June 24, 2000

When Bradman came to Canada

AR Littlewood

A review originally submitted to the Canadian Cricketer

Early in 1932 "Foxy Dean", the captain of Ontario from the Toronto and Parkdale Clubs, requested the retired leg-spin and googly bowler Arthur Mailey to select a team of Australian cricketers for a Goodwill Tour of Canada and the United States that was to be subsidised largely by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Mailey had two main problems: obtaining the approval of the Australian Board of Control that since the revolt of the "Big Six" in 1912 had forbidden any first-class cricketer to tour without its permission; and fulfilling the only Canadian stipulation, viz. that the party must include D.G. Bradman, the only man who had ever held the record individual scores in both first-class and test cricket (a feat now equalled by B.C. Lara). Mailey managed to overcome the first problem by accepting some stringent conditions, but how was he to overcome the second? Bradman had just accepted employment from three different organizations and was due to marry on April 3Oth. Fortunately a deal was arranged with his employers and Jessie Menzies agreed to accept the tour as a honeymoon, although her husband-to-be was to play in 49 of the 51 matches arranged in a tour of 76 days. North America thus became the only part of the world outside Australia, England, Scotland, Wales and Ceylon to have the privilege of seeing the Don bat.

John McKenzie, the cricket bookseller, has recently published the only account of this tour. It has been written by Ric Sissons, who is probably best known for his The Players: a Social History of the Professional Cricketer. The book includes a foreword by Sir Donald Bradman, an introductory chapter on the organization of the tour and the composition of the party, a description of the tour, reflexions on the tour, results and averages, and sixteen photographs (although not one is of cricket). Annexed to the book are facsimile reprints of the lengthy brochures put out to celebrate the tour by the Illinois Cricket Association and the Canadian authorities in British Columbia.

The tour was clearly a very happy one; and one even happier in retrospect after the grim battle of the "Bodyline Tour" that began less than one month after the return of the Australian players. They played mainly in Canada, in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with trips to New York, Detroit, Chicago and California. Even though all the matches, except for two in Canada, were of one day's duration there were two innings a side whenever time allowed. The Australians won 4 matches outright, won a further 39 on first innings, drew 7 and lost just one (on first innings) against a Mainland All Stars XV at Brockton Point, Vancouver, which Bradman was moved to say was "surely the prettiest ground in the world". The opposing bowling was usually not very taxing, but even so Bradman's average for the tour, for 3777 runs, was at 102.08 only just above his Test average (99.96) and the captain Vic Richardson averaged only 33.65. The bowling figures were another matter, McCabe taking 189 at 6.02, Fleetwood- Smith 238 at 7.51 and Mailey 203 at 8.64. Bradman himself took six wickets including a hat-trick in one 8-ball over in Victoria. The only century scored against the tourists was Clark Bell's 109 not out at Ridley College. Pitches were of variable type and often of poor quality and both sides had on occasion to contend with the vagaries of inexperienced officials. There are two wonderfully bizarre stories in the book, both in Bradman's foreword. In high wind at Moose Jaw the bails were stuck onto the stumps with chewing gum, and the umpire waited an inordinately long time in giving the verdict for a stumping since he claimed that the batsman could not be out until the bail, hanging by a slender thread of gum, had reached the ground. To Bradman's suggestion in another match that the non-striker's umpire could not give an L.B. W. decision from a couple of feet wide of the wicket he received the reply, "You wait and see": he did not have long to wait before he was thus given , out himself, wishing "that I had kept my mouth shut".

There is little description in the book of the actual cricket, but a few quotations from local newspapers whet the appetite for more. One reporter's sentence was memorably lost in admiration: "Run ragged by the heavy flailing of Bradman who mixed his hard drives with dexterous taps to the slips and the side boundaries, carefully placing his strokes out of the reach of the Montreal defence, arrayed about the sward in a curtain of white flannel calculated to cut down and interrupt the famous Antipodean bat-and-run manufactory ."

In addition to their cricketing responsibilities the Australians had a full social calendar. The book takes its name, The Don Meets the Babe, from the Australians' visit to the New York Yankee stadium, where "the two greatest hitters of a ball in the history of sport met" as Don Bradman was entertained by Babe Ruth in the latter's private box. Has Bradman, in his criticism of modern one-day cricket, even been haunted, I wonder, by memory of words spoken on that occasion: "in two hours or so the (baseball) match is finished. Yes, cricket could learn a lot from baseball. There is more snap and dash to baseball" ? Inevitably the Australians were taken to dine in view of Niagara Falls, but their social highlight was their time at Hollywood where they toured the film sets and met many of the stars, including Clark Gable and Jean Harlow who were shooting Red Dust, but even here they earned their keep by playing four matches against Hollywood teams that included an ex-England Test captain in Aubrey "Round-the-Corner" Smith and a wicketkeeper called Boris Karloff.

Ric Sissons' book is beautifully produced, is attractively written with, by today's standards, unusually logical punctuation and is full of things to interest the Canadian cricketer. The names Arthur Mailey and Don Bradman should be reversed in the caption to plate 3, Bradman's and McCabe's highest scores should be, respectively, 260 and 150, not 26 and 15 (p. 58). In the list of results (pp. 53-57) the odds against the Australians are not always given, e.g. against North California All Stars at San Fransisco (sic) on August 20th the opposition must have had more than eleven players since in the two innings McCabe, Mailey and Fleetwood-Smith took 25 wickets between them.

Ric Sissons, The Don Meets the Babe, Ewell, 1995, (125 pages with 16 plates and other text illustrations), is available from J.W. McKenzie, 12 Stoneleigh Park Road, Ewell, Epsom, Surrey, KT19 OQT, England at 18 pounds sterling for the Ordinary Edition or 55 pounds for the Limited Edition autographed by Sir Donald Bradman and the author.