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Don Bradman, 99

By Haresh Pandya
August 27, 2007 12:15 IST
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On the occasion of Don Bradman's 99th birthday, a special tribute:

Few outstanding practitioners of the willow game have been good cricket writers also. And Don Bradman was decidedly one of the more prominent members of this interesting club. Though not as prolific as, say, Keith Miller, Bill O'Reilly, Ian Chappell, Geoffrey Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar, he was always eminently readable, and original, whenever he wielded the pen to express his forthright, lucid views on a variety of cricketing subjects.

Bradman wrote hundreds of articles in newspapers and generously contributed forewords to numerous books. He himself wrote a couple of unputdownable books on the game he graced with his inspiring presence. He has remained true to himself in Farewell to Cricket, first published in 1950 and running into many editions over the years. It is one of the few finest and honest cricketing autobiographies ever written. He was on record saying he was not very happy going through many other cricketing autobiographies as they were far from the truth and usually self-congratulatory.

In The Art of Cricket, published in 1948, the Australian legend has written on every aspect of the game -- batting, bowling, fielding, wicket-keeping, captaincy and even coaching. The book continues to be an authoritative coaching manual for anyone who wants to master cricket. Bradman's teaching on batting in particular is what makes The Art of Cricket a must for a budding willow-wielder, although his writing on captaincy does not sound so convincing. Of course, Bradman himself later recommended The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley to those keen to know what leadership is all about and what makes a good captain.

Bradman had invited wrath of the Australian cricket authorities by writing a syndicated column on the 1930 tour to England. He had signed a 12-page contract with the then Australian Cricket Board, which disallowed him to have any direct or indirect contact with the media. But Bradman wrote a series of articles and consequently the Australian team manager W Kelly cut £50 from his agreed £150 tour bonus.

Before the infamous Bodyline series down under in 1932, both Bradman and cricketer-cum-journalist Jack Fingleton sought the ACB's permission to write a column in an Australian newspaper for which he had already signed a two-year contract. The ACB was reported to have allowed Fingleton to write for the press but refused similar permission to Bradman.

Cut to the quick, Bradman threatened to make himself unavailable for the about-to-start Ashes series if he was not allowed to write his regular column. Given Bradman's extraordinary genius, dazzling popularity and the hostile English attack spearheaded by Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, it was unthinkable to drop him. What followed was a chain of arguments and counter-arguments between Bradman and the ACB.

Meanwhile he fell ill and was not in a position to play in the first Test in Sydney, which England won by 10 wickets. Many felt Bradman's injury was a fake one and the real reason was that he wanted to protest against the ACB. Fleet Street went a step further and announced that Bradman was 'afraid of facing Larwood' with many of its representatives writing his cricketing obituaries! But the fact was that he was genuinely indisposed and it was confirmed by medical reports, too.

Of course, Bradman made the most of this opportunity and wrote several articles while recuperating. He had fully recovered by the time the second Test in Melbourne approached; but the 'matter' came to a head and at one stage it looked as though he would really not play in the entire series. In the end the managing director of the newspaper in question intervened and released Bradman from his contract for the sake of Australian cricket. But Bradman never forgot the way he was treated by the ACB on the issue.

He kept writing occasionally after his playing days. But his writing was greatly reduced after he became a cricket administrator. Besides his smooth and transparent style, what was more interesting about Bradman the cricket writer was his tendency to call a spade a spade. He never minced words. He criticised when criticism was due and made many enemies in and outside the cricket world. But he could be magnanimous in his praise, too. Remarkably, never ever did he depend on a ghost or two and always wrote his own copy on his ancient typewriter.

Bradman was an avid cricket reader, too. He was fond of reading cricket books and magazines. According to his own admission, sports and business were his favourite sections in any newspaper. Which cricket writer had impressed Bradman the most? He told me in a personal letter that he liked Neville Cardus for his 'beautiful style' and 'lyrical prose', but his 'favourite' cricket writer was Roland Mason.

The Aussie did love to write missives and letters and, as David Frith has aptly described, he was a 'tireless correspondent'. Having been fortunate enough to involve in brief but memorable correspondence with Bradman in the early 1990s, I know how careful, meticulous and punctual he was, despite his old age, in responding to letters from his friends and those he considered genuine and knowledgeable cricket persons.

Unlike many celebrities, Bradman would not get anyone, not even his wife Jessie Menzies, to write for him. He would always reply himself; and send hand-written or typed letters. Sometimes he would even apologise for his seemingly 'bad typing' because of his old age. But the fact was that his letters were always neatly written or typed. His cursive, stylish handwriting and his equally elegant and most famous signature were in keeping with his personality.

Both as a cricket writer and letter writer, Bradman had mastered the art of conciseness. Many of his letters read like critical articles. He would bare his heart and write on players, techniques, matches, issues, critics and sometimes even about his personal life. Bradman loved to argue, to debate and to discuss things frankly. He had also this remarkable quality of convincing you more often than not.

No other cricketer since the peerless Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, affectionately called Ranji, has been the subject of so many books as Bradman. There have already been too many books on Bradman and Ranji but different writers, not necessarily sports journalists, continue to pen new and fresh ones on the two from time to time. Research scholars, too, have been as interested in Bradman and Ranji as cricket aficionados since time immemorial.

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