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Rewind to

When the Don met the Babe

Donald Bradman's visit to USA and Canada in 1932

Mathew Varghese

Don Bradman and Charles Aubrey Smith on the sets of The Mask of Fu Manchu © Martin Williamson
Nineteen thirty two was an eventful year in the life of Donald Bradman. In April he married his long-time sweetheart Jessie. That was followed by run-ins with the cricketing authorities, and the small matter of being the target of Bodyline.
In the middle of the year, the Don went on an "extended honeymoon" - a tour that gave the people of Canada and the USA the privilege of watching him bat; an opportunity those in neighbouring New Zealand didn't ever get.
The tour was the brainchild of Arthur Mailey, the Australian legspinner. Mailey was the perfect salesman. He knew cricket's popularity was on the wane in America, and that the Don would be an unknown entity. So he used associations with baseball, perhaps the most popular sport in the USA then, and the most similar to cricket, to cash in. Bradman was billed as the Babe Ruth of cricket; fitting, because the "Sultan of Swat" himself could best be described as the "Bradman of baseball".
On the guarantee that the Don would tour, Mailey secured financial support from the Canadian Pacific Railway Corporation. Bradman insisted on Jessie accompanying him. The request was accepted, and the Bradmans, with 11 other players - including the captain, Vic Richardson, Stan McCabe, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith, and Mailey - set sail on May 26 from Sydney on the Niagara. Roland Pope, an opthalmologist and former Test cricketer who used to accompany Australian teams of the time on their tours as a sort of medical officer, was part of the party; his usually voluminous luggage was "restricted" to 36 bags.
Suva in Fiji was the first stop, but rain ruined a scheduled match. Bradman had a visitor in Edward Thakabou, a famed local left-arm fast bowler. The 6' 3" Thakabou was hardly impressed by Bradman, who stood 5' 8" in his size-six boots.
On June 16 the group reached Victoria in Vancouver, Canada. The next day they faced a team of the Cowichan club - for whom 18 batted and 11 fielded - in Duncan. The tourists piled up 503 for 8 in reply to the home side's 194. Richardson and Bradman added 50 runs in seven minutes, while McCabe made 150 - including a hit that resulted in a fracture for an opposition player's wife, though only a minor bone in the leg. The lady might have been better off had she been injured in the next game, by when the organisers had taken the precaution of insuring spectators. Bradman the bowler took centre stage in that match, picking up six wickets in an eight-ball over, though he missed a hat-trick.
Bradman the batsman reigned in the town of Guelph. His 260 against a Western Ontario XVIII was a record score on Canadian soil, and stood for 58 years as such. In a subsequent match, "Spark" Bell, one of Canada's finest batsmen of the time, made 109, the only century scored by a local player throughout the tour.
Brockton Park, which Bradman described as "without question the most beautiful ground in the world", was where the Australians suffered their only loss of the tour, an 18-run defeat against the local team. It was here, too, that Mailey lured a batsman to try hitting him out of the park for the prize of a cigar. The batsman connected on the first one, but was then caught in the outfield as he attempted to double his reward.
More one-sided matches followed in Montreal, before the Australians left for New York, where in the game at Innisfail Park, Bradman was dismissed for a duck. That sparked off a celebration, with the delighted (and rather opportunistic) bowler circling the boundary and collecting a hatful of dollars from sporting spectators. In the same game, Sammy Carter, a former Australian wicketkeeper, was hit in the eye, which ultimately led to the loss of sight in it.
Also in New York, Bradman met Babe Ruth on the sidelines of a Yankees game. "Us little fellows could hit them harder than the big ones," Ruth told the Don, who stumped his host by spotting a "double play".
The tourists then touched Detroit where in one game, the umpires couldn't agree on whether to play under MCC or Australian rules, and so one called six to the over and the other eight before Richardson intervened.
The next stop for the Australians was Chicago before they headed back to Canada, where grasshoppers wreaked havoc during a game against a combined Canadian team in Winnipeg.
At a game played in Moose Jaw, Bill Ive picked up 11 for 23. Seventeen players batted for the locals and no fewer than 14 bowled at the visitors, a baseball-like scenario. At Yorkton, a batsman who was hit on the thumb by McCabe hopped about in pain - so much so that his false teeth dropped to the ground.
In New York, Bradman met Babe Ruth on the sidelines of a Yankees game. "Us little fellows could hit them harder than the big ones," Ruth told the Don
A few more matches were played in Canada before the Australians headed south again, this time to San Francisco, where they played against a Northern California All-Stars team in the empty 70,000-capacity Kezar Stadium. The All-Stars were a flop: Bradman's accounts say that the 15 men mustered only 20 and 33 in their two knocks; the Australians raked up 268 for 2 declared. Bradman had a great outing in the field, picking up three catches and four run-outs in their first innings.
One newspaper report gave a bit more credit to the home team, though it admitted that "local wickets fell like the price of stock". The writer used terms such as "Dynamite Don", "the bambino of cricket" (Ruth being the "Great Bambino" himself), and "the antipodean slugger" to describe Bradman.
A visit to Hollywood was next, and Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, captain of England's 1889 team in their first Test against South Africa, now turned film star, led an XI against the visitors. The team also met the cast of The Mask of Fu Manchu and Bradman visited the home of actor Leslie Howard.
On the return trip, the Australians stopped at Wellington in New Zealand. A match was to be played but the weather didn't permit it. A late decision to hold an exhibition game the following day was not conveyed to the Bradmans, who had already set off on a sightseeing trip with Fleetwood-Smith. The locals thus missed out on watching the Don, with two standing in for the Australian absentees. One of them was Eric Tindill, who was to go on to become a unique double-double international, playing and officiating at the highest level in cricket and rugby. Bradman didn't ever play in New Zealand.
The touring party reached Australia on September 23, four months after their journey began. Overall, Bradman scored 3779 runs at 102 in 51 matches, including 18 centuries, while McCabe scored 2361 runs and took 189 wickets. The Don, whose Test fee was around £25 at the time, received £100 as a fee for the tour - 51 games in 75 days covering a distance of 10,000 kms through North America - besides a daily allowance. The lesser known players had to bear their expenses. In his autobiography Farewell to Cricket, Bradman talks of the tour, saying, "It had been far too strenuous, but nevertheless it was placid compared with the storm that lay ahead, and of which at that time we had scarcely heard the rumblings."
The tour was Jessie Bradman's first visit overseas. Soon her husband would face the toughest test of his career: up against England, led by Douglas Jardine, on a mission to regain the Ashes, with Bodyline the weapon to contain the "Babe Ruth" of cricket.
Farewell to Cricket by Don Bradman (Hodder and Stoughton, 1950)
The A-Z of Bradman by Alan Eason (Alan Eason, 2002)
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Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant with Cricinfo