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Wisden commemorates Bradman phenomenon

Last updated on: October 14, 2008 19:50 IST

A golf ball, a cricket stump, a brick stand supporting a large water tank, bats fashioned from gum trees and plain dirt pitches.

From these primitive beginnings Australian Don Bradman fashioned a career so extraordinary that the annual Wisden cricket almanac has commemorated the centenary of his birth with the publication of "Bradman in Wisden."

Edited by former Wisden editor Graeme Wright, the book collects essays and articles about Bradman accompanied by reports of all his first-class matches.

It is the latter which explain the enduring fascination of Bradman, who died eight years ago.

Bradman averaged 99.94 runs an innings in tests. In the history of test cricket the next highest among batsmen who have played more than 30 test innings is Australian left-hander Michael Hussey, who averaged 68.38 before the current series against India.

Of more importance for spectators, seeking distractions from the Great Depression which gripped the western world, Bradman scored 29 test centuries in 80 innings, meaning there was around a one-in-three chance of seeing him reach a hundred.

"With Bradman they went to see the hundreds, that's what dragged them through the gates. When Bradman was out everybody got up and left," Wright told Reuters in an interview.

"I don't think Bradman was a particularly attractive batsman, so it was the big scores that attracted people."


Bradman was self-taught, developing his skills and reflexes as a boy during solitary hours of throwing a golf ball against a brick stand and hitting the rebound with a cricket stump. His first match at the age of 11 took place on a dirt pitch marked out on a football field.

The path into the Australia test side was swift and Bradman's prodigious scoring in the 1930 series in England, where he scored 974 runs at 139.14, led directly to the infamous 1932-3 series in Australia.

Under instructions from captain Douglas Jardine, who made no secret of his distaste for Australia and Australians, the England fast bowlers headed by Harold Larwood bowled deliberately and consistently short at the batsmen's bodies.

In the short term the tactics worked. England won the series and cut Bradman's average to 56.57.

Bodyline was swiftly outlawed after inflaming Australian public opinion to such an extent that diplomatic relations with England were briefly threatened.

Jardine and his team had arrived at a time when relations between Britain and her dominion were increasingly fraught as finance from the London banks dried up. Police, who fought street battles with the unemployed, feared revolution was imminent and the volatile Irish immigrant population, with their inborn hatred of the English, added to the tensions.


To a nation grappling with the depression and struggling to find its identity, a country-bred cricketer singlehandedly redefining the battle between bat and ball against the imperial masters was given disproportionate importance.

"Australia needed someone, didn't they?," said Wright. "It was the English banks, the English financial system that came down hard on Australia. Let's face it the Great Depression was bad in America too and that had nothing to do with the English banks. It was the Australian psyche to blame the English. He was repelling the English who were the enemy.

"A lot of Irish stock were transported for no more than waving a green flag in England. That's where it started to stem from."

After World War Two, Bradman returned to England as an elder statesman to lead the unbeaten 1948 Australian side.

His final test innings, when he was bowled for no score needing only four runs for an overall average of 100, is part of cricket folklore.

"As one of the writers points out in one of the essays in the book, the fact that he didn't get a test average of 100 actually makes the average more romantic, more memorable as well," said Wright.

"I think if he had got to a 100 people might have thought 'what a bore, typical Bradman, always had to get a 100'."

Bradman was always acutely conscious of the need to secure his future in precarious times and made little effort to court popularity among his team mates. Two former colleagues, Bill O'Reilly and Jack Fingleton, both of Irish descent, made no secret of their glee when they witnessed his duck in his final test from the Oval press box.

From the age of 21 Bradman was public property and his fame was such that a letter from Amsterdam with just a picture of Bradman on the front was safely delivered to him at Lord's.

He was the only player to get 100 out of 100 votes in Wisden's poll for the best five cricketers of the 20th century.

His physical gifts were complemented by a precise mind and the plain prose of his autobiography "Farewell to Cricket" reveals the relentlessly logical approach he took to his sport, his stockbroking business and life's problems in general.

"He was a good businessman, he had a shrewd head. He does everything meticulously. It's very un-Australian in some respects but he seems determined to avoid failure at any cost," Wright said.

John Mehaffey
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