xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Don Bradman. Was he any good?

He’s our Don Bradman-And I ask you is he any good?
Our Don Bradman - And I ask you is he any good?
Our Don Bradman - As a batman he can sure lay on the wood.
For when he goes in to bat
He knocks ev'ry record flat,
For there isn't any thing he cannot do,
Our Don Bradman - Ev'ry Aussie: dips his lid to you.

Well, that was the refrain of Jack O’Hagan’s popular song, penned in 1930, when a young Don  Bradman blitzed England ten years before Hermann Goering did it with real bombs. 1930 had Australia plunging rapidly into The Great depression that would give it an unemployment rate over 30%. Every Australian household was touched by unemployment, lack of money and lack of food. But in England, the twenty one year old wonder batsman from Bowral, was dominating the Ashes test matches and making all Australians proud. He was probably the most adulated Australian in history.
In that 1930 Ashes series, Bradman made major test scores  of 131, 254, 334 and 232. Overall, he made 974 runs in that test series at an average of 134. Nobody, before or since, has matched those figures. He made those runs against some of the finest bowlers England has produced, on pitches that were not covered when it rained and at several English grounds that did not have sightscreens. Remarkable.
But, was he any good? Well, in recent days the Bradman Bashers have been talking up a storm telling us he wasn’t that good at all.

A couple of weeks ago, Ian Chappell appeared on ABC TV’s Home Delivery, hosted by Julia Zamiro. It was an interesting show and Chappell demonstrated a strong sense of Social Justice when he spoke emotionally about the plight of the asylum seekers in detention.

However, he bristled when Zamiro asked him about Don Bradman, whom Chappell described as vengeful, small minded, petty and not liked by his teammates. To put his strong Anti Bradman words in context we need to remember that Ian Chappell is the grandson of Victor Richardson, a test player in Bradman’s era. 

Richardson, like Chappell was a forthright man who had strong opinions which he expressed forcefully. Like a lot of batsmen in Bradman’s time, Richardson’s career was completely overshadowed by the batting feats of The Don. No matter how well the lessor mortals batted, the press and the public focussed all their adulation and attention on Don Bradman. Such a situation was certain to cause a certain amount of jealousy in some teammates.

Chappell said that Bradman received a cheque of one thousand pounds from an admirer when he scored his world record 334, 309 runs of which he scored in less than one day’s play. Chappell said that the champion Australian bowler, Bill O’Reilly once complained to him that Bradman was mean and did not even put fifty pounds on the bar for the players. 

A couple of points. Obviously, if you receive a cheque you do not get fifty pounds in  your pocket to splash around. Secondly, Bradman was one of six teetotallers in that 1930s Australian test team. Thirdly, he was in love and planned to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jessie, when he returned to Australia. He used the one thousand pounds for engagement gifts and to provide a basis for married life.

Of course at the seat of the Richardson-Chappell dislike of Don Bradman is the fact that in 1935, Bradman was newly married and he and Jessie had moved to Adelaide to live. Bradman, who had been seriously ill with peritonitis at the end of the 1934 tour of England, had taken a break from cricket and Victor Richardson was chosen as Captain of Australia to lead an Australian tour of South Africa. 

At the same time, while Richardson, a proud South Australian,  was in South Africa, Bradman was chosen to be the captain of South Australia’s Sheffield Shield side. As if this was not bad enough, the selectors then chose the 26 year old Bradman to captain the Australian test team against the touring Englishmen in summer of 1936/7 for an Ashes Series. By this time Richardson was 41 and his form would have made his test selection difficult. But, obviously Richardson saw it as a complete snub after is successful tour of South Africa. 

That antagonism has filtered through to the third generation. At the end of the ABC programme Chappell was asked for a one word description of  Bradman. Chappell said Bradman was vindictive. Maybe Ian could look in the mirror to see what vindictive looks like.

The next opportunity for some vintage Bradman Bashing  came during the Second Test against a lack lustre Pakistan team in Adelaide in late November, 2019. Don Bradman’s records took a pounding…as did the Pakistani bowlers.  David Warner scored 335 runs in Adelaide before Australia declared its innings closed with nearly 600 runs on the board. 

Warner’s score of 335 was one run more than Bradman’s highest test score. Former Test captain, Mark Taylor had once scored 334 not out and then famously declared on what had become an iconic number in Australian batting history. Matthew Hayden passed Bradman’s 334 score when he pounded the hapless Zimbabwe side in Perth to make 380. Zimbabwe was a minnow in the test cricket arena and most of its bowlers would have struggled to get a game in any state Sheffield Shield side. 

Bradman scored his 334 against some of he greatest English bowlers of all time. He went in on the first day, 11 minutes after play had started when the score was one wicket down for 2. He proceeded to make a century before lunch, a century between lunch and tea and 89 before stumps. A remarkable 309 in less than one day’s play of a test match. Still, records are made to be broken and Hayden now holds the record for the highest test score by an Australian batsman.

Taylor’s action in ending his innings on The Don’s famous score of 334 is similar to the actions of flamboyant test opener, Sidney Barnes, who in the Ashes Test in Sydney in 1947, compiled a then record partnership of 451 runs with Bradman. Bradman was eventually dismissed for 234. About four over later Sidney Barnes was dismissed for exactly the same score. 

When questioned by journalists about this “coincidence”, the quirky Barnes replied, “Well, maybe I could have scored 250 or 275. But who would remember it? By scoring exactly the same as Don Bradman, people will talk about it forever. Sid was dead right. People still talk about  that innings and that record partnership and both batsmen being dismissed for 234.

The other Bradman record to fall to Warner in Adelaide was Bradman’s score of 299 not out, which until Warner’s 335 Not Out, was the highest test score at the Adelaide Oval. 

Meanwhile, Steve Smith, a man sometimes compared to Bradman after his sensational and heroic batting in the Ashes series in England earlier in 2019, not only passed Bradman’s  6996 runs i this same second test, he  went on to become the fastest player in history to amass 7000 test runs. Smith did this in  only 126 matches played in 70 games. The next fasted player took 80 test matches to reach 7000 runs. Considering Smith came into test cricket as a leg spin bowler, his achievement is all the more remarkable

 Bradman, who was the fastest player to reach 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000  and 5000 test runs, never made 7000 runs. He fell 4 runs short when he was dismissed for a duck in what turned out to be his final test appearance. If he had scored those four runs he would have reached the 6000 runs aggregate and had a test batting average, over 22 years, of 100. As it is, his test average is 99.94. The ABC chose its post code of 9994 to honour Bradman’s achievement.

Smith scored his 5996 runs in 70 tests and 126 innings. Bradman reached the same total in 51 tests and 79 innings. Bradman was 33% faster than Smith to that 5996 total. Quite a disparity, really, and Smith is  ten games faster than the next fastest.

The author and noted Bradman biographer, Roland Perry, has written that Bradman, who averaged 100 runs for every 126 balls faced in his first class career at strike rate of 80%, played his cricket the way most batsmen play One Day cricket. He reached 1000 runs in just 7 tests, 2000/15, 3000/23, 4000/31, 5000/36, 6000/45 matches. 

He no doubt would have scored at least 4 runs in the second innings of his last test to make 7000 in 52 matches. Sadly for The Don, Australia beat England by an innings in that fifth test of the series in 1948 and he did not get a second innings. In every batting category he is well ahead on the next fastest batsman to reach the various milestones.

Well, the toppling of Bradman’s records in Adelaide had Bradman Bashers on Facebook and elsewhere saying he really wasn’t that good. One fellow on Facebook  displayed his colossal ignorance by saying Bradman only faced mediocre bowlers and he played when fieldsmen were fat and unfit. Which of course was not very flattering to all the other batsmen playing in Bradman's era.

The reality is that Bradman faced some of the best bowlers in cricket history, including champion Australian bowlers in Shield matches. He was the master of all of them. As for fat fielders. Many of Bradman’s opponents were professional cricketers or amateurs who worked full time. They were all match fit. They had to be to get selected at the top level. The fact is, Bradman was renowned for hitting the ball into the gaps, piercing the field and giving fieldsmen no chance to stop the ball. In Bradman’s day the boundaries were bigger than they are today and he did not use the beefed up broader and weightier bats of the present day.

Some of his critics say that he had a "win at all costs" mentality, in contrast to the debonair Keith Miller, who they say, had a devil may care attitude to the game. I think Keith Miller would give very short shrift to anybody who said he did not play to win. In 1948, playing against a County side with the score at about five for five hundred and something, Miller went out to bat, took a wild swing and was out for a duck. After the game Bradman took Miller aside and said he was disappointed at his batting effort. Miller replied. “Well, how many runs do you want? We’ve already got over 500." Bradman replied that runs were not Miller’s main concern. He needed to spend time at the wicket, getting used to English batting conditions. In the next county game Keith Miller, the debonair, devil may care, couldn’t care less cricketer, scored a double century.

Bradman always played to win, but he loved cricket and he loved and spoke and wrote often about the “Spirit of Cricket”. Cricket is a very aggressive game and Bradman was the epitome of the aggressive batsman and captain. But he always played fairly and by the laws of the game. He was very well respected by his opponents.

Clearly, Bradman had a lot of fans and also a lot of people who disliked him intensely. Notably, Australian cricketer and journalist Jack Fingleton. Fingleton, who had a great sense of humour, wrote many very interesting books on cricket but he always took the opportunity to deride Bradman. 

Fingleton was another batsman whose career was overshadowed by Bradman. Fingleton and some other batsmen in the 1930s also disliked Bradman, because his batting brilliance had caused England to resort to Bodyline bowling to curb his batting genius. The trouble was that Larwood and other speedsters,  didn't just bowl thunderbolt cricket balls at Bradman, they attacked the body of all the Australian batsmen, some of whom blamed Bradman for it all.

On the other hand, Bradman had many friends in cricket and the wider community. He was well liked by many players. Archie Jackson, Stan McCabe, Bill Woodfull, Neil Harvey, Lindsay Hassett, Sam Loxton and Arthur Morris are just some of the test players who spoke and wrote respectfully and affectionately about “the great man”. Bradman was also close friends with journalist and author, A,G Johnny Moyes, newspaperman and author, Rohan Rivett and famed music critic and cricket writer Neville Cardus. And he had many friends among the England cricketers whom he had hounded and pounded in his cricketing days.

On the 27th of August 2008, I attended a special lunch for members at the WACA in Perth. It was to celebrate the 100th birthday of Don Bradman. There were many guest speakers who spoke of the Don’s masterful batting and captaincy. Some included anecdotes of a more personal nature, including former  test player and Sheffield Shield captain, John Inverarity, who for some years was a neighbour of the Bradmans in Adelaide. Inverarity presented a friendly picture of a middle aged man who had in many ways been a “Grandfather In Loco Parentis” to his children, who it seems, were frequent visitors to the neighbouring Bradman residence.

At this lunch I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. His said his surname was McCool. I asked him if he was related to Colin McCool, a test playing leg spinner in the late 1940s. He said he was Colin McCool’s son. He told me that his father idolised Don Bradman and that they had been very good friends. He related stories of Don Bradman coming to the McCool household and being a friendly gentleman, even engaging with the McCool children in backyard games. Definitely, not the sort of Picture Ian Chappell would give of Don Bradman.

Jack O’Hagan asked rhetorically was Bradman any good. Despite the recent surpassing of some of his batting records, and the rise of the tall poppy lopping Bradman haters, history shows not only that Don Bradman was “any good”, it shows he was the greatest batsman in cricket’s long history. 

Almost twice a good as the very best of the rest.