In a fitting farewell to New South Wales, Bradman, during the 1933-34 domestic season achieved the highest Sheffield Shield average of 184.40, aggregating 922 runs. His last four innings were 187 and 77; 253 and 128. In all first-class matches that season he scored 1192 runs at an average of 132.44 with five hundreds in only 7 matches and 11 innings.
Bradman had already achieved so much, and been through such a lot, that it was overlooked that he was just 25 years old when he set out on his second tour of England in 1934, this time as his country’s vice captain. He was already feeling the stress of too much cricket, the pressure to perform to his exacting standards, and the expectations of the public. The run-ins with the administrators and the hostile tactics of his opponents were adding to the burden and taking a heavy toll mentally and physically. He felt unwell and wanted to opt out of the traditional opening fixture against Worcestershire.
Bill Woodfull, the clever captain that he was, did not wish to hand over the psychological advantage to the English before a crucial Test series. After the battering at the hands of Larwood and company in the Bodyline series, the task was cut out. It would be a bitter contest and Australia would need the last ounce of their resources to wrest back the little urn. Woodfull could not afford to send out a message that his star batsman, the world’s best, was unfit. That would have been just the shot in the arm that the English would be looking for. He persuaded Bradman to play.
The Don acceded to his skipper’s request, and having had just two stints in the nets, strode out to the Worcester wicket. Setting aside all his discomfort he put up such an awesome display that all of England got a loud and clear message; the run-machine was in roaring form. He smashed 206 in a matter of three-and-a-half-hours. This was his second successive double century against Worcestershire in the tour-opener, having scored 236 in 1930. The effort must have sapped Bradman. He did score 65 off the Leicestershire bowling but then went through a lean phase. The world outside, unaware that he was not in his best health, thought it was just a temporary dip in form. When he was bowled for his first duck in England in the next game against Cambridge University on May 9, the Evening News headline merely read ‘Bradman 0’, the unsaid affirmation being that it was an aberration. It was often rightly said that Bradman made news on the rare occasions that he failed as much as he did when he registered his astounding successes. In a famous instance a heading in an English newspaper boldly declared ‘Bradman Fails’; he had made JUST 80-odd runs that day. And in one that was a classic in brevity and statement of the obvious, an editor simply put down, ‘He’s Out’. It required no elucidation.
He was out for 5, 37 and 0 against MCC, Oxford University and Hampshire respectively. There were three matches left before the first Test and Bradman needed to find some form. Then at Lord’s against Middlesex on May 26, Bradman scored a tremendous hundred in an-hour-and-a-quarter before close of play that Saturday evening. After the hosts had totalled 258, Bradman walked in with the board showing zero for one, Woodfull leg-before to the big fast bowler Jim Smith. Soon it was 9 for two, Ponsford dismissed in exactly the same manner. Bradman reached 100 off the last ball of the day, having crashed 19 boundaries; Australia were 135 for two! After the usual Sunday break, Bradman went on to score 160 before being caught near the boundary in front of the pavilion. For sheer strokeplay, Bradman himself rated this innings very high.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).
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