Australian Cricket September 8, 2008

There is only one Don

From Brendan Layton, Australia Following the man's centenary last week, I saw a plethora of Bradman articles thrown around talking about his legendary status and iconic role within cricket

From Brendan Layton, Australia
Following the man's centenary last week, I saw a plethora of Bradman articles thrown around talking about his legendary status and iconic role within cricket. I've decided to throw my two cents in and look at both man and player.

It is extraordinarily hard to dismiss a man who has averaged 99.94 in a 52 test career span, with 29 centuries and 13 half centuries and a high score of 334, which was at its time a world record. He was leagues ahead of his nearest rivals of batting, which were at the time Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe of England, and George Headley of the West Indies. Headley and Sutcliffe average 60 and Hammond averaged 58, although that averaged suffered after World War II.

He also played in an era of uncovered pitches in which batting could be made difficult when weather permitted, such as the creation of a 'sticky dog' which led to balls shooting erratically off the surface. It has been a wide source of debate as whether Bradman often batted on these styles of wickets (In the home series of 1936-37, he famously reversed the order on a drying pitch at Melbourne, and his 270 changed the series). The majority of his tests were against England, he played against South Africa, the West Indies and India once in his career and none of those tours were overseas, which is vastly different to the current crop of players that play in a variety of conditions and countries. No bowling strategy as provocative as 'Bodyline' has been devised for any other batsman, and even then Bradman averaged 56.57.

Bradman the man was vastly different from the cricketer idolised as an Australian hero during the Depression era. He was regarded knowledgeable but aloof, a shrewd businessman but ham-fisted with money. He was a practising mason and had a long history of grievances with Catholics Bill O' Reilly, Jack Fingleton, 'Chuck' Fleetwood-Smith, and Stan McCabe. O' Reilly and Fingleton were probably his biggest foes. The trio never got on. Although they had immense respect for each other on the field, that was the end of it. The pair laughed the Don back to the pavilion on the occasion of his final test innings, when he was bowled second ball by Eric Hollies for a duck, and they constantly criticised each other over their roles in the team.

He has also been singled out by influential Australia skipper Ian Chappell as one of the prime reasons for World Series Cricket, claiming in a documentary that Bradman 'treated board money as if it was his own money' during a boom time for cricket in the 70's. As an administrator, Bradman was wise but refused to budge on money. He was also regarded as somewhat old-fashioned. Still, Bradman was regarded as the all-knowing doyen of Australian cricket and was often sought after for advice, made all the more harder in his later years when he became a recluse in his home in Adelaide. He always responded to letters with fond affection though, and was polite and helpful for young cricketers seeking advice, whether life or cricket related.

In terms of the greatest batsmen ever, what makes Bradman stand out is not just the fact that he was far ahead of his contemporaries, but he overwhelms all that follow him. It was a common trait to call an exciting young batsman in Australia 'the new Bradman' (Norm O' Neill and Doug Walters suffered this comparison) and it was often a kiss of death. He is justifiably, in terms of figures, ability and influence, at the top of the batting tree in cricket, with his nearest rivals being Sachin Tendulkar (A man Bradman once considered similar to himself), Viv Richards, Brian Lara, and Wally Hammond. There can be no other player quite like Sir Donald George Bradman.