So he did in the Tests too, the duration of which had been increased to five days. The superiority of his team over the English was evident right from the first day at Trent Bridge. With just 15 runs on the board, Miller and Lindwall had sent back the openers Hutton and Washbrook. The Australian assault was held at bay for a while by Edrich and Compton, but the slide resumed with Bill Johnston ripping through the middle, and England were teetering at the brink at 74 for eight. Numbers nine and ten, Jim Laker and Alec Bedser, in unfamiliar roles with bat in hand defied the rampant Aussies for nearly an-hour-and a half. While Laker swung the willow, Bedser defended, and they managed to add a priceless 89 in even time. Bedser was dismissed for 22, and Laker followed him soon after for 63. England were bowled out for 165, with Johnston bagging five for 36. The first skirmish had been won very early. By close of play, Australia were 17 for no loss.
Barnes and Morris provided a solid start, putting on 73. This was just the platform The Don needed. Barnes (62) helped him carry the score to 121 before falling. Immediately, Miller was out for a duck. Laker, in his first appearance against Australia, had bagged all the wickets, the scoreboard reading 121 for three. Brown battled for about an hour, until which time Australia were already leading by 20 runs. It was when Hassett joined Bradman, that they took the game away from the hosts.
For the third time in succession, Bradman established his ascendancy by scoring a hundred in the first innings of a Test series, in every rubber after the war. A statement had to be made and he did it yet again, as if by rote. By stumps on the second day, he was on 130, and Australia were 293 for four. Bradman was out early on the morrow for 138, caught by Hutton off Bedser. He had been at the crease for ten minutes under five hours, tackled 321 deliveries and struck 10 boundaries. The partnership with Hassett had realised 120 runs.
But how good was Bradman still, and how had he changed over the years? Jack Fingleton, who had batted alongside The Don in the pre-war period, provided a valuable insight in his Brightly Fades the Don: “Yardley quietened him over after over in the first Test at Nottingham with leg-theory. The 1930 Bradman would have thrived on such stuff; nor would the 1930 Bradman have adopted the 1948 technique of pushing his pads at the ball in negative answer to Bedser’s threat of the fine-leg trap. There were, I think, three periods of the Bradman era. One was pre-bodyline; the other was from then to the beginning of the world war; and the final was from 1945 to the end of 1948.”
According to Fingleton, “Bodyline did leave its imprint on Bradman – as it did on all the other Australian class batsmen who struck its full fire. Seldom, if ever, afterwards did Bradman’s batting have the same jaunty air.” It was, however, not just Bodyline that changed Bradman’s approach. “It so happened, too, that not long after the bodyline period, Bradman became the Australian captain. This has to be considered in the general picture of Bradman’s change of technique because it can be accepted that Bradman the batsman often became subservient to Bradman the captain. This was so, particularly, in the Australian season of 1936-37 when he had an uphill captaincy fight after Australia had lost the first two matches of the rubber. I batted almost the whole of one Test day with him in Melbourne when he refused to take the slightest risk because of the state of the game, and he did that again, often, in the series of 1938 (in England), 1946-47 (Australia) and finally, this last season in England,” wrote Fingleton.
Along with the trauma of Bodyline and the cares of captaincy, advancing age also had its natural impact on Bradman’s outlook and style of batting. We refer to Fingleton’s analysis again: “In his first post-war game against England (for South Australia in Adelaide) Bradman found that his mind was moving faster than his legs. He accommodated his technique to that, but in all periods of his era, though his technique changed considerably, Bradman retained to the last the most remarkable appetite for runs that the game of cricket has surely ever known.”
This is not to say that Bradman had slowed down dramatically. Let us pick up his innings on the same ground, Trent Bridge, in 1930. Though the earlier knock was on the fourth and last day, with Australia battling to save the Test, Bradman scored 131 in four hours and eighteen minutes and dealt with 287 deliveries – about half-an-hour longer and 30-odd balls more now – and hitting an identical 10 fours, for almost the same number of runs. Even in figures there was a perceptible difference, even though such a comparison can only be indicative and not conclusive. What this might suggest is that what Bradman was doing easily on a wearing wicket in his prime, he was now doing on a first-day strip, albeit with greater care and effort. Of his stunning innings at Lord’s and Leeds on that amazing tour 18 summers earlier, one need not refer to in this context, for those were two of his most glittering exhibitions of batsmanship. And yes, that was a full 18 years ago. Don was then in his prime, not quite 22 years old; now he was a balding middle-aged man of nearly forty. Time, like the body, was not going to stand still.
Back to Nottingham circa 1948, Hassett went on to score 137, and his eighth-wicket partnership with Lindwall (42) realised 107 runs. Australia finally totalled 509 runs, a lead of 344. Washbrook again fell cheaply, and Edrich failed to capitalise on a start. It was left to Hutton and Compton to engineer an English fightback with well over two days remaining, but with Lindwall unable to bowl. They carried the score to 121 for two at stumps on Day Three.
Hutton was bowled by Miller for 74, but Hardstaff and wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans allied with Compton in stands of 93 and 84 respectively. Compton was finally hit wicket off Miller after a defiant near seven-hour 184. Miller and Johnston picked up four wickets each as England were all out for 441.
Australia needed 98 to win, but Bedser rattled Morris’ furniture when he had scored just 9. Bradman was determined to see his team to victory but was again caught by Hutton off Bedser, this time without scoring. Barnes (64) and Hassett (21) ushered in victory by eight wickets. This was just the start that Bradman would have hoped, and planned, for.
(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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