Bradman squares up to Bodyline : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

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Bradman hooks ferociously

Bradman was back for the Melbourne Test as Frank Packer agreed not to carry the star batsman’s writings for the duration of the series. Curiously, he was allowed to continue the radio assignment. Fingleton opened in Ponsford’s absence. Both Woodfull and debutant Leo O’Brien fell for 10, the latter having the misfortune of being run out. Bradman walked in to an enormous din from the crowd. There was still a huge roar when he took strike to the bespectacled Bowes. It reached a crescendo as Bowes began his run-up. Bradman backed away, and waited till the crowd quietened. At this, Bowes moved long-leg a bit, and this sowed the seeds of doubt in Bradman’s mind. Bradman glanced around, trying to fathom the strategy. Bowes, on his part, did not bowl a bouncer, but a delivery slightly short of a length. It did not get up as high as Bradman had suspected. He quickly moved back and across to play his patent pull shot but only managed to under-edge the ball on to his stumps. The great Bradman was bowled first ball.

The crowd was stunned into silence. The English fielders were expectedly jubilant and even the perpetually grim-faced Jardine jumped with glee. And then the decibels rose again in the stands. This was the only wicket that Bowes got in the solitary Test that he played in the series. He expended 70 runs in the 23 overs that he bowled in the two innings. Why then, one wonders, has he been given so much pride of place in this Bodyline series? Sure, this was Bradman’s wicket, and a dramatic first-ball dismissal. But that was it. Bowes should be a tiny foot-note in the sordid Bodyline saga, not occupy acres of print space that he has.

Like another much-debated dismissal for zero, Bradman’s last in Test cricket, the bowler earned fame that would otherwise have eluded him. And indeed Bradman’s ducks made headlines as much as his famous double and triple centuries.

Fingleton battled hard for his 83, and then McCabe, Richardson and Oldfield guided Australia to a total of 228. Sutcliffe settled down at the wicket for England, grinding out a laborious half-century. But Wall and O’Reilly ran through the line-up, and the tourists were sent packing for 169. Wall took four for 52, and O’Reilly five for 63.

Bradman came in at 27 for two this time, and played the second stunning innings against Bodyline. He got a bit of help from Woodfull and Richardson, but it was largely a Bradman show against the diabolical leg-theory. The Don used an unconventional method. He backed away to leg and smashed the fast, short-pitched deliveries through the vacant off-side. This method of dealing with the Jardine-Larwood conspiracy was quite different to the more conventional approach of McCabe in the first Test. His detractors said this was further evidence of Bradman’s cross-batted technique, but it was as effective as McCabe’s, even though not quite as aesthetic. He was so quick on his feet that he could step aside in a flash and square-cut Larwood’s swiftest delivery to the fence. Walter Hammond wrote, seemingly paying tribute to Bradman, but more likely tongue-in-cheek, “He ran to the off and out to leg to get away from those head-high whistling balls. He played golf and overhead lawn tennis shots. One after another, the ball went crashing to the fence. That was sheer courage.”

As the flustered Englishmen watched in disbelief, Bradman carved an unbeaten 103 out of a total of 191. He had faced 146 balls in a stay of slightly over three hours, and hit 7 fours. Jardine’s men were set a target of 251 runs, but the spinners O’Reilly and Ironmonger stamped out their aspirations. O’Reilly scalped five more for match figures of ten for 129. Australia romped home by 111 runs and the series was at an even keel at 1-1.

….. the story of the Bodyline series of 1932-33 from ‘Don’s Century’ continues next week.

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Biography of Don Bradman to commemorate his birth centenary, and a panorama of batting from the 1860s to the present times.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

‘Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0. is distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Phones + 91 11 23417175 and 23412567.

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