When the war ended, Bradman was still not in good health. He was in considerable agony, having contracted fibrositis. Keith Miller wrote later in his Cricket Crossfire, “When I came home with the services side I hardly recognised him.” Despite his condition, Bradman played against the Australian Services team at Adelaide, scoring 112, a first-class hundred after five years. He made half-centuries in his other two innings during that 1945-46 season, but did not cross the Tasman Sea for the inaugural Test against New Zealand.
The Ashes contest was revived in 1946-47. Leading a new look Australian side – Lindsay Hassett was the only survivor apart from himself from the 1938 team – Bradman continued to be quite unwell. He won the toss in the first Test at Brisbane, and was soon in, debutant Arthur Morris having been snapped up by skipper Hammond off Alec Bedser for 2. Sidney Barnes left at 46. Then came that widely reported and much discussed incident when Bradman edged Voce hard into the chest of Jack Ikin at second slip, and stood his ground. Bradman felt that it was a bump ball. The umpire gave him not out.
Nearly 55 years later, Bedser, then Sir Alec, in his homage to The Don wrote in The Cricketer International: “He was 38 and unfit (indeed, he had been so poorly that he could at one time hardly shave himself) when I first bowled to him in the opening Test at Brisbane in 1946. I think he was pressed into playing against his better judgement, and had he been given out caught at slip (most people thought he should have been) he would probably have retired.” Bedser was fielding at short-leg at the time.
Ted Corbett, also in his tribute to Sir Donald in 2001, stated in The Sportstar, “It is reported that Wally Hammond, the England captain said: ‘Go on, Don, that’s out’ but that Bradman did not move, believing the ball had hit his bat and the ground at the same time. ‘It’s a fine way to start a Test series,’ is a heavily censored way of expressing Hammond’s protest.”
Len Hutton, another of the fielders on the ground along with Bedser, expressed his annoyance at the incident in his book Fifty Years in Cricket. Someone who was on the other side, watching from the pavilion, Keith Miller, had this to say in Cricket Crossfire: “Bradman had made only 28, when he played Bill Voce into the slips. Jack Ikin caught the ball and threw it high in the air in joy. He had caught the great Bradman, and Australia, he thought, were three down for under a hundred on a good wicket. That was how it looked to Ikin, and some of the other English players and some of the crowd, and that was how it looked to me sitting watching from the dressing room. Bradman, however, thought it was a bump ball and he stayed, as he was fully entitled to do if there was any doubt in his mind. There was no doubt the ball flew from the blade of the bat to Ikin, who is one of the fairest players in the world but whether it came up as a bump ball I would not like to say. Bradman stayed, and the umpire gave him not out. Opinion among the players of both sides was divided. Some said ‘Out’, others ‘Not Out’. Wally Hammond, the English captain, belonged to the first school of thought.” Ultimately, in cricket the benefit of doubt always goes to the batsman, so it was only right that Bradman stayed at the crease.
Interestingly, Bedser went on to become a very good friend of Bradman, while Hutton and Miller did not really get along with The Don in later years. Having got a lucky break, Bradman gradually settled down. As Bedser observed, “For the first part of the innings he was tentative but in the character of the man, he survived.” Well supported by Hassett, Bradman went on to notch up another Test hundred, his strength of mind in full evidence. He did not relent even on reaching the landmark, and carried on in his mission to establish supremacy right away. By close of play he was on 162, Hassett had half that number to his name, and the scorecard read 292 for two. The Englishmen were a very frustrated lot on the first day of a Test series being played in almost a different era.
Ageing and unwell he might have been but The Don had not lost any of his very unique run-making abilities. He went on to 187 before he was dismissed. His 313-ball innings was punctuated by 19 boundaries in a stay of just over five-and-a-quarter hours. The stand with Hassett was worth 276 runs. There was an all-too-familiar ring to all this, and just the inspiration to the later batsmen. Hassett got 128, Miller 79, Colin McCool 95, and the others chipped in as well. These were six-day Tests now in Australia, and their batsmen carried the innings into the third day before they were all out for 645.
Even the weather turned against the visitors. In between rain breaks they were bowled out for 141 and 172 on a wicket Hutton described as “impossible”. None of the batsmen was able to score more than 32 in either innings. Miller captured seven for 60 in the first innings, Ernie Toshack six for 82 in the second. England were decimated by an innings and 332 runs, and their morale badly dented. For Australia this was just the start they would have been looking for.
(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.
Distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110 001, Phones + 91 11 23417175 and 23412567.