DOUBLE CENTURIES WERE BRADMAN’S HALLMARK
No batsman scored as many double centuries as Don Bradman, ten in Test matches in addition to his two triple tons. But more significantly, each of his double hundreds brought victory for Australia, more often than not at vital junctures, and became a hallmark of his reign in the Test arena. In first-class cricket too no batsman has been able to match Bradman’s 37 double centuries, inclusive of five triple tons and a quadruple hundred.
When The Don registered his triple tons in the Headingley Tests of 1930 and 1934 his team was poised to win but the weather gods intervened to save England. Nothing, however, could spoil the party when Bradman’s magical willow churned up a double hundred in a Test match. When faced with the grim forebodings of the ‘experts’ about his ability to cope with English conditions, what did young Don do? He simply scored a double century in his maiden first-class appearance in England against Worcestershire in 1930. And in his next two tours in 1934 and 1938 he did exactly the same in the traditional tour opener at Worcester – notched up double hundeds. It was only on his fourth and last tour of Old Blighty as a player in 1948 that Bradman failed in the opening fixture against the Worcestershire bowlers. He was dismissed for just 107!
Having scored a hundred in his first Test on English soil at Trent Bridge, Bradman chose the hallowed arena of Lord’s to record his maiden Test double century in the very next game. That was a brilliant 254 that has been acknowledged as his finest essay, an assertion that was confirmed by The Don himself. It was a flawless exhibition of exquisite strokeplay that was instrumental in squaring the series. His record-shattering 334 followed in the third Test at the venue of his many heroic efforts, Headingley, Leeds. But it was in the fifth and final Test at The Oval that Bradman knocked up the archetypal double hundred that wrested the Ashes.
The West Indies side of those days was no match and Bradman notched up his customary double century in the third Test of the 1930-31 series to put Australia in an unassailable position with a 3-0 lead. With South Africa, too, little more than pushovers in 1931-32, Bradman knocked up a double hundred in the opening Test at Brisbane as Australia swept the series 5-0. In the fourth Test at Adelaide, Bradman was poised on 299, and going for the 300th run when his partner last-man Pud Thurlow was run out.
The 1934 Ashes series in England was a fierce battle for supremacy after the Bodyline nightmare. Bradman was plagued by ill-health and poor form. He played a string of cameos in the first three Tests and the series was balanced at an even keel at 1-1. The Don knocked up 304 at Headingley and with Bill Ponsford put on 388 for the fourth wicket before rain washed out most of the final day with England struggling to stay afloat. Once again the fate of the series hinged on the final Test at The Oval. This time Bradman and Ponsford added 451 runs for the second wicket, both hitting up double centuries. England were annihilated. In two innings at Headingley and The Oval, Bradman and Ponsford aggregated nearly a thousand runs between them. It was mind-boggling stuff, something that schoolboys dream of.
There was a chilling twist to the script as Bradman fell seriously just as he was preparing to leave for home after winning back the Ashes. For days there were fears over his survival. He pulled through and was forced to undergo months of rehabilitation. He was back at the crease during the domestic season of 1935-36 but declined to tour South Africa.
Bradman was once more in the saddle, in more ways than one, in the cauldron of Test cricket as his good friend Gubby Allen brought over the English side for the 1936-37 Ashes contest. The Don was now at the helm of a depleted Australian side in the absence of the likes of Woodfull, Ponsford, Kippax, Grimmett and Wall. He was himself finding his feet once again on the biggest stage after a lapse of two years. Australia were quickly 0-2 down; his own form was patchy. Bradman found himself in an unenviable position, to put it mildly.
That is when he did what he invariably did in such situations – score a double century. It was 270 this time as he turned the tide in the second innings at Melbourne after rain had made the situation quite slippery. His 346-run association for the sixth wicket with Jack Fingleton, who was often a vociferous critic later, precipitated a huge win. To even out things in the series, Bradman rolled out another double hundred in the following Test at Adelaide. The shoe was on the other foot now, as the English were a demoralised lot. Bradman’s successive double centuries had hit them like a thunderbolt. They were now easy prey as Bradman struck a superb 169 in the last Test to lead the final assault and win the series in grand style. It was the most stirring fightback in Test history, and central to it was the Bradman hallmark, his double centuries.
There was no double hundred for The Don in the 1938 series, but centuries for good measure in each of the three Tests that he batted in. This time the series was squared 1-1 courtesy Len Hutton’s monumental 364 on a rock-hard Oval pitch, with injury preventing Bradman from batting in both innings.
The war forced an interlude, but when Bradman returned for the 1946-47 Ashes series he battled through indifferent health and an uncertain start to construct an innings of 187 in the first Test at Brisbane. Having regained his confidence, The Don once again belted out a double century in the next encounter at Sydney asserting supremacy right at the outset. Sidney Barnes was his ally in a 405-run fifth wicket stand. Barnes matched Bradman’s 234, but took nearly four-and-a-quarter hours longer than his ageing skipper to get to that figure. This time England found themselves 0-2 down, but where could they find a Don Bradman to bail them out? They gasped and spluttered as Bradman’s brilliant new team closed the series 3-0.
India were next in line and Bradman was not going to let them get away without putting the stamp of a double hundred in the scorecard. He did so in a series-clinching knock in the fourth Test at Adelaide. This was The Don’s last double century in Test matches, each of which brought wins for Australia and many clinched rubbers.
In his farewell 1948 series in England, Bradman scored two centuries, in the first Test at Trent Bridge and in the fourth at Headingley when he made an exhilarating unbeaten 173 in that successful 400-plus run-chase on the last day in tandem with Arthur Morris, the pair raising 301 for the second wicket.
That, then, set Bradman apart from other greats. While for the others a hundred was cause for celebration, for The Don it was just the starting point. He would not be satisfied, nor would his legion of fans, until he carved out a double century and more. He hit double hundreds against all the four countries that he faced, in Australia and in England, in seven of his eleven series, eight in the first innings, apart from the two triple hundreds, and two in the second. Bradman had 200-plus scores in eight of the ten Test grounds that he graced, the exceptions being Trent Bridge and Old Trafford, and as many as eight against England, three in one series, and two in each of three series. Bradman’s iconic average of 99.94 is deeply etched in the minds of all, but what is often forgotten is that it was his scores of 200 and above that made Bradman special, and the impact of those monumental innings that made him a batting superstar, the like of whom is unlikely to pass this way again. On his birth centenary, what must be recalled most of all is the periodicity and import of his mesmeric double centuries.