On his first tour as captain in 1938, Bradman began with a customary double century against Worcestershire; this time it was 258, his highest against the county. Right from the outset on this tour, Bradman was in splendid form. He scored 137 against Cambridge University and 278 versus MCC at Lord’s, before taking 143 and 145 not out off the attacks of Surrey and Kent respectively. The knock at cricket’s headquarters was a classic. A packed house of 32,000 turned up to watch Bradman as he carved 35 fours and a six in his 454-ball display. The next highest Australian scorer was Lindsay Hassett with 57. No one else scored a hundred in the match. Bradman’s magnanimity as captain was on display against Middlesex. Having just about secured Australia against defeat on May 31, he declared at 5:09 P.M., leaving Bill Edrich 11 minutes to score the 10 runs that he needed to complete 1000 runs before the end of May. The grateful batsman got an unbeaten 20 to achieve what was then a coveted distinction, which also brought the true sportsman in Bradman to the fore. It was an exciting build-up to the first Test at Trent Bridge.
England still did not appoint professionals as captain, so Hammond turned amateur in order to realise his ambition to lead the country’s cricket team. In the line-up were exciting batting prospects such as Len Hutton, Dennis Compton and Bill Edrich. Hammond won the toss and his openers Barnett and Hutton gave him the finest start that he could have wished for. They raised 219 before Barnett was bowled by McCormick for a superb 126, scored in less than three hours off just 188 balls with 18 hits to the fence. Hutton completed his hundred and fell soon thereafter. Edrich and Hammond were bowled by O’Reilly early, but that was only an intermission in the run-feast.
Paynter and Compton combined in a huge partnership. They took the score to 422 for four at stumps, with Paynter on 75 and Compton 69. On the second day, Paynter reached his hundred, and Compton, like Hutton, brought up a century on first appearance against England and was dismissed by Fleetwood-Smith right away. Their stand was worth 206. Paynter next found an able ally in Ames, and they added a further 90. Paynter completed his double century, and England declared at a mammoth 658 for eight. Paynter remained unbeaten with 216, having played 333 balls in his 319-minute essay, hitting 26 fours and a six.
The quickish leg-break bowler Doug Wright, making his Test debut, knocked over the timber behind Fingleton, for Bradman to join Brown. Bradman was in splendid nick, but was caught behind after bringing up his half-century. His 51 came in less than an-hour-and-half off 96 balls with 5 fours. The partnership was worth 77. Brown too fell before close of play. At 138 for three, Australia seemed to be in trouble. On the third day, McCabe played one of his great innings.
It was scintillating strokeplay, the like of which is rarely seen. On that day he scored 213 out of 273 runs that Australia scored; the next best was 22. Of the 300 runs that were put up while he was at the crease, after the departure of Bradman, McCabe hit up 232 till he was last out. His partners could only stand and applaud in appreciation. In the last-wicket partnership of 77, Fleetwood-Smith’s share was 5. McCabe scored at almost a-run-a-minute, being in for 235 minutes. He struck 34 fours and a six in his 277-ball epic. Having being dismissed for 411, Australia were forced to follow on.
Fingleton and Brown logged up 89 first up, before the former was dismissed. That brought Bradman to the crease. At close Australia were 102 for one, with Brown on 51 and Bradman 3. They had to bat out the final day, and that is just what Bradman did. He put his head down and blocked out all thoughts of valour. This was not going to be a 300-run, or a 200-run day. A patient century would do just fine. Brown was the ideal foil. He stayed till the first innings deficit was wiped out, having scored a responsible 133. The partnership was worth 170. McCabe was more belligerent, this time playing a cameo of 39 in under an hour. Bradman brought up his hundred, guiding his team to safety. Debutant wicketkeeper Benjamin Barnett provided support long enough to ensure that the Test would be saved.
When play was finally called off, Australia were 427 for six. Bradman returned unconquered with 144. It was an uncharacteristic innings, a captain’s hand in a crisis, steadying the ship when it might have gone down. He was at the wicket for just over six hours, and hit 5 fours off his 379 balls. For once Bradman had played a match-saving, instead of a more familiar match-winning, knock.
(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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