Learie Constantine, later Lord Constantine, was an exciting allrounder who did not make an impression in this Test series, though he did smash a hundred for the West Indies in 52 minutes against Tasmania at Launceston. He was an exhilarating batsman, one-half of the fearsome pace duet with Manny Martindale, and a brilliant fielder particularly in the covers, earning the sobriquet ‘Electric Heels’. As was only to be expected, he made several references to Bradman in his incisive and amusing book The Young Cricketer’s Companion. In the first chapter ‘Playing Cricket for Fun’, he wrote: “They used to laugh at Don Bradman and say he played with a cross bat. Quite true! He did. Many of his scoring shots were so unorthodox that he ought to have been unfrocked. The only thing is – where was the bowler who could unfrock him.” In another chapter entitled ‘Sticky Wicket’, Constantine noted, “I shall probably be skinned for it, but I would say that Sir Donald Bradman was a fair-weather batsman. I give place to one in my admiration for my old friend from Australia, who so far believed in me as to entrust me with the preliminary inquiries in England over negotiations that might well have brought ‘The Don’ into Lancashire League cricket. We all know he is a master of almost every shot in the game, and a batsman against whom all bowlers have defended themselves. But there is no doubt that he is not happy on a wet wicket. Well, you can fairly say, who is?”
Constantine also related an interesting tale about how he set a trap for Bradman in the match against New South Wales: “Don Bradman walked out. No use bowling the second ball like the first, because Bradman is one who notices everything. I swung the ball from the leg side. Bradman steered it neatly through the slips, a most unusual stroke that few batsmen could have managed. He did it easily, and obvious enjoyment showed in his face and attitude. I decided to make his enjoyment his downfall. I fed him that ball, allowing him to make pretty little singles and twos till he had got ten. It is a fact all bowlers know about Bradman that he is implacably cautious till he reaches double figures, and then he opens out a bit. The trouble is – who can take advantage of him as his precautions ease? They seldom ease that much. I had been very careful to bowl the other batsman exactly the same ball, so that Don could observe that there was nothing up my sleeve. There are days when all bowlers have to stick to a stock ball; mood and weather and fitness and confidence affect these things. As far as was possible, I bowled so as to give Don the impression that this was such a day for me. I think he got it; I think I could see him thinking: ‘Connie can be measured to-day. This is going to be one of my centuries’.”
”I gave him another feed ball,” Constantine went on, “but slightly slower. He blocks it gravely, noting the change in pace, but I watch his eyes, and I think I see a sign there which says: ‘That one was easier, and if I get another like that, I’ll make it fly.’ I bowl another that looks exactly like that in action, pitch, swerve and pace. But it leaves my hand differently, is a little bit slower but will pick up pace from the pitch; Don comes out meaning to hit it hard, and whips round in time to see his off-stump go for a walk. He gives me a sour grin, acknowledgement that he appreciates my trap, and goes indoors.”
Constantine may have done Bradman in that time, but The Don notched up 1422 first-class runs that season at an average of 79 with five hundreds, and a top score of 258. “He pities none. If he can make any bowler look foolish, he will do it,” Constantine once remarked. In his first five first-class seasons, including the tour of England, Bradman had already piled up more than 8000 runs at an average in excess of 90, and hit up 29 scores of hundred or more.
(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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