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In a recent post, we explored the issue of some cricketers transcending national loyalties and being embraced by the cricket world in general. In this respect, Sir Don Bradman is probably the only one that has unequivocally achieved that status. Perhaps Sir Garfield Sobers approaches that level of worship but even his considerable aura doesn't hold a candle to The Don.
At a time when we are reminded that the great man narrowly missed out more than one triple figure landmark, averaging 99 with the bat and a mere 92 in life, Australia has been reminiscing about his achievements and trying to get a handle on "just how good was he?"
Most cricketers seem to acknowledge that his status as The Greatest Ever is unquestioned. Neil Harvey seemed to think that in the modern era, The Don would average 199.9 whilst others, less prone to getting carried away have merely reiterated the theory that he would still be a stand-out figure in any age.
We'll never know. How good was he? Twice as good as everyone else? Twice as good as those he played against or twice as good as anyone he'll come across in the modern game? Trying to transplant Bradman's genius on to the contemporary stage is an impossible task but it makes for some interesting debating points.
The Bradman fans, of which there are many, argue that he was so far ahead of his time that he would undoubtedly have coped with the more athletic demands of today's game. With better equipment, sports science, coaching and pitches, Bradman would have dominated like no other. He was as brilliant as he was allowed to be, as he needed to be, to stand tall in his era. Like any great athlete, they are utterly convinced that he would have continued to distinguish himself from the mere mortals of the game.
Yet, there are others, slightly more pragmatic and perhaps a bit less seduced by the romanticism of the legend of Bradman, who concede that he may not necessarily rule the roost to that extent. They point to a number of factors that may bring Bradman back to the field if he were still plying his trade today. The quality of fielding is obviously a factor.
Most reasonable observers would probably agree that the standard of fielding and catching has improved enormously, and continues to make quantum leaps. These days, most international cricketers are athletes. They chase down the boundaries instead of trotting off amiably behind another Bradman shot. That's a lot of runs saved, a lot more runs that Bradman would have had to score to average 99.
Less clear cut is the question of whether the quality of bowling has improved. Archival footage is inconclusive. Certainly, Tyson and Trueman were fast but how many other genuine quicks were around. Were there any Warnes or Murali's around to baffle him with spin? Bradman never faced O'Reilly in Test cricket. Were the wicketkeepers as agile and skilled?
Certainly there were less teams so much fewer opponents but on the flip side, less soft runs to be had against mediocre attacks too. These days, perhaps the video analysis would have led to a more thorough breakdown of his weaknesses (did he have any?) and perhaps, Bodyline might not have been viewed with remotely the same horror. Would he have made the adjustment and disposed of the great West Indian pace quartets of the 70s and 80s? Would he have dealt with Wasim Akram's reverse swing or Murali's doosra? We'll never know.
It's a question that is fascinating but only in an academic sense. We know he was good, bloody good, but just how good?
I can't verify the accuracy of this story but I've heard it told a few times so perhaps there is a grain of truth to it. Apparently when Bradman was asked to address the 1992 World Cup team, one of the young Australians (attributed toTom Moody) asked of him: "If you played against England today, do you still think you would have averaged 99?". Modest to a fault, Bradman replied "of course not. I'd be lucky to even average 50". Shocked by this, the same player stammered "but Sir, how can you say possibly say that? I mean, you were the greatest of all time and you don't think you'd average even 50 today? The English attack isn't that strong". The Don smiled gently and allegedly said "son, don't forget, I'm 83 years old now".
That's how good he was!
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in BrisbaneFeeds: Michael Jeh
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Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.