Memories of a mentor and a mate
My hero was Bradman. In 1928, when he started his Test career, I was seven and the papers were all we had to know him. Kids have dreams and I always dreamed of meeting Bradman. I met him when I first bowled at him, and he hit me for four first ball.
I had a photo of him playing a drive, the one on the front of Farewell to Cricket, a classic. I had it beside the bed on the dressing table. Sometimes dreams come true. Now I have the memories.
Bradman was good company. He had so many friends and people that he knew over there in England in 1948. But he always dined with us. Like everybody else, if there were days when he had a rest day, he would stay in London. What people fail to realise is that he gave up a tremendous amount to take that side on tour. It was a great gamble on his health and he had a stockbroking business. His wife, Jessie, had to come in and start doing the business; he had to appoint a manager and keep the place rolling along. As far as his own form was concerned, he just had to hope that stayed intact - which it did. He had a magnificent tour.
People have been a little bit askance about Bradman. They talk of him being unapproachable and so forth. It wasn't the case. I'm certain - I never queried him on it - but he wouldn't say to a player, later on when he was a selector, "Look, Billy, I think you're not travelling well, it might be because of so and so." That wasn't his go. But all you had to do was say, "Can you help me?" He'd bend over backwards then. I believe that his reasoning for being hesitant to offer advice without being asked was that if he gave it and the guy made three gozzers, he'd say, "That's what Bradman told me to do." I think this became a bit of a problem.
In 1970, I became a selector and Bradman was the chairman of the ACB. We saw a lot of each other from then on. We were constantly in contact, writing letters and chatting on the phone. We were great mates.
His philosophy on fast bowling was pretty simple. I wrote to him about it in 1993 and he replied: "Against fast bowling my first movement was to move my back foot slightly back and across as I lifted my bat. At the moment of delivery my back foot would be covering middle stump and my blade would be approximately the height of the bails. From that position it was easy to go back or come forward to a half-volley." I've been trying to tell kids this for years. Everybody wants to get on the front foot and they wonder why they get out, or can't play the short ball. They won't use the crease.
People said that he was unorthodox. There was not much unorthodox about him. The fact he had twice as many shots to anybody else, if that made him unorthodox, then okay, he was unorthodox. The ball that I might have let go outside off stump, he had two other shots for - he might hit it behind point or in front of point.
I went to Melbourne for a Lord's Taverners dinner at the MCG on August 4 and John Bradman, Bradman's son, was there. It was the day Bradman would have turned 99.94. They called it "An Average Evening".
When I heard about Ricky Ponting delivering the Bradman oration [at the Centenary Dinner in Sydney last Wednesday] I thought to myself, "Dear oh dear". Oh, well, that's the way they do things these days. I heard Ponting being interviewed on the wireless one day - it was after the India Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where they disgraced themselves, and all that baloney - and I heard him say, "No, I'm not going to tell my players what they can say." I thought, "God, strike me." That would be the equivalent of Field Marshal Montgomery calling his colonels together on the night before the battle of El Alamein. "Well boys, we've got Rommel tomorrow at El Amien. Do it your way and I'll see you at the finish."
It's a tragedy you can't buy Bradman's Farewell to Cricket in Australia. In his final paragraph of the book he writes: "Without doubt the laws of cricket and the conduct of the game are a great example to the world. We should all be proud of this heritage, which I trust may forever stand as a beacon light guiding man's footsteps to happy and peaceful days."
If I ever hear Ian Healy or someone say sledging has been going on forever, I'm going to refer him to the video of the Invincibles. There wasn't a word out of place for the whole tour. Those words of Bradman in Farewell to Cricket were written with those thoughts in mind. If Bradman could come back today and see what's happening in the game of cricket, I think he'd be terribly disappointed.
Sam Loxton, an allrounder, selector, team manager and administrator, played 12 Tests between 1948 and 1951