That was easier said than done. At Melbourne, Farnes sent back the Aussie openers Keith Rigg and Fingleton before they could provide too much of a platform for the Bradman genius. It made little difference. Bradman had an objective – to win the Ashes in his first series as Australian captain. McCabe matched his skipper stroke-for-stroke in a magnificent partnership that won the series. Bradman completed his century; McCabe followed suit later in the afternoon. By the time McCabe was dismissed by Verity, the two stalwarts had taken the total to 303 in a classy exhibition of strokeplay. The partnership was worth 249, McCabe scoring 112 off 155 balls with 16 boundaries in his 163-minute innings. By close Australia were 342 for three, with Bradman on 165.
Though Bradman was bowled by Farnes early on the second day, Australia had established their ascendancy. The Don had scored 169 in 191 deliveries with 15 fours, having been at the crease for 223 minutes. Charles Macartney observed, “What mystifies bowlers when Bradman is batting is the unerring certainty with which he sends the bad ball to the boundary.” This innings was proof.
The young pair of Badcock and Gregory then took charge, putting on 161 for the fifth wicket. Badcock (118) notched up his lone century, and Gregory (80) his highest score, in Test cricket, playing a significant part in the mission to wrest the series. Australia totalled 604, and paceman Farnes, in a lion-hearted performance took six wickets for 96 in 28.5 eight-ball overs. The pressure on the English batsmen was reflected in their losing wickets regularly at the top, and a collapse of the lower half. Their best partnerships were 63 for the second wicket, and 62 for the fifth, with Hardstaff (83) managing their sole half-century. This was hardly the challenge that was required to keep their Ashes aspirations on track. Their last five wickets fell while a mere three runs were scored. Australia’s resurgence in the last three Tests, led by Bradman’s marauding bat, had clearly demoralised England. O’Reilly added another five-wicket haul to his impressive tally, conceding 51 runs in his 23 overs. Bowled out for 239, England followed on.
Right from the outset it was apparent that the fight had gone out of them. They were soon 10 for two. Hammond made a last-ditch effort with help from Barnett and Leyland, but it was an impossible task. When he perished after a gallant 56 off 106 balls with 9 boundaries, significantly caught by Bradman off O’Reilly, the plight of his team was miserable at 121 for four. They lurched to 165 for eight at close of play. Not a run was added on the fifth morning as Fleetwood-Smith had Voce and Farnes snapped up. Australia won by an innings and 200 runs.
Bradman became the first captain to win a five-Test series after being down 0-2. It was a titanic struggle, a tribute to his amazing batting skills, concentration and determination, strength of mind and acumen. He led from the front, sweeping aside the English advance like a raging tornado, stamping his suzerainty with knocks of 270, 212 and 169 in the last three victorious Tests. All this, while leading a depleted side with many untested youngsters, himself returning to the Test arena after a near-death experience. What would you call that, if not one of the most inspiring stories of the sporting arena? Bradman was a fighter all the way. As he said in an interview at the end of his career, “I can never remember taking the field in any match without setting out to win.” He had now firmly entrenched himself as The Don of cricket, unquestionably and irrevocably.
To those who hold the view that statistics are misleading, one would only suggest that they take a look at the figures of this series, and Bradman’s batting record in particular. His aggregate of 810 is still the highest by a captain in a Test series. Nobody else on either side got to 500, and that included the likes of McCabe, Hammond and Leyland. After Bradman’s average of 90, these three luminaries registered between 58.50 and 54.55 per innings. That really sums up the mark Bradman left on the series, and the game as a whole. Spin was Australia’s forte, with O’Reilly, as usual, and the chinaman specialist Fleetwood-Smith, picking up 44 wickets between them. England followed the opposite course, Voce and Allen sharing 43 wickets. Yet everything pales in comparison with the great turnaround in the series wrought by Bradman’s magic wand, his run-hungry willow. No wonder Gubby Allen accepted in one of his letters home, “The Australian XI is simply Bradman and no-one else.”
In his 12 first-class matches that season, Bradman scored 1552 runs at an average of 86.22, with six hundreds, the 270 in the third Test being his best. There was no Test cricket during the next season of 1937-38, during which Bradman played another first-class 12 games. This time he aggregated 1437 runs at an average of 89.81, slamming seven hundreds and a top-score of 246. Not much changed in Bradman’s performances from one season to another. The game’s administrators could well have set up a Bradman Standard Institution (BSI) and strung its specifications aloft the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where he hit up his most Test runs, as a high watermark to serve as an inspiration to all the budding young batsmen of the world for generations to come.
(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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