Donald George Bradman
August 27, 1908, Cootamundra, New South Wales
February 25, 2001, Kensington Park, Adelaide, South Australia, (aged 92y 182d)
Also Known As
Sir Donald Bradman
Right hand bat
Sir Donald Bradman of Australia was, beyond any argument, the greatest batsman who ever lived and the greatest cricketer of the 20th century. Only WG Grace, in the formative years of the game, even remotely matched his status as a player. And The Don lived on into the 21st century, more than half a century after he retired. In that time, his reputation not merely as a player but as an administrator, selector, sage and cricketing statesman only increased. His contribution transcended sport; his exploits changed Australia's relationship to what used to be called the "mother country".
Throughout the 1930s and 40s Bradman was the world's master cricketer, so far ahead of everyone else that comparisons became pointless. In 1930, he scored 974 runs in the series, 309 of them in one amazing day at Headingley, and in seven Test series against England he remained a figure of utter dominance; Australia lost the Ashes only once, in 1932-33, when England were so spooked by Bradman that they devised a system of bowling, Bodyline, that history has damned as brutal and unfair, simply to thwart him. He still averaged 56 in the series.
In all, he went to the crease 80 times in Tests, and scored 29 centuries. He needed just four in his last Test innings, at The Oval in 1948, to ensure an average of 100 - but was out second ball for 0, a rare moment of human failing that only added to his everlasting appeal. Bradman made all those runs at high speed in a manner that bewildered opponents and entranced spectators. Though his batting was not classically beautiful, it was always awesome.
"He's out!" - to the thousands who read them, whether they were interested in cricket or not, the two words blazoned across the London evening newspaper placards could have meant only one thing: somewhere, someone had managed to dismiss Don Bradman, of itself a lifelong claim to fame.
Sir Donald George Bradman was, without any question, the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games. To start with, he had a deep and undying love of cricket, as well, of course, as exceptional natural ability. It was always said he could have become a champion at squash or tennis or golf or billiards, had he preferred them to cricket. The fact that, as a boy, he sharpened his reflexes and developed his strokes by hitting golf ball with a cricket stump as it rebounded off a water tank attests to his eye, fleetness of foot and, even when young, his rare powers of concentration.
Bradman himself was of the opinion that there were other batsmen, contemporaries of his, who had the talent to be just as prolific as he was but lacked the concentration. Stan McCabe, who needed a particular challenge to bring the best of him, was no doubt one of them. "I wish I could bat like that", Bradman's assessment of McCabe's 232 in the Trent Bridge Test of 1938, must stand with W.G.'s "Give me Arthur" [Shrewsbury], when asked to name the best batsman he had played with, as the grandest tribute ever paid by one great cricketer to another.
So, with the concentration and the commitment and the calculation and the certainty that were synonymous with Bradman, went a less obvious but no less telling humility. He sought privacy and attracted adulation.
How did anyone ever get him out? The two bowlers to do it most often, if sometimes at horrendous cost, were both spinners - Clarrie Grimmett, who had ten such coups to his credit with leg-breaks and googlies, and Hedley Verity, who also had ten, eight of them for England. Is there anything, I wonder, to be deduced from this? Both, for example, had a flattish trajectory, which may have deterred Bradman from jumping out to drive, something he was always looking to do.
Grimmett was not, in fact, the only wrist-spinner to make the great man seem, at times, almost mortal. Bill O'Reilly was another - Bradman called him the finest and therefore, presumably, the most testing bowler he played against - as were Ian Peebles and Walter Robins; and it was with a googly that Eric Hollies bowled him for a duck in his last Test innings, at The Oval in 1948, when he was within four runs of averaging 100 in Test cricket. Perhaps, very occasionally, he did have trouble reading wrist-spin; but that, after all, is its devious purpose.
By his own unique standards, Bradman was discomfited by Bodyline, the shameless method of attack which Douglas Jardine employed to depose him in Australia in 1932-33. Discomfited, yes - but he still averaged 56.57 in the Test series. If there really is a blemish on his amazing record it is, I suppose, the absence of a significant innings on one of those "sticky dogs" of old, when the ball was hissing and cavorting under a hot sun following heavy rain. This is not to say he couldn't have played one, but that on the big occasion, when the chance arose, he never did.
His dominance on all other occasions was absolute. R. C. Robertson-Glasgow called the Don "that rarest of Nature's creatures, a genius with an eye for business." He could be 250 not out and yet still scampering the first run to third man or long leg with a view to inducing a fielding error. Batsmen of today would be amazed had they seen it, and better cricketers for having done so. It may be apocryphal, but if, to a well-wisher, he did desire his 309 not out on the first day of the Headingley Test of 1930 as a nice bit of practice for tomorrow, he could easily have meant it.
He knows as well as anyone, though, that with so much more emphasis being placed on containment and so many fewer overs being bowled, his 309 of 70 years ago would be nearer 209 today. Which makes it all the more fortuitous that he played when he did, by doing so, he had the chance to renew a nation and reinvent a game. His fame, like W.G.'s, will never fade. Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
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