingleton, tram conductor, and his wife Belinda May, née Webb, born in New South Wales. In 1913 his father was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as Labor member for Waverley. He was returned for Eastern Suburbs in 1920 but died that year of tuberculosis. Jack was educated at Christian Brothers’ College, Waverley, where he developed a great love of literature. Aged 15 he began a career in journalism with the Sydney Daily Guardian, subsequently working for the Daily Telegraph Pictorial, the Sun and the Sydney Morning Herald (1928-42).

A member of the Waverley Cricket Club, Fingleton made his début for New South Wales in January 1929. He impressed when in November 1931 he resisted the opening onslaught of the Aboriginal fast bowler Eddie Gilbert, scoring 93. Following a century against the visiting South Africans, he was selected as twelfth man in three successive Tests against South Africa. His first game for Australia was the fifth Test, in February 1932, in which he achieved the second highest score (40) on a difficult pitch.

After Fingleton scored a courageous 119 not out as an opener for New South Wales against England, he was selected to play for Australia in the 1932-33 `bodyline’ series. In the second Test he scored a stubborn 83 in almost four hours. Harold Larwood, the spearhead of the English attack, described him as the bravest of cricketers. Although Fingleton was battered by Larwood, he later helped him to migrate to Australia. After a `pair’ (consecutive ducks) at Adelaide Fingleton was dropped from the Test side and, despite a successful season in 1933-34, was omitted from the 1934 team to play in England. Hurt by his omission from this tour, he changed himself from a fluent stroke maker to a stodgy batsman who remorselessly accumulated runs. He later acknowledged that a possible reason for his non-selection was the persistent but erroneous belief that he had leaked `bodyline’ dressing-room comments to the press.

Fingleton had a successful 1935-36 tour to South Africa, scoring centuries in the last three Tests. When he made 100 in the Brisbane Test of the 1936-37 Ashes series, he became the first batsman to score four successive Test centuries. In the third Test of that series, he achieved another century. He failed to reach 50 in the Tests against England in 1938.

Fingleton was a right-hand opening batsman, whose `doggedness, courage and perseverance’ was noted by Johnny Moyes. However, on occasions he was a fluent and attractive stroke maker. A dashing and athletic fielder, he excelled both in the covers and in the leg trap.

On 17 January 1942 Fingleton married Philippa Lillingston Whistler Street, second daughter of (Sir) Kenneth and Jessie Street, at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, Waverley. Serving in the Militia for twelve months from April 1942, Fingleton completed an intelligence course and, having been commissioned as a lieutenant in October, was posted to public relations duties. He spent three months as press secretary to Billy Hughes in 1943. A friend of another prime minister, (Sir) Robert Menzies, Fingleton persuaded him to initiate the annual prime minister’s cricket match in Canberra. However, he avoided party politics and admired the Labor leaders John Curtin and Ben Chifley.

Joining the Canberra press gallery in 1944, Fingleton worked as a political correspondent for Radio Australia and as Australian correspondent for a number of English (including the Sunday Times), Indian and South African newspapers. He published ten books, mostly on cricket, although his evocative autobiography, Batting from Memory (1981), includes some astute social and political observations. His cricket works included Cricket Crisis (1946) on the `bodyline’ series, a biography (1978) of Victor Trumper and a book (1949) to mark the retirement of Sir Donald Bradman. In an era when Bradman was idol­ised, Fingleton was one of the few writers to temper praise with criticism. While he admired Bradman, he also cited examples of his aloofness, selfishness and ruthless determination to win. Menzies regarded Fingleton as `the best of cricket writers’. Appointed OBE in 1976, `Fingo’ retired from the press gallery in 1978. On three occasions in 1979-80, he was a television guest of Michael Parkinson. The interviews manifested the flowering of a public personality: Fingleton as a raconteur with a keen sense of humour appeared a relaxed and gregarious public figure.

Survived by his wife and their two daughters and three sons, Fingleton died on 22 November 1981 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. The scoreboard at Manuka Oval, Canberra, which had been moved from the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1982, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (1982)
  • R. Cashman et al (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket (1996)
  • Canberra Times, 23 Nov 1981, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Nov 1981, pp 1, 27
  • Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac, 1982, p 1198
  • series B884, item N225443 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Fingleton papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'Fingleton, John Henry Webb (Jack) (1908–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fingleton-john-henry-webb-jack-12492/text22473, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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