It was a momentous tour. Having played a pivotal role in winning the Ashes, Bradman scored an unprecedented 974 runs in the series, still unequalled to this day, at an average of 139.14. He got all these runs at 40 an hour without hitting a six. Rarely did Bradman loft the ball. Some felt that this aggregate was the equivalent of Sydney Barnes’ feat of 49 wickets in four Tests against South Africa in 1913-14, but against better opposition. No other batsman from either side got even half of Bradman’s tally, nor even more than one hundred. Mammoth scores kept coming repeatedly from his willow like giant waves slapping the shore – a century, two double centuries and a triple century. The double hundreds decided the series. Without doubt the English would need to introspect deeply. C.B. Fry, himself a man of many parts and incredibly talented, was enchanted with Bradman’s display: “I wish I could have used my bat like Don. He is a gem of a batsman. I just love his finished technique and inevitable surety.”
As much as the runs that he scored, Bradman filled the counties’ coffers as never before. Jon Stock related a tale, perhaps apocryphal, in The Week: “Don was the bane of every bowler’s life, but he was also a commercial opportunity. Dai Davies, a Glamorgan player, recalls how he once came close to bowling Bradman in 1930. He was flabbergasted when instead of encouraging him, his captain Maurice Turnbull told Davies that his services wouldn’t be required that day. ‘But I’ll get him out the next over,’ Davies pleaded. ‘That’s what we don’t want,’ Turnbull replied. ‘Can’t you see, we’ve got to keep him in for Monday (the August bank holiday)?’ Glamorgan made a small profit at the end of that year thanks entirely to that game’s proceeds.”
By the final Test, his ninth, Bradman had reached an average of 100, and had as many as six three-figure knocks. His aggregate now stood at 1442 runs, the average 103. In all first-class matches during that tour of 1930, Bradman hit up 2960 runs, the most any visiting batsman has done, and notched up 10 hundreds. He topped the averages among all batsmen during that season at 98.66, which he did on all his tours to England. If anybody had lingering doubts about Bradman’s ability to cope with English conditions, they had been dispelled in the most vehement manner possible. From now on batting had only one don, perhaps forever. That Wisden selected Bradman as one of its cricketers of the year in its 1931 edition is only stating the obvious. A most telling comment came from the great allrounder Wilfred Rhodes, a shrewd judge of the game, and not one to shower praise lightly: “I bowled against all the best from 1900 to 1930 – Hobbs, Trumper, Grace and Ranji among them and many, many more – but Bradman was the greatest.”
Ian Peebles, who bowled to Bradman during this series, wrote in the World of Cricket: “It was not until the series got underway that the cricket world gradually realised that this young man Bradman had inaugurated a new era and somewhat reinterpreted the old adage that ‘bowlers win matches’. Never before had an individual batsman so consistently given bowlers the opportunity of winning matches by the speed and extent of his scoring.”
Financially, the tour brought Bradman a bonanza. In addition to the ₤ 600 paid by The Board of Control for the six-month effort, which was easily double an average annual wage at the time, and the reward of ₤ 1000 bestowed on him by Arthur Whitelaw, was the contract for his first book Don Bradman’s Book of Cricket and its serialisation in the press. Bradman’s earnings came to a whopping ₤ 5000.
Don Bradman was now a folk hero in Australia, and he began receiving several offers for commercial endorsements. ‘Bradmania’ had besieged the minds of his countrymen. Whenever word spread that Bradman was at Mick Simmons, huge crowds would congregate outside. It was not long before a musical tribute was paid to him. ‘Our Don Bradman’ was an affectionate tune that became popular in the 1930s. Described as a ‘snappy fox trot song’, it hailed ‘Australia’s batting phenomenon’. Deft pianist that he was, Bradman himself composed a song ‘Every Day is a Rainbow Day for Me’.
While Bradman was making his entry into the record books, a significant event that was to cast its shadow for more than a decade, was occurring on the other side of the globe. The United States of America, having experienced great prosperity in the 1920s, post World War I, saw soaring exports and booming stock markets, but much of the shares bought with borrowed money. This bubble that had consequently been created, burst on October 29, 1929, a day that came to be known as ‘Black Tuesday’. The stock market on Wall Street collapsed. Countless fortunes were lost. The ripple effect engulfed the entire United States, and then the world. Banks failed, businesses and factories closed, and international trade came to a virtual standstill. The markets kept plunging and bottomed out only after three years. It is believed that 30 million people lost their jobs, half of them in the United States. Australia too took a big hit as nearly one-third of the people found themselves out of employment, and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by as much as 25 percent. The Great Depression had set in. It was a period of great economic hardship that lasted more than a decade.
It was exactly during this time leading to the Second World War that Bradman regaled the crowds with his magical 2 lb 2 oz bat. People thronged to the grounds to watch his run-sprees, as much as to forget their own miseries. His deeds brought solace to the multitude that watched, heard or read about his exploits. In Australia there was the added glee of giving a hiding to the imperial masters, who protected the interests of their own merchants at the cost of the toiling masses. The impact of Bradman’s peerless accomplishments went far beyond providing entertainment and transmitting the joys of sporting excellence. His record-breaking feats helped lift, at least temporarily, the gloom in people’s lives, and enabled them to escape into a less depressing world. When there was darkness all around, Bradman was one bright light that offered hope and instilled the courage to battle on. For many, Bradman became the very reason and purpose for their existence. Someone who has come close to replicating the joy that Bradman spread has been India’s Sachin Tendulkar. There has not been a more loved character in recent times than Tendulkar, nor one who people want to see succeed as much as he. When it was later pointed out to The Don that he had helped so many cope with the pain of the Great Depression, he merely replied, “I don’t know. I was too busy playing cricket.” Indeed he was, and so focussed was he on the field that the only things that mattered to him were runs on the board and victory for his team.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).
‘Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0.
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