Tales of the Don
Neil Dansie was one of the last men to see Don Bradman get out from 22 yards away. He is also one of the few alive who had played with both Bradman and Clarie Grimmett. Dansie, also known as Nodda for his habit of repeatedly nodding during conversations, was a 21-year-old when Bradman played his last game for his beloved club Kensington in January 1949, after which he played only two first-class games.
Dansie had cut his left index finger in a window accident when he was nine, which led to partial amputation, and later broke his right one while attempting a return catch, which he dropped. But it didn't affect his batting too much, because he loved the pull and cut more than the top-hand shots, unlike his hero Bradman, who didn't dissuade him from pulling or cutting. "Whatever you do don't stop playing that shot because you might get out sometimes, but you will score lots of runs," Bradman told Dansie, who scored 7543 runs in first-class cricket, but missed out on playing for Australia.
There are some lovely stories Dansie recounts about Bradman. The first one comes from that match he played with Bradman, his last for Kensington. "I was only a young boy then," Dansie recollects. "When I first played with him, I sat in a corner, I didn't say anything. Just sat there and listened to him.
"When I came in, he was batting, he met me a few yards away, and he said - he called me sonny - 'Sonny I'll let you have a look at him [the bowler] for a while'. I never faced a ball for the first six overs. He would just pick a single off the last ball. Then, he'd take a single in the middle of the over, and I'd get two-three balls."
At that point, the new ball was shortly due and the Port Adelaide fast bowler was stationed at mid-on. "He hit the ball twice past him - not too powerfully - so that it stopped a yard inside the boundary. We ran two fours, and he said to me, 'Sonny that will take a yard or two off his pace'."
The end of Bradman's innings was swift. Dansie says: "He played a spin bowler - first ball after drinks, he played for the spin and it just went off the faintest edge. They appealed, all the crowd booed the umpire, clapped him off and went off to the local hotel, and they didn't come back."
Dansie's association with Bradman continued later too, when the former became a South Australia selector. "Sir Don said to me, 'Never tell anybody they are going to be picked for the team - that they are the next person to be picked - because if someone has an injury or something happens you will have to pick an entirely different person to whom you have told. It is disappointing for the person. It could happen, couldn't it? If a batsman gets injured…'"
One of the funnier stories he remembers about Bradman involves a letter he got from India. "He replied to every letter he got," Dansie says. "He tells a very funny story. He got a letter from a boy in India who said: 'My brother and I are having an argument. We want you to decide who is right. I say you are alive, my brother says you are dead. Please write back and tell us who is right.'
"He [Bradman] replied, 'I think I am alive.'"
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo