Even as the trees waited to shed their leaves in the English autumn of 1930, Don Bradman had achieved everything a batsman could ever dream of. He had broken the records for the highest individual scores in first-class as well as Test cricket. His Test average had breached the hundred mark, and he had taken a mere seven Tests to log up a thousand runs. While helping Australia wrest back the Ashes – inarguably the championship of Test cricket then – he had aggregated an unprecedented 974 runs in that five-Test series. In a matter of nine Tests he had scored three centuries, two double centuries and a triple century. Such was his phenomenal run scoring that he had already amassed more runs in an Australian season than anyone, and more than any visiting batsman in an English season, before or since. In the midst of all these mind-boggling feats he had also found the time to write his first book Don Bradman’s Book of Cricket. He was just 22 years old then. Whatever The Don did thereafter on the cricket field was just repetition.
Whenever a group of fanatics of the game sits down to select an All Time XI, the first name put down every time is Bradman, followed by Sobers. Then start the arguments, mostly impassioned and unresolved. At other times there have been countless discussions about the merits of great batsmen like Grace, Ranji, Trumper, Hobbs, Hammond, Headley, Hutton and several from later days, and how some of them were better than Bradman in one respect or another. But in the end there is the inevitable conclusion that Don was indeed the best, and by a long way. As Wally Hammond, Bradman’s great adversary once put it wryly, “If I were choosing a side out of all the cricketers who ever lived I would put Bradman’s name down first. None of us had the measure of him and that’s the plain fact.”
Such were his feats with the willow that ages ago someone coined a new word: Bradmanesque. Even after so much water has flowed down the Torrens since young Don scorched the turfs of Australia and England, none has been able to commit the sacrilege of emulating Bradmanesque deeds. Herculean tasks might be achieved, but a Bradmanesque average remains well nigh unattainable.
Don was precociously talented and completely focused. Though he never received any formal coaching, it is well chronicled how he would practise all by himself, endlessly hitting a golf ball against a circular brick tank stand with a stump, a kerosene can serving as the wicket. Such a single-minded endeavour helped develop strong powers of concentration and a keen sense of timing. He learnt how to hit the ball coming at him at various angles, different speeds and varying degrees of bounce. The exercise also helped build up physical strength and footwork. Anyone who has tried out this routine would know how difficult it is. But Don with his perseverance, keen ball sense and hand-eye co-ordination – much touted today – mastered it.
Such exertion made it so much easier for him to strike the much larger and considerably less volatile cricket ball with a significantly broader blade of the much-simpler-to-handle cricket bat. The sheer diligence and dedication, and the resolve to excel and to achieve perfection were apparent from a tender age, and impelled Don Bradman to take one giant stride after another in his cricketing journey. Years later, A.G. Moyes, well-known cricket writer and New South Wales selector when Bradman made his way into the team, wrote in his book Bradman: “He was richly endowed in skill by nature, but he did not rest on that, for he wanted earnestly always to build on the foundation. His batting rested on the sound basis of common sense, and there were few riddles he did not know the answer. He practised consistently and methodically, as does the professional pianist who knows that his success depends on the suppleness of his fingers and certainty of his touch. No man can reach the dizzy heights without this painstaking devotion to his art, and in cricket’s long pilgrimage no one has striven harder to reach perfection.”
(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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