The boy who bowled Bradman
For bowlers in the 1930s and 1940s there was no greater scalp than that of Don Bradman.
Those who took his wicket dined out on the fact and one, Bill Andrews, who bowled left-arm fast-medium for Somerset, called his otherwise forgettable autobiography The Hand That Bowled Bradman. That Bradman had 202 at the time and all but surrendered his wicket was of no matter; Andrews also used to greet people with "Shake the hand that bowled Bradman". But few who dismissed the Don were as young as Paul Brooks.
In 1938, Bradman was at his peak as a player. He arrived in England in mid-April as captain of Australia and, as was custom, the team stayed the first few days in London to acclimatise, practising at Lord's by day and taking part in official functions by night.
At Lord's the MCC groundstaff were only too happy to act as net bowlers. It made a pleasant change from their usual chores, which included cleaning members' boots and equipment and keeping Lord's swept.
On the chilly morning of April 20 the Australians turned up at Lord's for their first net - for almost half the squad it was the first time they had set eyes on the old ground. The cold was unwelcome but they struggled more with the gloom. One who tried some catching practice told reporters it was like peering through fog.
Sixteen-year-old Brooks was one of those commandeered to help out in the nets on the Nursery ground, behind what are now the Compton and Edrich stands . A left-arm fast-medium bowler who was actually a batsman, he had yet to make much impression outside school cricket. Wisden noted "as a County of London schoolboy he headed the batting averages and played against both Eton and Harrow for selected schoolboy teams".
According to the Daily Express he had written to the MCC in 1937 asking for a trial and had impressed enough to be taken on.
There were a large number of pressmen watching as well as representatives of two newsreel companies, all keen to catch an early glimpse of the Australians in general and Bradman in particular. A few hundred members of the public had paid one shilling (5p) to be allowed in, something that one or two newspapers thought was close to exploitation.
Nothing untoward happened - nor was it expected to - until to everyone's surprise, Brooks uprooted Bradman's middle peg. Bradman gave a wry smile, replaced the stump and carried on.
Soon afterwards Bradman came out of the net, had a gentle trot round the practice ground and bowled a few looseners before retreating to the pavilion. Brooks completed his duties, but as he headed back to the dressing rooms he was surrounded by the press eager for a quote and, more importantly, to find out who he was.
"I really think Mr Bradman must have been mucking about," Brooks said. "Nobody was more surprised than I that an ordinary plain ball took his middle stump. I thought he would have sent it into the road, but he tried to hook it and missed.
"All the same, I did try to bowl him every ball I sent down. This will certainly encourage me to work harder on my bowling." Asked whether Bradman said anything, Brooks replied: "No. He just gave a friendly smile." Brooks did admit that he had to try hard to supress a big grin as he realised what he had done.
Brooks found himself of the front pages of a couple of national newspapers the next day. The News-Chronicle lead the charge with a leading article that suggested, tongue in cheek, that it was the greatest giant killing "since Goliath was laid low by a pebble in a sling from the boy David".
A long report in the Daily Express - which led with a front-page picture of Brooks bowling, presumably taken later in the day, as he was in grey trousers and a work shirt - put his achievement into slightly more real context.
"It wasn't a very serious occasion," the newspaper said. "Bradman was having a crack for most of his 15 minutes batting and his wicket went several times. [Australian legspinner Arthur] Chipperfield once bowled him with a beauty."
Two days later the Australians returned to Lord's for the second practice session and Brooks struck again. He caught and bowled opening batsman Jack Fingleton off a steepler and then bowled him with the next ball. "It bounced twice before hitting the stumps," Fingleton smiled. Bradman batted, but lightning did not strike twice.
What happened next?
- Brooks made one first-class match, drafted into Middlesex's game against Warwickshire on August 30, 1939. A number of Middlesex players had joined the forces with war imminent, which led to him being picked. He scored 44 not out as Middlesex won by an innings in two days. "When he joined me at the wicket," Denis Compton said, "I knew, from the look on his face, that he was enjoying the happiest moment of his life." Brooks played a number of representative matches in the early part of the war while he served in the fire brigade before joining the Coldstream Guards. He was shot in the spine by a sniper in Italy in the last days of the war and died from his wounds at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington on January 26, 1946. He was 24.
- Bradman recovered from his dismissal by Brooks to score 434 runs in four Tests at 108.50. He only batted in three matches as the third Test was abandoned without a ball being bowled. He broke his ankle during England's record 903 for 7 at The Oval and was absent in both Australia's innings, an injury that ended his tour. In all matches he made 2429 runs at 115.66 including 13 hundreds. In the traditional tour opener in Worcester on April 30, he made 258, his third successive double-hundred in the first game of the summer, following 236 in 1930 and 206 in 1934.
- Australia retained the Ashes by drawing the series 1-1
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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa