Bradman in Wisden November 9, 2008

Slowly fades the Don

Stephen Fay
A century after his birth the debate about Bradman and Australian identity rumbles on

The myth of Sir Donald Bradman is still potent enough to persuade an Australian publisher to bankroll an updated version of Bradman in Wisden to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. The myth is of an infallible cricketer who survived a dark imperial plot to destabilise him (Bodyline), and then led a team of Invincibles whose brilliant exploits helped to forge a national identity. Graeme Wright, the editor of the collection, argues that the myth is redundant. "[It] no longer applies in an Australia able to assert its own identity as a nation," he writes. But it is taking an unconscionable time dying.

The Bradman shining through these pages is a sensational batsman (a report of each of his innings is plucked from Wisden and he gets a hundred every three visits to the crease). He was fastidious about his image when he was alive and his admirers, known as Bradolators - led by the former prime minister John Howard - kept the protection intact after his death. RC Robertson-Glasgow, who watched Bradman play, had fewer illusions: "There are no funny stories about The Don. No one ever laughed about Bradman. He was no laughing matter."

Australians still find it hard to make an unsentimental historical assessment of their hero. Professor Carl Bridge heads the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College London. "The prevailing hagiography does not do Bradman's life and character justice," he writes. "He needs to be rescued from the naïve nationalist reductionism of the Bradolators."

But Professor Bridge concludes with a streak of pure Bradolatory: "Whatever the odd revisionist might unearth, [he was] without doubt Australia's greatest son." Hold on a minute. What about General John Monash, who led the best-organised army on the Western Front in 1918, or Charles Kingsford Smith, who piloted the first flight from the United States to Australia, or the Nobel Prize winners Howard Florey, who developed penicillin, and Patrick White, the epic novelist? Or even Rupert Murdoch? After all Don Bradman was only a cricketer.

Bradman in Wisden
edited by Graeme Wright
Hardie Grant Books £19.99

This review was first published in the November issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here