They continued to have a stranglehold as England could not build any partnership of any significance as they batted first in the Sydney Test. Ian Johnson this time claimed six for 42, as England folded up for 255. With a downpour permitting only an-hour-and-a-half of play on Day Two, and Bradman suffering a thigh muscle strain, he came in to bat only at no. 6 on the third day with his side at 159 for four. Bright sunshine on the rest day had settled the wicket. At the other end was the opener Barnes. So far the Test was at an even keel. Bradman’s entry changed it all. He did not use a runner, explaining, “I was in quite a lot of pain while batting, but Sidney Barnes was going along so well that to have brought on a runner for myself might have interrupted his concentration. Anyway, I’ve never been comfortable with a runner.” When the stumps were drawn, Australia were within touching distance of the tourists’ total, stationed at 252 for four, with Bradman resting on 52, and Barnes, having brought up his maiden Test hundred, on 109.
On the fourth day they completely shut out England. If there were any lingering doubts about the form and fitness of Bradman, and his ability to sustain his unprecedented run-scoring of the decade before the war, they were finally and conclusively dispelled. The cricket world would have realised that the Bradman of old would carry on as was his wont earlier, till as long as he himself felt capable. Indeed, this innings would have been reassuring to Bradman himself, and he would have understood that he was good enough to perform to his own unmatched standards at the highest level for some more time.
He reached his century even as the partnership began to burgeon. Barnes had already been at the crease for more than four hours when Bradman had joined him the previous evening. Now the skipper began to catch up with his score. Barnes raised his double century, and Bradman followed suit soon. At 234, Bradman was level with Barnes, with the day drawing to a close, when Norman Yardley had him leg-before-wicket. The fifth-wicket partnership was worth 405, surpassing the Hammond-Ames stand of 242 for this wicket against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1932-33, and has remained a record since. Bradman’s innings had lasted 6 hours and 37 minutes, embellished with 24 boundaries, and he had faced 396 balls. That, considering that he was suffering from gastric trouble in addition to the thigh injury that forced him to play mainly off the back foot, was a stupendous effort. Australia were 564 for five.
As so often happens when a long partnership is broken, the other partner is also dismissed soon. Maybe the rhythm is lost, or the concentration lapses momentarily. Perhaps Barnes had other reasons. Maybe he could not bear to bat opposite lesser mortals after having witnessed at close quarters such a superb exhibition of strokeplay, or simply that he did not wish to pass Bradman’s score, like Mark Taylor did more than half a century later when he would not let himself commit the sacrilege of crossing the great man’s Australian record score of 334. The fact is that Barnes returned at the same score of 234. He had batted for 10 hours and 49 minutes, having faced 667 balls and hit 17 fours. That was in some ways a measure of the difference between Bradman and other Test batsmen.
The Don had now scored centuries in eight consecutive Tests in which he batted, all against England, spanning three series and a decade. Beginning with the third Test at Melbourne in 1936-37, Bradman scored 270, 212, 169, 144 not out, 102 not out, 103, 187 and 234. Six of these Tests were won, and the other two drawn. They included the last three Tests of the 1936-37 series at Melbourne (twice) and Adelaide, the three Tests of the 1938 series at Trent Bridge, Lord’s and Headingley in which he batted, and the first two Tests of the current 1946-47 series at the Gabba and Sydney. That was a microcosm of the magical Bradman era, and his influence on the game.
Back to the present, after the later batsmen had had some fun, Bradman applied the closure at 659 for eight with the lead in excess of 400. Wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans set a record by not conceding a single bye in such a large total. On the fifth morning, Hutton played an uncharacteristically belligerent cameo. He wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket, “I had gone in to bat still annoyed by the previous Test at Brisbane where England had been routed on an impossible wicket, and there had been the upset over the Bradman catch which had been disallowed. I was determined to show the Aussies that their bowlers might not be as good as they thought they were. Both the pitch and the conditions were right for a counter-attack, and every shot that I attempted came off, not one went in the air or was even uppish.” Hutton slammed 37 in 24 minutes off 39 balls, having struck six boundaries when Miller bounced the last delivery before lunch. As the ball skimmed over Hutton’s shoulder, he lost grip of the handle with his left hand, weakened as a result of an accident in a gymnasium during the war. The bat fell on the stumps. This knock provides a glimpse into what motivates players, and how incidents on the field impact their game. Reprieve to a batsman like Bradman was not something the English could stomach.
This was also the clichéd poetic justice, reaffirmation of the old adage that things tend to even out in the long run in this great game, as in life. Was it not only in the previous Test – the last before the war in 1938 – that Bradman had injured his foot and could not bat at all along with Fingleton, and England had levelled the series thanks to Hutton’s marathon innings. Now in the very first Test that Bradman played after the war, fortune had favoured him. He, and the other characters in the saga, had indeed come a full circle.
The other English batsmen were not in such a hurry. Edrich and Compton added 102 for the third wicket. The former went on to compile 119 in nearly five-and-a-quarter hours. But they lost wickets steadily and the end came abruptly. Leg-spinner Colin McCool bagged five for 109 to go with his first innings three for 73. Australia triumphed by an innings and 33 runs to go two up in the series. It was the first time in the 20th century that England had suffered the ignominy of two consecutive innings defeats.
(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.