Appropriately, independent India’s first Test series was against Bradman’s Australians. The Don was a much loved and worshipped figure in India. It was said that apart from his own country, Bradman received the most letters from India. A succession of Indian cricketers from the captain of the 1947-48 team Lala Amarnath, to the present demi-god Sachin Tendulkar, spoke about their admiration and awe of Bradman, and many of them kept in regular touch with him, exchanging greetings and letters and speaking over the phone.
The Indian team missed a few of its top players. Vijay Merchant, who was designated captain, had to withdraw owing to health problems, as did Rusi Modi. Mushtaq Ali had a bereavement, while Fazal Mahmood, based in Lahore, was now a citizen of newly-created Pakistan. A fortnight before the Test series, there was a match between an Australian XI and the touring Indians at Sydney. Prior to this Bradman had scored his 99th first-class century in a Sheffield Shield game. A huge crowd congregated at the Sydney Cricket Ground in anticipation of the great man’s 100th hundred. The Indian team batted first and was all out for 326 on the second morning. Rob Lurie, Australian High Commissioner in India more than half a century later, was a wide-eyed young spectator on that historic occasion.
He wrote in a special issue of Cricket Talk in September 2000 to commemorate the 92nd (and as it, sadly, turned out, last) birthday of Sir Donald Bradman: “The day was overcast. Bradman, by his standards at least, started sedately and for much of the pre and early after lunch sessions Miller was the dominant partner. So much so that when he reached his half-century before Bradman and to a rapturous reaction from the crowd, it looked as though the day belonged to Miller rather than to his captain. But a remarkable change came over the game as Miller suddenly seemed to appreciate this fact and went into his shell, working the strike so that Bradman had a good deal of the bowling and limiting his own flamboyant strokeplay to the occasional trademark and sublime cover drive. Bradman meanwhile got on with things with superb judgement, placement and running between the wickets until he reached 99 in the last over before tea. You can imagine how we all felt – Bradman later wrote ‘even in the most exciting Test match I can never remember a more emotional crowd nor a more electric atmosphere’.“
The High Commissioner continued: “Amarnath threw the ball to (Gogumal) Kishenchand. In my view this was a very shrewd move as Bradman like most of us in the crowd, had never seen him bowl, and the element of surprise can be critical at such a moment. Bradman was very careful with the first ball but the second he played off his pads on the on-side. As he and Miller ran through for the single, a huge cheer engulfed the ground and the Indian team rushed to congratulate a man they admired and liked. My family and I joined with many thousands in repeated singing of the refrain ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’.” Bradman himself recalled that cherished instant in his Farewell to Cricket: “Finally, with my score on 99, Amarnath called on G. Kishenchand, who was fielding on the boundary. He had not bowled before and I had no idea what type of bowler he was. It was a shrewd move, as one could have so easily been deceived but I treated him with the greatest respect until eventually came a single to mid on and the great moment had arrived.”
High Commissioner Lurie added, “After tea Bradman cut loose and in 45 minutes scored an extraordinary, even by his standards, 72 runs marred only by the injury to a spectator by a very big six over long-on.“ Bradman revealed in Farewell to Cricket that he felt obliged to give the crowd which had so cheered his achievement some reward for its wonderful feelings towards him.
It was unheard for anyone except those who played in English first-class cricket to log up a hundred centuries because nowhere else were sufficient matches played to enable a batsman achieve the feat. That Bradman reached the landmark is hardly surprising, and this only underlines the huge gulf between him and the others. Indeed Amarnath, in his brusque and inimitable way wrote in The Sportstar, “I always considered him a Derby horse; the others were horses before the cart.” Of the hundredth run of that famous innings, Raymond Robertson-Glasgow stated, “at the historical statistical moment, when Bradman was about to go from 99 to 100 there was the Indian bowler trying to deliver the ball with one hand and applaud with the other, a feat that is beyond the most enthusiastic practitioner.”
To give an idea of how difficult it was for non-English first-class batsmen to score a hundred centuries, Bradman scored 41 tons in four English seasons, but 72 three-figure knocks in his 14 full Australian seasons, not considering his first and last seasons, and two seasons during the war when he played just a few games. In England he scored more than 10 hundreds per season, while in Australia he averaged just above five centuries in a season. That was because he played 120 innings in those four English seasons, but only 197 innings in his 14 full Australian seasons. If Bradman was English he would have scored 200 centuries, wet wickets or otherwise. Hobbs – whose career was about a decade longer – scored 197 hundreds in 1315 innings (a century every 6.67 innings); Bradman hit up 117 hundreds in 338 innings (a century every 2.88 innings).
Back to his 100th hundred, Bradman was determined to get it in that innings. That is why he began slowly, got his eye in, assessed the wicket and the bowling, and accelerated when well set. That is what he usually did, but on this occasion it might have been a bit more exaggerated. Indian vice-captain Vijay Hazare observed this tendency, and he said in an interview with Cricket Talk: “He used to take a lot of singles and rotate the strike in the initial phase of his innings.” C.S. Nayudu supplemented this as he told Vijay Lokapally of The Sportstar, “His footwork was lightning fast and I have not known a batsman with a better technique and class. After the initial period when he would gauge the pitch and the attack, it was almost impossible to contain him.”
(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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