THE THREE STAGES OF BRADMAN’S CAREER
There were three distinct stages in Don Bradman’s stint at the crease, pre-Bodyline, from Bodyline till the Second World War, and post-war till the end of his career in 1948. In the first phase it was obviously a young Bradman, physically in his prime, unfettered in mind and playing purely by instinct, giving full vent to the abundant talent he was blessed with. He took the cricket world by storm, scoring his first fifty and hundred early in Bowral, carving out a double century against Wingello, and triple century versus Moss Vale in the Southern Tablelands competition. Soon he was playing club cricket in Sydney and was called up to represent New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield.
He hit up a century on first-class debut in 1927-28, and the next season found himself in the Australian team for the Ashes series. He scored a hundred in his second Test, and another before that series folded up. In 1929-30 he broke Bill Ponsford’s first-class record, blazing to an unbeaten 452 against Queensland at Sydney. It was in this backdrop that he undertook his first tour to England in 1930. Despite the reservations of some English players, Bradman was mesmeric. He slammed 236 in the traditional opening fixture against Worcestershire and followed it up with an unbeaten 185 off the Leicestershire bowlers. Not long after, he made 252 not out versus Surrey and 191 when he faced up to the Hampshire attack. He became the youngest to achieve the coveted feat of notching up 1000 runs before the end of May in an English season.
That was just the curtain-raiser. Though young Don was dismissed for 8 in the first innings of the Trent Bridge Test, he scored 131 in the second knock. Lord’s proved inspirational to the impressionable lad as he cruised to a magnificent double century. This essay of 254 has been rated as his best, a view endorsed by Bradman himself. Each shot, he said, went exactly where he wanted it to. Australia squared the series.
In the third Test at his favourite English ground, Headingley, Leeds, Bradman was quite irresistible. He emulated his great predecessors Victor Trumper and Charlie ‘Governor General’ Macartney by hitting up a hundred before lunch on the first day of a Test match. He got another between lunch and tea, and by stumps had raced to 309 not out. Test cricket had not seen anything like it before, nor ever after. The next morning he surpassed English batsman Andy Sandham’s record Test score of 325, achieved just a few months earlier in the West Indies. Bradman was finally out for 334. He now held the records for the highest individual scores in first-class as well as Test cricket. It was another 64 years before Brian Lara became the second to accomplish this.
Despite Bradman’s heroics, the series was still tied 1-1 before the final Test at The Oval. Bradman settled the issue with a superb 232, and Australia won back the Ashes. It was a magical tour. Bradman scored 974 runs in the Test series at an average of 139.14, surpassing Wally Hammond’s mark of 905 runs in the previous Ashes face-off. Bradman’s summit stands insurmountable. His tour aggregate was 2960, still the highest any visiting batsman has ever scored in England, the average being 98.66. Don Bradman’s deeds were stunning.
When the West Indies toured Australia for the first time in 1930-31, Bradman was not as prolific as he was in England, but hit up 223 in the third Test at Brisbane and 152 in the next at Melbourne. The South Africans, though, felt the full impact of his rampaging willow the next season as he slammed 226 in the first Test at Brisbane and 112 in the second at Sydney. His only failure in the series came at Melbourne when he was dismissed for 2, an aberration that was corrected in the second innings as he knocked up 167 runs. In the fourth Test at Adelaide, Bradman had a triple century in his sights, but ran out of partners, literally, when last man Pud Thurlow found himself short of the crease. Don was stranded on 299. He could not bat in the final Test due to injury, and thus in four Tests he had knocked up 806 runs at an average of 201.50, still the highest in a five-Test series. Australia whitewashed the hapless visitors 5-0.
By now Bradman had hit up 2695 runs in just 19 Tests and his average had reached its zenith at 112.29. He had a triple century, five other double centuries and six single hundreds to his credit. He was in a zone entirely his own, and the other teams, primarily England, introspected deeply about the ways to halt this phenomenon. Thus was hatched the Bodyline conspiracy, the most diabolical form of attack ever devised, solely to cut Bradman to size. This ended the first astounding phase of Bradman’s career.
It also began a troubled period in his life. He was already feeling the stress of too much cricket and the weight of expectations. On the heels of this came a confrontation with the Australian Board of Control over his writing contract with The Star newspaper. The face-off caused Bradman to sit out the first Test against Douglas Jardine’s 1932-33 side. The Bodyline attack was unveiled in that encounter. When Bradman returned for the second Test at Melbourne after a compromise with the Board, he was incensed with the authorities and instigated by the Bodyline method. He decided that the only way to tackle the menace was to attack it. And when the bespectacled left-armer Bill Bowes pitched the first one just a trifle short, Bradman was into his customary pull shot, only to play the ball on to his stumps. It was sensational stuff.
Then he went all out, backing away or stepping across and belting the ball in unorthodox fashion during the rest of the series. He scored an unbeaten hundred in the second innings to clinch victory. Australia went into a downward slide thereafter but Bradman hit up 66, 76 and 71, besides other cameos, in the remaining three Tests. England had contained him, but to his credit Bradman managed to hold his head above the water. Nevertheless, the Bradman of yore was never to be seen again.
The 1934 tour of England commenced with a depressing mix of indifferent health and patchy form. He still scored a double century in the first game at Worcester. The first three Tests yielded scores of just 29, 25, 36, 13 and 30 from his bat, and the series deadlocked at 1-1. Bradman steeled himself for one mighty effort with Ponsford as his ally. He knocked up 304 at Headingley and put on 388 for the fourth wicket with Ponsford. Rain then played spoilsport. In the final Test Bradman and Ponsford added 451 for the second wicket. The Don carved out scores of 244 and 77 and won the series for Australia. And then he fell seriously ill, was operated upon and nearly lost his life.
He was back on the field in the domestic season of 1935-36 and hit up two triple centuries. Appointed captain for the 1936-37 Ashes series, he found himself in trouble right away as his depleted Australian side went 0-2 down. Then the great Bradman fightback began again. Jack Fingleton helped him raise 346 for the sixth wicket at Melbourne. Bradman scored a monumental 270, and Australia pulled one back. He made a double century in consecutive Tests with his 212 at Adelaide, helping his team square the series and, crucially, gain the run of play. The English were demoralised, and Bradman now led the ride to victory with his innings of 169 in the final Test. His magical blade had turned the series around in another unprecedented act and won it in grand style.
In 1938 Bradman got his routine double hundred in the lung opener against Worcestershire. He scored centuries in all the three Tests that he batted, with the third at Old Trafford washed out. Injury in the final game prevented him from taking the crease as Len Hutton scored a record 364 to end the series with the honours even. The Ashes stayed with Australia as war clouds engulfed the world. This was Bradman’s second stint in which he scored 2398 runs in 18 Tests at an average of 85.64 with a triple century, three other double centuries and five single centuries. It was marked by his huge rearguard efforts, but one in which Australia maintained supremacy.
After the war Bradman was at the helm of a brilliant team. He was now ageing and slow on his feet but so much richer in experience. He settled himself again at the crease and immediately established ascendancy with knocks of 187 and 234 in the first two Tests, winning both. Sidney Barnes helped him add 405 for the fifth wicket in the latter game. England could not manage a Bradmanesque fightback and the series was won easily. India were not able to provide much resistance the next season. Having brought up his hundredth first-class hundred, Bradman began with 185 in the opening Test. He scored a hundred in each innings in the third Test at Melbourne, and his final Test double century in the fourth at Adelaide.
There was one last challenge left, the Ashes series of 1948 in England. Bradman’s Invincibles were unstoppable and yet again he scored a century in the first Test. As if to put a final stamp of mastery, Bradman combined with Arthur Morris in a 301-run stand for the second wicket in the fourth Test at Headingley, carrying Australia to an incredible win by scoring an unheard of 404 runs in the fourth innings in less than a day. The unbeaten 173 was his final Test hundred. Bradman returned unconquered.
In his third stint of 15 Tests, Bradman scored 1905 runs at an average of 105.83 with two double centuries and six other hundreds. Australia were unassailable, not losing a single Test and winning all three series. While Bradman went through the natural ageing process and physical changes, his game inevitably saw a metamorphosis. But all the while Bradman retained his uncanny rungetting prowess and turned Australia into the dominant cricketing power for long years. Don Bradman was one of a kind.