Brightly Fades the Don April 19, 2008

Fingo's zenith

This account of one of the most chronicled tours ever ranks as Jack Fingleton's finest work

Amid a raft of books, starting with the 1933 Bodyline treatise Cricket Crisis and going on to Batting from Memory, which appeared just before his death in 1981, Jack Fingleton produced his tour de force: Brightly Fades the Don, in 1949.

Fingleton once told me in the late 1970s that he wanted his forthcoming book on Victor Trumper to be his best, and to make the most impact. As the years had rolled on, Fingleton's admiration for Don Bradman's style of play had evidently decreased, even as he began to find Trumper's life story the more attractive. Alas, Fingleton was disappointed. Through some disagreement in the production of the Trumper story vast swatches of copy had been either dismissed or altered. The book, though, attracted fulsome praise from Bill O'Reilly in a foreword.

Fingleton may have hoped to surpass his volume on Bodyline, and others from his nimble pen, but none has quite developed the following gained by Brightly Fades, a very detailed account of the great Australian tour of England in 1948.

Fingleton was still in his teens when he left school and began work as a journalist in Sydney. At the outbreak of war he joined the army, only to be sidetracked into being put to work as a press secretary for the prime minister of the time, Billy Hughes. This took Fingleton to Canberra and there he remained for the rest of his working life, a political correspondent with cricket-writing a secondary, if wide-ranging, duty for a number of newspapers and radio concerns. This is the background that he brought to his coverage, in newspapers and then in his famous book, of the triumphant 1948 march of Bradman's men through an England still struggling for balance after the war.

Nothing seemed to escape Fingleton's keen eye and rattling typewriter as Australia went unbeaten, winning the Test series 4-0: one Test was drawn, and the third won when Australia raced to 404 for 3, defeating an England side that had scored 496 and 365.

Toward the end of the book, Fingleton gives a variety of England writers a chance to comment on Bradman. Some praise the Don for his clinical skill, his superb eye, his thirst for runs; others counter with the belief that Bradman was not as good a batsman on "sticky" or damp pitches as Jack Hobbs had been. Still others mention the difficulty they had interviewing Bradman. RC Robertson-Glasgow writes, "Bradman had as many angles as a polygon; and, like that monster of geometry, Don was born to perplex students; and bowlers."

Whatever dear old "Crusoe" meant by that. He was more explicit when he summed Bradman up thus: "You go the round of the great ones, and you come back - to Don and his figures. You can't answer them. They exist; and will exist, a monument more enduring than bronze."

A final thought on Fingleton. After his death, the cricket people of Canberra decided to honour their famous son by installing a scoreboard at the Manuka Oval. The MCG was being remodelled at the time, so the old and very serviceable MCG scoreboard was moved to Canberra. The ceremony was conducted by the Governor-General.

As we walked across the oval afterward, Tim Caldwell, the former chairman of the Australian board, who did much to restore Australia-New Zealand playing relations, remarked to Lindsay Hassett, still the dapper, impish one, "Old Fingo would have liked that, having the Governor-General do the commemoration."

"Ah," said Hassett, "but would a one-eyed New South Welshman like Fingo enjoy being marked by a bit of second-hand Victorian furniture?"

Brightly Fades the Don
by Jack Fingleton

Collins, 1949

Don Cameron is a writer based in New Zealand