England v Australia, The Oval, 5th Test, 1948 October 3, 2010

Donald gets a duck

Stephen Fay
The googly that made 99.94 legendary

Being taken to The Oval on August 14, 1948 was my birthday treat. A family friend took me into the press box on a bright, clear morning, and England were already 30 for 4.

I was introduced to Jack Hobbs, a kindly figure who told me about oiling my new bat. Then I went to sit on the grass, and watched England dismissed for 52.

There was plenty of chatter, and I recall rabbiting on about the importance of a good foundation as Arthur Morris and Syd Barnes took Australia's score past 100. The most irritating thing was that they were delaying the moment we had all really been waiting for - Don Bradman's last Test innings.

Bradman had scored heavily during the summer, but RC Robertson-Glasgow had detected a tendency at the start of his innings to play the ball where it wasn't. Eric Hollies, who had been selected in place of Jim Laker, had bowled to Bradman at Edgbaston for Warwickshire and thought he could not read the googly. When Hollies finally dismissed Barnes, the Don walked to the wicket to continuous applause. Norman Yardley, England's captain, called for three cheers. Bradman wrote in his autobiography that the reception stirred him deeply and made him anxious.

Hollies' first ball was a legbreak. The next was a good-length ball, and Bradman played three parts of the way forward to it.

"It looked to me as though he had decided it was a legbreak, and that he would let the ball turn away from him," Hollies wrote later. "However, [it was the googly] and the ball turned in just enough to pass the edge of his bat and hit the middle and off stumps."

Bradman's monumental duck meant that his Test average was stuck on 99.94. For myself, I felt very glad he was gone but extremely sorry not to have watched him bat. As he trudged back to the pavilion, Bradman confessed that he had "rather a sad heart". (Note the "rather".) In the press box, Jack Fingleton and Bill O'Reilly, two of Bradman's old team-mates, were laughing. But that is another story.

Stephen Fay is a former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly.
This article first appeared in the Wisden Cricketer

Comments