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1963

Dimly fades the Don

Fifteen years after his famous final Test innings, Bradman faced England once again

Martin Williamson

March 29, 2014

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

One last tilt at the windmill: Don Bradman heads out to bat for the PM's XI in Canberra © Getty Images

Don Bradman's final Test innings at The Oval in 1948 remains one of cricket's most famous. What is not as well known is that it was another 15 years until he played his last game of cricket, and fittingly it was again against England.

After the Oval Test, the last of that summer, the Australian tour, as was the norm then, rumbled on for another month before concluding with two matches in Scotland. Bradman, the man everyone wanted to see, played in all but one of the games. He bowed out at Lord's with 150 against the Gentlemen of England and centuries in his last two outings in England, the festival matches in Hastings and Scarborough. His farewell appearance in Britain was a whirlwind 123 not out in 89 minutes against Scotland in a non-first-class contest in Aberdeen.

To all intents and purposes he retired at the end of the tour, but he did play three more first-class matches in the next Australian season. On the boat back from England he was offered a testimonial at the MCG, which he accepted. He captained one XI while Lindsay Hassett led the other. The game ended in a crowd-pleasing tie, Bradman scored his final first-class hundred (dropped diplomatically on 97 by Colin McCool) and more than 53,000 turned up, enabling Bradman to pocket close to £9000.

The other two games did not go as well. He felt he ought to play as they were testimonials for old team-mates. In the first, at the SCG, he made 53 and was cheered from the middle by more than 40,000 spectators, but in his last game he made 30 and was unable to bat second time after he twisted an ankle treading on a ball in the field and had to be carried off. It was an ignominious end to the most glorious of first-class careers.

That should have been that. Knighted in the New Year's honours list, he settled down to a life of business, family and golf, retaining strong links with cricket as a selector.

At best be a mirage?

  • In January 1963 Don Bradman wrote to Robert Menzies in a seeming attempt to persuade the prime minister of the folly of his idea.
  • "I have been thinking about your suggestion that I might captain your team at Canberra on the 6th of February. You know it is 15 years, this year, since I played a first class match, and several years now since I played a social game.
  • "It is quite impossible of me to be of any value as a player and my question of making 10 or 20 runs would be purely one of the charity of the opposition. Would it be fair to all concerned that the image of Bradman playing should be dangled before the eyes of the public, when it could at best be a mirage?
  • "Still, if you think these factors unimportant and reflecting on them, decide to invite me, I shall of course be delighted to accept and will leave it entirely to your judgment."

A few attempts were made to lure him out of retirement but he was never tempted, playing in a handful of low-key games as favours to friends. He had also faced the 1952-53 South Africans in the nets. But late on the England tour of 1962-63 he found himself donning his whites on a bigger stage once more. However reluctant he might have been, he found himself backed into a corner, largely by Robert Menzies, the Australian prime minister and a cricket obsessive.

In between the fourth and fifthth Ashes Tests, England played a one-day game against a Prime Minister's XI in Canberra. Menzies, who had formed a friendship with Bradman, by this time chairman of the board, worked his charm, the icing on the cake being that a new pavilion in Bradman's honour would be opened on the day. Bradman agreed.

As soon as the news broke the press and public interest in the match rocketed. While there was a realisation that at 54 he was unlikely to work miracles, the hope was he might. "Unless he felt he had a chance of making a few runs he would not, I think, have agreed to play," wrote John Woodcock in the Times. "The fast bowlers could no doubt find him out if they let fly. Yet [Jack] Hobbs was scoring first-class hundreds when he was over 50 …"

All the attention was on Bradman, but England had an old timer of their own back for the day. The 44-year-old Alec Bedser, who had retired in 1960 but was still playing regularly, had also agreed to play.

The match itself was wonderfully informal. It started ten minutes late because the tourists' flight had been delayed. There was no toss, merely a discussion and an agreement that MCC would bat. The timing of the intervals was generally ignored. The 10,000 spectators crammed into the ground did not mind at all.

MCC scored a breezy and politely received 253 for 7, Bradman orchestrating his side from first slip, but their batting was not really what most in the ground wanted to see. Bradman's return was further delayed by a bright start by the Australians, who raced to 101 for 2 in an hour. Then, ten minutes after tea, the third wicket fell and all eyes turned to the pavilion.

"The little man stalked stiffly down the pavilion steps, pulling the collar of his cricket shirt closer round his neck," wrote Brian Chapman in the Daily Express. "It was a gesture that for many rolled back the years. The photographers circled round him as he walked towards the wicket and the MCC players saluted him with three cheers. As he took guard, the crowd roared again and he lifted the green Australian cap he wore in 52 Tests."

His stance was unchanged, albeit showing slight stiffness. Tom Graveney, bowling inoffensive legbreaks, tossed one wide of off stump to allow Bradman an single to get off the mark, but it was so wide he just watched it pass. The next was a straight full toss that Bradman clipped back past him for four.


Don Bradman looks back at his stumps after being dismissed for the last time, Australians PM XI v England, Canberra, February 3, 1963
Over and out © Getty Images
Enlarge

In the next over Bradman had to face Brian Statham, who, with Fred Trueman, formed England's new-ball attack. Statham bowled properly but only off half his run. Bradman patted the first ball, which kept a little low, into the off side. He played back to the second but was fractionally late; the ball spun from his bat into the top of his pad and dribbled into the stumps with only just enough force to dislodge the off bail. "It mightn't have happened one in a thousand times," Bradman said.

Some reports suggested that Statham indicated to the umpire that a no-ball might be called. But Bradman was on his way and received as big an ovation as he headed off as he had minutes earlier on his arrival.

Perhaps harshly, Crawford White in the Daily Express wrote: "So instead of an exultant return for Australia's Sir Cricket it was a sad one. Sad because hundreds of schoolboys who saw it will for ever wonder how this stiff little man could ever have been the lithe ruthless killer their fathers remembered." As Bradman's old adversary Wally Hammond had said after his own ill-fated return in 1951: ""What did they expect? Not a hundred from me as well?"

The rest of the afternoon was inevitably an anti-climax, even if the game went to the wire with the tourists winning by three runs, the close finish aided by some routine catches spilled to keep the Australians in the hunt. David Allen took 5 for 68, but Bedser, despite only returning 1 for 80, won the plaudits. "The bones creak a little now," Woodcock noted, "but even blindfolded he could bowl on or near a length."

In the evening there was a dinner party for teams and others at Menzies' official residence. "I have just played my last game of cricket," Bradman said. "The cricket bat has seen the last of me."

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by   on (April 2, 2014, 9:41 GMT)

Batting is so much easier now and the 30s was much harder than the 80s (even with the WI quicks) because wickets were uncovered. It was even harder when Trumper played a century ago and his average in the 30s would have been much higher in Bradman's era and higher today. But that doesn't make Trumpper better than Bradman. Hobbs would probably be the next best ever after Bradman and Kallis from the modern era in results if not style.

Posted by eggyroe on (April 2, 2014, 6:14 GMT)

Having just read this excellent article about The Don, I have to say I cannot find any reference to Sachin Tendulkar at all so what is the reason of all these comments about him.Perhaps I'm missing the point but I thought the point of this article was The Don playing in a game 15 years after his last Test Match for the Prime Ministers XI against the M.C.C.Touring Side,not a comparison to a player who was not born when The Don was in his majestic best.

Posted by hyclass on (April 1, 2014, 11:53 GMT)

It is a high probability, that if he had played in the modern era with its manifold advantages, his average would have been higher. Even a cursory glance at his numbers shows his extraordinary ratio of 100's to 50's. In Tests, from 52 Matches - 29 x 100s and 13 x 50s - 2.23 x 100s to every 50. In 1st Class cricket, from 234 matches, he scored 117 x 100s and 69 x 50s - 1.69 x 100's to every 50. His 2.75 and 2.88 innings per 100 is astonishing. Allied to a ruthless genius and fearless mien, was a zen like attachment to the moment. His stamina was almost limitless, as seen by the SA Test side after his 299* in 40+ degree heat in Adelaide, where the captain described him 'sprinting for a single, looking for a misfield off the last ball and then jogging off, fresh as a daisy at the end of the day'. He was regularly described as 'having two strokes for each ball and the willingness to play them and 'a textbook come to life with never an erratum'. He exceeds countries & remains everyone's.

Posted by Divinetouch on (April 1, 2014, 11:51 GMT)

Tendulkar the best batsman I have ever seen and a role model of a human being. May every country be blessed with a son like him.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (April 1, 2014, 6:44 GMT)

The best of them all by a country mile - let us all sit back in awe of the greatest sportsman ever.

Having said that i think Sobers is the second best

Posted by bren19 on (March 31, 2014, 2:43 GMT)

@rohankapoor - I think you are confusing the best ever batsman with the batsman that YOU like best. What has 200 tests got to do with it? however if you want to go that way - Tendulkar's average after 50 tests was 49.82. Surely if he was better than Bradman, his average would be up near 100 by this point in his career.

Posted by   on (March 31, 2014, 1:20 GMT)

Best ever play in the history of all sports.

Posted by Jaffa79 on (March 30, 2014, 23:03 GMT)

Bradmanbestever...get over yourself mate. Your comments usually have little or relevance and you haven't let us down! Stop taking yourself and Australia and Bradman so seriously. Your self righteousness is tedious. Oi Oi Oi!

Posted by shahbazhussain on (March 30, 2014, 21:59 GMT)

Rohan, your stastement Badman's average would have been 30 or 40 if he played bowlers", your is as laughable as if Tendulkar has faced the the ball without halmet for upto 52 tests, filled with most double hundreds, tripple hundreds and most hundredts in first 52 matches. Indians never think out of the box, they think that tendulark is the only brand of cricket... which is absolutely wrong. Don Bredman is the only brand and standard of Test cricket which almost all cricketers admire. Players who have played before one's debute are always respectible for the new commers. And I believe Tendulark himself wouldnt cross the lines when it comes to giving hounor to the most successful cricketer in history of the sports. I bet you dont know how to respect the legend at all. Coz indians dont think out of the box!

Posted by seo7seo on (March 30, 2014, 20:41 GMT)

No need to undermine one batsman just to prove that the other one is better. However, some other facts need to be considered. There was no Zimbabwe in Bradman's times. Pitches were not so favorable for batting in Don's era as they were for Tendulkar. Fast bowlers were not discouraged/restricted by ICC in Don's times. There were no personal trainers or sophisticated diet plans for Don. Hence, these facts about Don do not mean Tendulkar was not a great batsman. If am given a choice to be like Sir Don or Sachin, my choice certainly would be Sachin the great.

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Martin WilliamsonClose
Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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