xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Don Bradman and me…and Stephanie

Monday, 6 March 2017

Don Bradman and me…and Stephanie

Don Bradman has been dead for about 16 years, yet we still have people, who feel the need to draw attention to themselves, telling us that The Don really was not that good. Over the years a few ex cricketers and attention seeking journalists, have said Don Bradman would not make as many runs today, basically, because fieldsmen are fitter and more enthusiastic.

After such criticism, people who played with Don Bradman, or saw him play, said that he was renowned for hitting the ball into the gaps in the field. It did not matter how athletic the fielders were, they would rarely run down a ball struck forcefully into an open space by The Master. It was said that the great English fast bowler, Harold Larwood, used to bowl at 90 miles an hour and Bradman would send the ball on its way at 120 miles an hour. Yes, you would need to be very athletic to chase that ball down on its way to the boundary.

Throughout his career, Bradman scored 100 runs off every 126 ball he faced. That is a strike rate of 80% over twenty years. Remarkable. He averaged a century once in every three innings. Respected writer, Roland Perry, in his book, The Don, said the only batsman to rival Bradman’s run scoring rate was Viv Richards, the West Indian batsman who was nick named The Master Blaster, because of his forceful batting. However, Perry points out that the only time Richards equalled Bradman’s run scoring rate was not in Test matches, but in a period in the 1980s, when Richards played One Day cricket. Bradman was a very aggressive and attacking batsmen, against all types of bowling. It could be said he played all of his cricket as if he was playing in One Day games.

However, Bradman was curbed. The 1932/33 Bodyline Series featured a form of fast bowling aimed directly at the batsman’s body, while the leg side was packed with fieldsmen waiting for a catch off the bat of hapless batsmen trying to protect themselves from the lethal fast bowling directed at their heads and bodies.

Bodyline nearly wrecked cricket being played between England and Australia. The respected Australia captain, Bill Woodfull was struck over the heart and taken from the field. While recovering in the dressing rooms, he was heard to tell the manager of the England team, Sir Pelham Warner,
“There are two teams out on the field, but only one of them is trying to play cricket.”

These words were quoted in Australian and English  newspapers. Relations between England and Australia became very tense. England said Bodyline was not unsporting. However, the next season, when other sides tried it in England, cricket’s ruling body, the Marlyebone Cricket Club, made it illegal to have more than two fielders behind square leg. This meant that batsmen facing bodyline bowling could play legitimate hook shots without fear of being caught by a packed leg field. Bodyline did curb Bradman. It curbed every batsman who had to face it.

Nevertheless, Bradman, who only played four tests in that series, made more runs than any other Australian batsman made in five tests. His strike rate was greater than any other batsman on either side.He scored one century and at scored least 50 runs in one innings in each of his four Tests. In fact, he made more runs than any batsman on either side, except for two English batsmen, Hammond and Sutcliffe, who had played in five tests…and who did not have to face bodyline bowling.

Bradman, who averaged 139 runs per innings on his tour of England in 1930, only averaged 56 runs per innings in the Bodyline Series. That was a very low average for him but better than any other batsman on either side. Indeed, an average of 56 in a test series is considered to be quite a good average indeed. For a batsman of Bradman’s stature, it was considered to be a  failure.

Bradman finished his twenty year test career with an average of 99.94. This is  twice as good as the next best. Bradman, by his outstanding batting feats, demonstrated that he was, indeed,  twice as good as the next best batsmen. Despite the carping of those attention seeking critics, it is reasonable to assume that if Bradman was playing today he would still be twice as good. Especially when you consider that, today,  all grounds have sight screens. In Bradman’s day many English grounds did not have sight screens.

Also, today, all pitches are covered in case of rain. Bradman had to play on wickets that were almost unplayable because of rain damage. Today, he would also have the advantage of playing with bigger better bats and hitting the ball towards boundaries which are now much closer that they were in the 1930s and 40s.

 Well, that says a lot about Sir Donald Bradman, but this piece is titled, Bradman and me…and Stephanie. Who is Stephanie? Where does she fit in?

Well, l had just a few connections with Don Bradman. One of them was only indirectly involved with cricket. Thanks to my Dad suggesting that I wag school, I saw Don Bradman captain the Australian team against Western Australia in a three-day game at the WACA ground, prior to their sailing to England in mid-March, 1948. On their tour of England, the Australians did not lose a match and became known as Bradman’s Invincibles. That game at the WACA, was the only time that Don Bradman lead his Invincibles in a cricket match on Australian soil. And I was there to see it.

I saw Bradman make 115runs. At stumps on the Saturday I, and about three thousand other young boys, jumped to fence to say hello to our hero, the Mighty Don Bradman. I even patted him on the back and said, “Good onya, Don.”

Forty years after that historic game at the WACA, I was the Principal at Doubleview Primary School. It was 1988, the bi-centenary of European settlement in Australia. In order to get children acquainted with their great Australian heritage, I announced at an assembly that I would like the senior students in years 6 and 7 to each do a research project on a famous Australian.

The children embraced my challenge with enthusiasm. None more so than a bright faced young girl named Stephanie Stirling. From time to time I would talk with each student about which great Australian they were researching and how their project was progressing. I was surprised and quite pleased when Stephanie told me that her project was about Don Bradman.

One day she asked if she could interview me about her project. I was one of five people she interviewed. She asked me such questions as to when did I first hear of Don Bradman? Did I ever see him play cricket? What did I think was his greatest innings? Did I follow is cricketing career? How did I follow his career?

As Stephanie was drawing all of her research together, she again asked if she could talk to me. In my office she showed me some of her notes, some of her drawings and some pictures she had collected. Then she asked me if I knew Don Bradman’s address because she had some questions that she wanted to ask him. I enquired at the Western Australian Cricket Association and after some discussion, I eventually obtained the address for Stephanie

Stephanie finished her project. Don Bradman wrote her a personal letter saying that he was really touched that she had chosen him for her school project. He answered all of her questions. I cannot recall them all now, but one question was, “Do you think the game has changed since you played?” Sir Donald wrote that obviously, the game had changed in some ways. Some games were played in coloured clothing and there was now a lot more money involved. However, he believed cricket was still a classic battle between bat and ball, “After all, he told Stephanie, “a leg break is still a leg break.”

In her project, Stephanie included Don Bradman’s letter to her and a copy of her thank you note to him.

As they were completed, I placed the projects of the famous Australians in the long corridor that ran the length of the school. It became a sort of Hall of Fame. In Stephanie’s case, I thought it would be nice if she could send a copy of her project to Sir Donald. I told her that the school would pay the postage. Stephanie thought about it and decided she would rather send him her original project so that the drawings and picture collection would not be diminished by the photocopying process.

The project was suitably packaged and posted. A week or so later, Stephanie received another letter from Sir Donald Bradman, complimenting her on her project and telling her that he had arranged to have it placed among his personal papers in the Bradman Library which was then being developed at the Bradman Centre in Bowral, Sir Donald’s old home town.

At the time, Don Bradman was eighty years old and still receiving a huge amount of personal mail from all over the world. It says a great deal about this man that he took the trouble to write two very gracious letters to a twelve year old girl at Doubleview School. Truly, a great Australian.

Stephanie was a very good student, possessed of a sense of fun. I experienced her quick wit in an incident at Doubleview School in December 1987. At the end that year we had an inaugural Graduation Dinner for the Year Seven students. This dinner subsequently became a popular, annual event.

Prior to the Graduation Dinner, we had pre-dinner drinks in the staff room. The drinks consisted of four large bowls of non-alcoholic punch, which I made during the afternoon. To add interest to the punch, I put chunks of dry ice into the bowls, causing them to bubble furiously and give off lots of vapour, just like a witch’s brew. Over the years it certainly impressed the children…and their parents.
On that last day of school in 1987, on the morning after the dinner, I went to the staff room refrigerator to toss out the remainder of the dry ice. I thought I would take some of it to the Year Six class to let them see what they could expect at their Graduation Dinner in 1988. Also, to warn them of the dangers of actually putting any dry ice in their drinking glass.

I put some dry ice into a large glass of water. Immediately, the liquid started bubbling and clouds of vapour were produced. I set off along the long corridor for the Year Six room. Coming towards me, from the school library, were three Year Six girls, one of whom was Stephanie Stirling.

“Oooh!. What is that?" Mr Bourke, exclaimed the girls, suitably impressed by my bubbling, vaporous brew.

Wishing to inject a bit of humour into the last day of the school year, I held the potion to my nose and said in a faintly mysterious manner, “Ah, ha! This is my magical, mystery potion.”

“What does it, do?” asked Stephanie.

“You see, girls, when I sniff this magic potion, it makes me look like Tom Cruise.”

With a wry smile, Stephanie said, “It isn’t working, Mr Bourke.”

Stephanie would be 41 or 42 this year. No doubt she now has children of her own. I wonder if she ever showed them her Sir Donald Bradman project and the two letters that the great man wrote to her.

I have not seen Stephanie since she graduated in December, 1988. However, I am sure that her ready smile, quick wit and great sense of humour have helped her in life. 

I certainly hope so.


1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic story. I am sure I have heard it already but it was lovely to hear it again. You have now put her name on the Interwebs so maybe the famous Stephanie will stumble across it and get in touch to tell you how you really did look like Tom Cruise! Xxx


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