While Bradman was leading Australia, Hitler’s aggression, which began with the occupation of the German Rhineland in 1936, and continued with the annexation of Austria in March 1938, was reaching its zenith. With a tentative Britain and France mute spectators in their eagerness to avoid a conflagaration like the First World War, Hitler marched on. In March 1939 his armies seized Czechoslovakia, and on September 1 attacked Poland. Britain and France could not hold back any longer, and on September 3 announced a state of war. Thus began the greatest conflict in history, which came to be known as the Second World War of 1939-45.
The War was to take away eight years of Bradman’s Test career, as of many other top cricketers then, and a quarter century earlier. First-class cricket, though, continued for a while in Australia. In 1939-40, for the only time in his career, Bradman scored over a thousand runs in a Sheffield season, hitting up 1062 runs at an average of 132.75. In 9 first-class matches that season he aggregated 1475 runs at 122.91 per innings with 5 hundreds, and a highest of 267.
Bradman enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in June 1940, was transferred to the army as a physical training instructor at Frankston, Victoria, but was released on health grounds. Sheffield Shield was now suspended, and Bradman appeared in two first-class matches in 1940-41, scoring 0, 6, 0 and 12. For the next four seasons Bradman played no first-class cricket. By now he had aggregated 22,863 runs at an average of 95.66 with 92 hundreds.
In March 1944, the code phase that informed the Allied troops of the assault on the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy was: “Bradman will be batting tomorrow.”
Now, with the long drawn war, health issues, creeping middle-age and a growing family, whether The Don would be able to stand up to the demands of top-grade cricket and the lofty standards that he had set himself, was a riddle that few could answer. Perhaps Bradman himself was not sure. In any event, no one knew what the new world, after the devastations of a long war, would bring in its wake. The First World War ended a glorious chapter in English cricket and gave rise to Warwick Armstrong’s great Australian side. Would the Second World War have the opposite effect, and bring to a close Australia’s years of supremacy? There were more questions than answers.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Don’s Century’, published by Sporting Links, ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0.
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