xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: My date with Don Bradman.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

My date with Don Bradman.

In 1995 I wrote this chapter about Don Bradman for my book, "LEON, A backward glance at boyhood."
I wrote my book in the third person and found that I did not like writing, "Noel did this..." and "Noel did that..." so I changed it to Leon, which I thought was not too bad for a boy named Noel looking backwards at his boyhood. 

1948 was a very big year for Leon. It was the year he came face to face with Don Bradman.

Like any ten year old Australian boy of that time, Leon idolised the mighty Don. He was the world's best batsman, scoring one hundred runs off every 126 balls he faced over his illustrious twenty year career. He averaged making a century once in every three innings. He was the greatest living Australian. Leon read every book, magazine and newspaper article about Don Bradman that he could find.

Leon’s love of cricket and his interest in Don Bradman could be traced back to his father’s thrilling bedtime stories. Jack Bourke would tell Leon the story of the Australian’s 1930 tour of England when Bradman made over 300 runs in one day in a test match. This was an absolutely unbelievable feat. The next day the newspaper posters on the street corners simply said, “He’s Out!” Everyone knew who they meant.

Jack described in detail the drama surrounding the Bodyline series in Australia in 1932. This involved a tactic devised by the English captain, Douglas Jardine, of bowling fast short pitched deliveries directly at the batsman’s body and head. As well as this, the leg side field was packed with fieldsmen, so that the batsman could not safely hit the ball away and was in danger of being caught by snicking the ball as he tried to use the bat to protect his head from a cricket ball coming in at 90 miles an hour. It was considered to be a very unfair tactic. A lot of people said that it definitely was not cricket! It had been designed for one purpose only, to stop Don Bradman from scoring runs. It nearly stopped test cricket between England and Australia and a lot of strong words were said about it.

Bodyline was successful in that it made it much harder for Bradman, or any batsman, to score runs. Even so, the Mighty Don scored more runs in four test matches than any other Australian batsmen made in five. He made over fifty runs in at least one innings of each test match and finished the series with an average of 56.57. For anybody else 56.57 would have been an outstanding average. However, such was Bradman’s greatness that his average of 56 was considered to be a dismal failure. It was effectively banned when the laws of cricket were changed after the Bodyline Series, restricting the number of fieldsmen on the leg side.

In March 1948, Don Bradman, approaching his 40th birthday, was about to embark on the greatest challenge of his cricketing career. He had been quite ill in the late forties, having been invalided out of the army, and it was not certain that he would play cricket again when the war ended. However, in 1946 he made a stunning return to test match cricket and led the Australians to victory over England. In 1947 he did the same against the touring Indians, scoring his 100th First Class century in the process. He is the only Australian batsman to have done so. He took about 270 innings to reach his one hundredth century. The next quickest batsman to do was England’s dashing Denis Compton who needed almost one hundred innings more to achieve the feat. Nowadays cricketers play many more matches than Bradman ever did but still no other Australian has scored 100 centuries in First Class cricket.

1948 required Australia to tour England. It would be the first Australian test tour since the end of World War Two. All cricket lovers in England were looking on the tour as a return to peace time after the terrors of war. Bradman knew how much England was looking forward to the Australia versus England Test series. He also knew what an arduous task a test tour would for a man approaching forty years of age. Especially as the captain. The tour would stretch from when they left Australia in March until the return six months later. On tour the team would play cricket six days a week. He also knew that he was no longer a young man, that he was not as fast or as strong as he used to be, that the English bowlers would be seeking revenge, that he could fail and end his magnificent career on a disastrous note. Not only would he have the worry of scoring runs for his side but, as captain, he would be required to plan tactics and strategies on the field, make many, many speeches and attend a lot of functions that would steal into his time and distract him from his major task...beating England for the Ashes.

Weighing up all the pros and cons and knowing that people in England and Australia wanted him to make this one last tour he agreed to go. In March the touring Australian cricket team assembled in Perth prior to their departure from Fremantle for the four week boat voyage to Tilbury Docks in London. As was usual, a cricket match had been arranged between the Australian Team and the Western Australian state side. Western Australia had been allowed to enter the Sheffield Shield competition in 1947/48 and had surprised everyone by winning the shield in their very first season under the astute leadership of Keith Carmody.

Leon desperately wanted to go to this cricket match. It was a three day game scheduled to start on a Friday morning. In those days they did not play cricket on Sundays, so Leon’s only chance to see the game was on the Saturday. He realised that if Australia batted first then Don Bradman would bat on the Friday and may not be batting on the Saturday.

Leon thought seriously about playing truant from school on the Friday. However, he realised that he would have to deceive his parents and that truancy was very serious offence. He new his family would be absolutely mortified if they found out, so he decided against the idea and just hoped that the great Don Bradman would be batting on the Saturday when Leon would be at the game with his cousin, Raymond. So that night it was a rather unhappy Leon who fell asleep clutching a Sporting Life magazine and dreaming of the day he would see Don Bradman play.

Leon was awakened early the next morning by his father who leaned over him and quietly said, “The Australians are playing at the WACA today. If they bat first then Don Bradman will probably be batting some time after lunch. I think you should leave school at lunchtime and go down there. It will be the only chance you will ever have to see Don Bradman bat.” With that Jack kissed Leon good bye, turned and left the room.

Leon knew he wasn’t dreaming but he could hardly believe what he had heard. His own father, who placed such value on education, was giving him permission to play the wag. Leon didn’t tell his mother what Jack had said and set off for school as usual. Except, instead of riding his bike his ran down to Beaufort Street and caught a tram to school.

At lunchtime Leon sat with his friends but did not eat his lunch. He told them he was not feeling well and was going to go home. He asked his friend Frank O’Callaghan to let Brother O’Brien know.

“He’ll understand. He already knows I’m sick,” said Leon. When the boys were told by the duty teacher in the playground that they could go and play, Leon went and collected his bag and, out of sight of the duty teacher, walked out of the school. He expected whistles to blow, sirens to wail, bells to clang and to hear some Brothers shouting out over the P.A., “Stop that boy, he’s going to play truant!” But nothing happened and he walked slowly along Stirling Street, still maintaining his, “I’ve got a pain in the stomach” pose. When he turned into Harold Street and was no longer visible from the college building, Leon made a miraculous recovery. It was as if he had drunk a whole bottle of Lourdes holy water.

Early that afternoon, Leon’s dream came true. One of the Australian openers was dismissed and out to take his place came striding the greatest batsman in the world, Leon’s number one hero, the incomparable Donald George Bradman, the century making, batting machine from Bowral.

There was a very big crowd at the ground, obviously Leon was not the only one in Perth who was playing truant that Friday. They greeted Bradman with a mighty roar. Bradman was only a small man and he walked out swinging the bat around to loosen up his muscles. He quickly took up his batting position, took guard and prepared to face his first delivery from the West Australian medium pace bowler, Basil Rigg.

Rigg, fairly pleased with himself at dismissing an Australian opening batsman, came running in and let fly with a fastish delivery. Bradman stepped down the wicket, his batting blade describing a beautiful arc as he swung into the ball and sent it flashing past the bowler to the longest boundary on the ground. Four runs off his first ball! Leon yelled and the crowd cheered. This was what they had come to see. In his old age Leon still carried the image of that first delivery he saw bowled to Don Bradman. Every once in a while he would re-play it in his mind’s eye. It was a magic moment that he always thanked his dad for letting him have. It was a precious, priceless gift to be treasured forever.

It ranked with the time a few months later when Leon and Jack, one wintry night, huddled close to the wireless in front of the fire in the bedroom of their home in Aberdeen Street, listening to the Fourth Test at Headingly in England. It was the last day’s play and at stumps the day before England was four hundred runs ahead. At 6-00 pm the voices of John Arlott and Alan McGilvray crackled across the world to tell Leon and Jack that the England Captain, Norman Yardley, had not declared the England innings closed but was batting on into the final day. This meant that he could use a heavy roller before play started to further break up the already crumbling pitch. It also meant the unbeaten Australian test team would have less than a day to make over 400 runs. The commentators were sagely saying that there was almost no hope of Australia winning the game. After about fifteen minutes of play Yardley did declare and sent Australia in to bat. They needed to make 404 runs in the day to win the match. No team in history had ever scored 400 runs in the fourth innings to win a Test. And the Australians had to do it in less than 345 minutes on worn wicket. A very worn wicket!

By lunchtime in the match Bradman and Morris were batting well but Australia was facing a very stiff task. In Perth it was eight o’clock on a cold winter’s night. Jack put some cushions, a pillow and some blankets down on the floor in front of the wireless and made it into a bed for Leon. During the night Leon and Jack listened and cheered as Bradman and Morris began to get on top. Leon stayed awake as long as possible but finally sleep overtook him.

At 6-30 a.m. the next morning Jack woke him and said, “We won!” He gave Leon a quick summary, telling how Morris made 182 and Bradman was 173 not out. Morris was dismissed just before the magic 404 was reached, but Bradman and young Neil Harvey got there with fifteen minutes to spare. A famous victory which kept intact the undefeated record of Bradman’s “Invincibles”.

Meanwhile back at the WACA on that warm Friday afternoon in March, 1948, Bradman was batting just the way he did in Jack’s stories. He hit the ball wherever there was a gap in the field. Keith Carmody would move a man to fill the gap and Bradman would hit the next ball to the spot that had just been vacated. It was uncanny. It was beautiful to watch and Leon took it all in. By tea time Bradman was already close to his century. During the afternoon tea break Leon went off in search of more cool drink bottles to finance the purchase to another hot dog.

The players came back on the field after tea. Leon made his way back to his vantage point. The WACA ground was now very crowded. The word that Bradman was batting had spread and a lot of office workers had come into the ground. 

Shortly after tea Bradman brought up his century to a tumultuous ovation. Leon almost cheered himself hoarse. Bradman finally gave his wicket away to let some of the other Australians have a hit. He was out for 115 to a catch at mid wicket, caught Tom Outridge bowled Tommy O’Dwyer. Leon’s cousin, Maurie,  had gone to Aquinas with Tom Outridge and Basil Rigg and they and Tommy O’Dwyer had all been coached by Brother Dave Dwyer who now taught at Highgate Christian Brothers. Leon felt this gave him a very  close connection to all that had been happening that memorable day at the WACA.

 That night, Leon described in detail the great innings he had seen from the Master batsman. Jack was tickled pink to know that forever afterwards Leon could say that he had seen Don Bradman make a century at the WACA.

The following day Raymond and Leon were at the WACA bright and early to see the end of the Australian innings. Very late in the afternoon the Western Australian left handed batsman, Wally Langdon, was in the nineties and there was a great deal of excitement as to whether or not he could reach his century before play ended for the day. With only an over or two to go he had reached 96. He drove a ball firmly into the offside field but Bradman, at Mid Off, raced around to cut it off. No run. The crowd groaned.

Someone yelled,” C’mon, Don. Let him get his century.” Langdon hit the next ball to the offside and once more Bradman raced around and cut it off. No run. Again the crowd yelled out good naturedly for Bradman to ease up. The next delivery was hit just a little straighter into the offside field. Bradman gave chase to cut it off and was running very fast when it flashed past him, he eased up and grinned as the ball sped to the boundary. The crowd all cheered.

The man next to Leon said to nobody in particular, “Bradman let that go on purpose.” Leon thought so too, although he could have been puffed out after the previous chasing he had done. Anyhow Wally Langdon scored his hundred and everyone had had a bit of fun with Don Bradman.

That was the only game that Don Bradman’s “Invincibles” ever played on Australian soil. Wally Langdon’s innings must have impressed The Don for he was invited to play in Bradman’s very last official game, his Testimonial Match in Sydney in December 1948. Wally was the only Western Australian to be invited.

When Leon was in his mid thirties he worked in the same office as Wally Langdon in the Teacher Education Branch of the Education Department. They often enjoyed long and nostalgic talks about cricket and especially that memorable match, Don Bradman’s century and the battle Wally had with the great man to get a century for himself. His first for Western Australia.

When play ended on the Saturday, Leon and a whole crowd of people jumped the fence. Leon made a bee line for his idol who was trotting off to the player’s gate. Leon got right up alongside Bradman and patted him on the back.

 “Good on you, Don,” he said as the great man smiled at all of the well wishers crowding around. Leon then sped off to tell Raymond that he had actually touched the mighty Don Bradman. That night Leon went around the family saying, “O.K. who wants to shake the hand that patted Don Bradman on the back?” The family all humoured him and Leon thought it was the greatest day of his life.


  1. I thought this chapter was one of the best in your book. They were all good though-- I must re-read LEON! Xxx

  2. I did have to edit it a bit for the blog. Glad that you enjoyed it.


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