A most able and highly respected Test selector, 1972

Sir Donald Bradman — selector

Irving Rosenwater

"Selectorship -- a fascinating job really, despite its complexities." -- Sir Donald Bradman in 1958.

One aspect of the career of Sir Donald Bradman that seems to have escaped the myriad of writers who have penned their multitude of words on him is his role as a selector. As both a State selector and a Test selector, Sir Donald gave a span of service which, in terms of years, far exceeded his playing career. Although Australians generally tend to retain their positions as selectors longer than Englishmen, Sir Donald's period of service was uncommonly lengthy by any standards. More than half his life has been spent as a South Australian and Test selector, and though he had shed both roles by the start of the recent Australian season, at the age of 63 he is by no means old as selectors go. Jack Ryder was still selecting Sheffield Shield sides for Victoria and Test sides for Australia as an octogenarian.

But Sir Donald is, and will be, far from idle. As chairman of the Australian Board of Control (he is in his second term, with his final year to serve under the normal rotation system), President of the South Australian Cricket Association, one of South Australia's three representatives on the Board of Control and at the Interstate Conference of Sheffield shield States, member of several committees with South Australia, director of some 16 Australian companies -- to all of which he gives his time and attention -- there is plenty to exercise his agile mind. For sporting recreation he turns, as he has now done for many years, to golf.

Sir Donald announced his retirement from Test selectorship on February 9, 1971, shortly after the side for the final Test against England had been chosen. He had been chairman of the panel for the 1970-71 series, as well as for many series before that. His announcement gave family and business pressures, as well as health problems, as the reason for his retirement. Richie Benaud, who made his Test debut in 1951-52 when Sir Donald was a selector, declared in the Melbourne Herald: "Sir Donald was easily the best selector I came across in the game anywhere in the world, not just in Australia." The shrewd judgment of Sir Donald, backed by an unparalleled career as a player, was undoubtedly a potent factor in the general success of Australian sides over the last 35 years.

The appointment of D. G. Bradman as a Test selector, just a few days after his 28th birthday in 1936, was to some extent fortuitous, for although he was generally expected to be made captain by the Australian Board for the Tests against G. O. Allen's side, the vacant position on the selection committee, to which Bradman was appointed, arose only through the death on June 11, 1936, of Dr. C. E. Dolling, who happened to be the South Australaian representative. Dr. Dolling had been both a State and Test selector and a good enough batsman to have scored 140 for South Australia in his first innings against an English side, in 1907-08. A prominent member of the medical profession, he suffered a sudden seizure in his surgery in Adelaide and died about an hour later, aged only 49. He was a man of sound judgment and very straight in his methods, and Bradman's own tribute to him at the time said that he was a wise and tactful administrator, and that, as a selector, he enjoyed the confidence of everybody. Those same qualities Bradman himself sought to display on behalf of Australian cricket.

The three Australian selectors for the 1936-37 series against England were appointed by the Australian Board of Control at their meeting in Adelaide on September 10, 1936. Bradman was the only newcomer, to join E. A. Dwyer (N.S.W.) and W. J. Johnson (Victoria), and he accepted the position, as he later said, with some reservations. There had never been -- and still has not been -- a younger selector appointed by the Australian Board. Clem Hill and H. L. Collins had both been appointed at the age of 31, and Darling, McAlister, Ryder and Woodfull had all been in their middle or late thirties. In pre-Board days, however, both Joe Darling and S. E. Gregory had also been aged 28 when they were two of the selectors of the 1899 side for England, and W. Bruce was the same age when he helped to select the 1893 team.

At the time of his appointment Bradman had already had one season's experience as a State selector for South Australia, having commenced those duties when he transferred to Adelaide from New South Wales and assumed the State captaincy for the 1935-36 season. He was to remain a South Australian and Test selector until he temporarily retired from both positions (due to the illness of his son, John) before the 1952-53 season. He took no part in selecting Australia's sides that summer against the visiting South Africans or in choosing South Australia's Shield teams, his place in both roles being taken by the experienced Phil Ridings, who had succeeded Bradman as captain of South Australia four years before. Likewise, Sir Donald had no hand in the selection of the 1953 Australian team in England (whose tour he covered as a special writer), but in the autumn of 1953 he was restored to the to the South Australian selection committee, and before the arrival of M.C.C. in 1954-55 he was also back as a Test selector. Before the start of the 1970-71 season Sir Donald retired as a State selector for health reasons, but continued for the season at national level. Before the season was over he decided not to stand for election in either capacity in the future.

For South Australia in Sheffield Shield matches, Sir Donald Bradman was a selector in 28 seasons in all, 23 of them after the war. In that period his State won the Shield only four times (including twice when he was captain), though it is strange that for the two seasons that he stood down, 1952-53 and 1970-71, South Australia emerged winners. The full record of South Australia in the Sheffield Shield for matches in which Sir Donald Bradman was one of the selectors is as follows:

PlayedWonLostDrawnPointsPossible PointsAverage Position

in Shield Table

In the 28 seasons involved, South Australia finished first four times; second five times; third (or joint-third) seven times; fourth three times; and fifth nine times. The only seasons they were undefeated were in 1935-36 and 1938-39, both under Bradman's captaincy.

It is at Test level, of course, that a selector's record is always more interesting, though a selector, naturally, is always one of a team. The normal method in Australia, ever since the formation of the Board of Control, has always been to appoint three selectors, both for home series of Tests and for choosing overseas sides. The only exception to this was in the 1928-29 series, when there were four selectors. Unlike the situation in England, the Australian Board never appoints a formal chairman. There has in fact never been any official record of such a position, and when, before the 1928-29 selection panel was appointed, opinion was obtained by the Board whether it had constitutional power to appoint a Chairman of Selectors, it was advised that the Board had no such power. The selectors have in fact always arranged the chairman among themselves -- and it seems that they have even never been required to report to the Board who has been so appointed. Sir Donald Bradman acted in the capacity of chairman on all occasions that he served since the Second World War, though the position was an unofficial one.

It is astonishing to consider that Sir Donald has been involved in the selection of very nearly half of all the Test sides that have ever taken the field for Australia, from 1877 to date. Add to those the matches in which he played before becoming a selector, and his personal involvement in his country's Tests extends to 55 per cent of all matches -- a prodigious record, considering that Test cricket was already half a century old before Bradman made his first-class (let alone his Test) debut.

The full record of Australia in Test cricket for the matches in which Sir Donald was one of the selectors is as follows:

PlayedWon by AustraliaLost by AustraliaDrawnTied

Thus in these games, Australia lost an average of one in five Tests, though immediately after the war she had a wonderful (and at that time a record) run of 25 matches without defeat. Four successive losses to South Africa in 1969-70 somewhat spoiled the average. The measure of success against each country is:

PlayedWon by AustraliaLost by AustraliaDrawnTied
v. England702715280
v. South Africa249870
v. West Indies2513561
v. New Zealand11000
v. India2516360
v. Pakistan62130

In terms of Test sides that have left Australia, Sir Donald was jointly responsible for 14 such touring sides -- every side in fact from the 1938 team to England to the 1969-70 team to India and South Africa, with the sole exception of Lindsay Hassett's side to England in 1953. These 14 teams played altogether in twenty series away from Australia (including on three occasions a solitary Test) and, of their 80 Tests against all countries, lost less than a quarter -- virtually the same record that home Australian teams experienced in the same period. The playing record of Australia in Tests, at home and away, during Sir Donald Bradman's selectorship is as follows:

In Australia713514211
Away from Australia803318290

In addition, Sir Donald was one of the selectors for the five Australian sides that visited New Zealand, without playing Tests, under W. A. Brown in 1949-50, I. D. Craig in 1956-57 and 1959-60, L. E. Favell in 1966-67, and S. C. Trimble in 1969-70. On all these selection committees, Sir Donald served with the regular Test selectors of the time, except that in 1949-50 E. A. Dwyer (N.S.W.) acted as manager of the Australian team to South Africa and his place as selector for the New Zealand tour was taken by A. Vincent (N.S.W.)

Altogether, the selection committees on which Sir Donald served were responsible for sending into the field 114 Australian Test players, ranging from R. N. Harvey, W. M. Lawry and G. D. McKenzie, all of whom made 60 or more appearances, to twenty players who were chosen for but a solitary Test. Charges of State rivalry and favouritism have often been levelled against Australian administrators (and selectors in particular), but in fact the strongest States have had the strongest representation in Australian sides, and Sir Donald's own State of South Australia can hardly be said to be favoured in the distribution. South Australia has had a Test selector now ever since the Australian Board selectors first functioned, in the 1907-08 season (and continues to have one with the appointment of P. L. Ridings to fill the vacancy left by Sir Donald's retirement), though in exactly the same way that, on figures, South Australia emerges as the third strongest of the Sheffield Shield sides, so she comes third in the table of Test representation. The 114 players have been chosen from the five Sheffield Shield States as follows:

Victoria38 players
New South Wales31 players
South Australia21 players
Queensland13 players
Western Australia11 players
114 players

(In cases of dual affiliation, the State recorded is that for which the player was playing when first chosen for a Test during the relevant period.)

It is often said that Australia introduces fewer players into the Test arena than England, and that is more difficult to get out of an Australian side than into it. In the course of the 70 Tests played between England and Australia during Sir Donald's tenure as a Test selector, 99 Australian players (including Sir Donald himself) took the field, while the number who appeared for England was 111 -- so the difference was not all that great. Sir Donald of course was merely one of a team as a selector, and he did not always have the decisive voice, despite the aura that has evolved over the years that his influence was such that the last word was automatically -- and emphatically -- his. Through a dozen years of his term, from 1954-55, he was one of a triumvirate together with Jack Ryder (Victoria) and Dudley Seddon (N.S.W.) -- though he also served for lesser periods with E. A. Dwyer (N.S.W.), W. J. Johnson (Victoria), R. N. Harvey (N.S.W.) and S. J. E. Loxton (Victoria) -- and we may never know to what extent Sir Donald himself instigated, concurred or was overruled in such talking - points as the omission of Grimmett and Tallon in 1938, Miller and O'Neill to South Africa in 1949 and 1957 respectively, Simpson to Pakistan and India in 1959, and Walters to the West Indies in 1965. Perhaps the shroud of history is best left undisturbed in such instances.

From now on, for better or for worse, Australian Test selection will proceed without the thoughts of Sir Donald Bradman. His involvement with the game outside the selectors' room will doubtless remain as intense, profound and invaluable as hitherto -- it would be a pity, and a major loss, if it were otherwise. In recent years the time involved in selectorial duties, coupled with the necessary absences from home and business, have made things for him increasingly difficult to manage. And there are occasional health problems as well. Sir Donald himself has estimated that he spent about eight years away from home during his period as a Test selector -- a voluntary act of adherence to cricket that sometimes gets submerged in the charisma of brilliance of the Bradman career. "Selectors," said Sir Donald once, "are very conscientious people who are in the unenviable position of not being able to make public their views or policy." In a moment of candour on another occasion he said: "When I was Australian XI captain and selector, I was castigated more than once for the omission of a certain man when in fact I fought for his inclusion. But those details can't be published. I simply mention them in the hope that the difficulties of selection committees may be more fully understood." Such restraining factors do not inhibit the scribes of cricket. We may salute, in public, a selector and man whose selectorial energies in the cause of Australian cricket were, in their special way, as notable as his distinguished achievements on the field. Mr. S. C. Griffith, Secretary of M.C.C., expressed the view in 1971 that Sir Donald must be one of the most able and highly respected Test selectors in the history of the game. Few will cavil at that. Sir Donald Bradman, selector, will assuredly hold a place of high significance in the history of Australian cricket.

© John Wisden & Co