With the Ashes delicately poised, something out of the ordinary was bound to happen. It did, but not on the first day at Bradman’s favourite Headingley ground, for Bob Wyatt won the toss and chose to bat. It was now truly a battle of attrition. England took 105.4 overs to score a round 200. When Brown was bowled at 37, by yet another Bill, Bowes, Oldfield was sent in as nightwatchman. But he lasted just four deliveries, caught behind off Bowes for a duck. Woodfull had to come in. There was still some drama left as the bespectacled left-armer struck for the third time that evening. Woodfull was castled second ball. The day ended on a sensational note. Australia were 39 for three, with Ponsford unbeaten on 22. The battle for the Ashes was on in all its nerve-wracking intensity.
Day Two was critical in the mighty tussle for supremacy. Bradman came out with Ponsford, and thence followed one of the great partnerships in Test history between two of the most famous names in Australian cricket. They put the English bowling to the sword like rarely seen in a single day’s play. It seemed Bradman was determined to make up for all his recent failures, and especially to atone for that lapse in the second innings at Lord’s. Both Ponsford and Bradman had a penchant for monumental scores and they put forth all evidence of that on this day of a torrent of runs. Neither Bowes nor Verity, nor anyone else, made the slightest impression on them. They matched each other stroke-for-stroke, the experienced hand and the current superstar; for every two runs that Ponsford made, Bradman scored three.
They were unseparated at lunch, and at tea, until Ponsford made a rare mistake, going back too far to be hit-wicket to Verity. They had put on a mammoth 388, which was not only a record for the fourth wicket, but until the next game the best for any wicket in Test cricket. The only other triple-century partnership prior to this at the highest level was the 323-run effort for the first wicket between Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes at Melbourne in 1911-12. Ponsford scored 181 off 413 balls in a stay of just under six-and-a-half hours, having hit 19 fours. At close of play Bradman was unbeaten with 271, and Australia were in a commanding position at 494 for four. After his own 309 four years earlier and Hammond’s 295 against New Zealand at Auckland in 1932-33, this was the maximum a batsman had scored in a day in Tests.
The champion continued to regale, reaching his triple century, the first to record two in Tests, both on the same ground. He was soon bowled by Bowes for 304, having finally established his ascendancy in the series. He had been at the crease for seven hours and ten minutes, and faced 473 deliveries. This time he had slammed two sixes in addition to his 43 fours. Australia were all out for 584. Rarely had two batsmen dominated not just an innings but an entire match. The next highest in the Australian knock was McCabe’s 27; no other player got a fifty in the whole game. Bowes took six for 142, but England had been pushed to the wall.
They were struggling to save the match at stumps on the third day, having lost four wickets with 188 runs on the board. Fortuitously, the weather intervened. When play was finally called off they were six down for 229, still 155 runs adrift. England may have got away with a draw, but Australia had asserted their superiority in no uncertain terms. There were five first-class matches before the last Test. Bradman played in none, a clear indication of the state of his health.
(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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