Bradman was due to appear for South Australia in 1934-35 as he had taken up employment in Adelaide. But this serious illness caused him to miss the entire season which he spent in convalescence. He also opted out of the tour to South Africa in 1935-36. Happily, though, not only did he begin to play for, and captain, South Australia, but was also back to his usual run-making ways. To give but one example of the ‘Bradman effect’, collections from the turnstiles at the Adelaide Oval soared by more than a hundred percent, whereas the receipts at the Sydney Cricket Ground, his erstwhile home venue, plummeted to half.
The Don blazed to 357 against Victoria, and 369 versus Tasmania. In eight first-class matches during the season he notched up 1173 runs at an average of 130.33 with 4 hundreds. South Australia lifted the Sheffield Shield, being unbeaten through the season. There was a huge sigh of relief and a yelp of joy from his legion of fans. The reconditioned run machine, serviced, oiled and tuned, was again cruising effortlessly in overdrive.
This was indeed a new era. Bradman was named captain of Australia for the 1936-37 Ashes series at home. It was a new look side with the stalwarts of the past decade and more, including the two previous skippers Woodfull and Richardson, top-quality strokeplayers Ponsford and Kippax, the great leg-spinner Grimmett (who blamed Bradman for having him dropped) and paceman Wall, gone. That was a combined experience of 160 Tests, no mean figure considering that Test matches were not played so frequently then. Leading England was The Don’s good friend, the genial Gubby Allen, who was also knighted later for his services to cricket.
Allen won the toss at the Gabba. There was a sensational start as Ernest McCormick had Stanley Worthington caught behind by Oldfield off the first delivery of the series. The paceman continued the mayhem, having Arthur Fagg too taken by Oldfield for 4, and then dismissing Hammond first ball. The scoreboard read 20 for three. But Leyland was again Australia’s bane, scoring a resilient century. The lower order too fired, and England totalled a respectable 358. The irrepressible O’Reilly picked up another five-wicket haul. Allen quickly bowled Australia’s debutant opener Jack Badcock, which brought Bradman to the crease to join Jack Fingleton. The new skipper looked in good touch, cracking 5 boundaries, but Voce returned to have him caught by Worthington for 38. At close on the second day, Australia were 151 for two.
Australia collapsed the next morning, bowled out for 234, with Fingleton completing a hundred. Voce took six for 41. With a lead of 124, England pressed home the advantage, logging up 256 in their second innings. This time South Australian rookie Francis Ward claimed six for 102. Australia were in trouble right away on the deteriorating pitch, Fingleton being yet another first-ball dismissal, bowled by Voce before stumps were drawn. The morrow brought depressing forebodings. Allen dismissed Badcock for zero and then nightwatchman Morrie Sievers too. Bradman walked in at 7 for three. He lasted two balls, his opposite number having him caught by Fagg for nought. Australia were bowled out for 58 in 12.3 overs, Voce taking four for 16, for match figures of ten for 57.
It was a miserable debut as captain for Bradman, defeat by 322 runs and a duck to go with it. He had his task cut out with a largely inexperienced side. With four debutants and a couple of others with not much achievement, it was a heavy burden to carry. Gubby Allen, on the other hand, had a happy match with scores of 35 and 68, and bowling figures of three for 71 and five for 36.
(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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