The fallout of these heavy defeats was that the English selectors dropped Hutton from the side for the Old Trafford Test. At this, Bradman would have had a quiet chuckle to himself. Whenever his team piled up big scores and some people thought he delayed his declaration, he would remind them: “Remember when England scored 900 runs against us at the Oval?” Hutton was the main protagonist in that monumental innings in 1938, and Bradman never forgot those long hours in the field, towards the end of which he fractured his foot and could not bat in either innings. To make matters worse, Australia lost that Test, and Bradman had to be content with a drawn series. Another wheel in that saga had come a full circle.
Bradman, then, would have been delighted when England lost both their openers, Washbrook and George Emmett, Hutton’s replacement, with only 28 runs on the board. There was, though, a sombre moment soon with the score at 33, when Compton was struck on the head by a Lindwall bouncer, and had to retire. None of the other English batsmen was able to build an innings, and Compton returned to the crease at 119 for five, with stitches inserted to close the wound. In one of the most courageous displays in a Test match, Compton stood up to the speed of Lindwall and swing of Johnston; Miller did not bowl in this innings either.
Aided by the lower order, Compton carried his side’s score to 231 for seven at stumps. He was brilliant on the second day too, going on to hit up an unbeaten 145. None of his teammates managed more than 37 as England were all out for 363. Australia, however, found themselves in trouble with Johnson, opening in place of the injured Barnes, and Bradman falling cheaply. Morris scored a half-century but Australia folded up for 221. England had built up a sizeable lead at 174 for three at the end of the third day. Miller returned to the bowling crease, and incensed at Edrich having sent down bumpers at Lindwall earlier in the day, let the England batsman have it with four consecutive bouncers.
Then the fickle Manchester weather began to take over. The fourth day’s play was washed out, and Australia were faced with the daunting prospect of batting on a wet fifth-day pitch. Yardley had promptly declared, but fortunately for Australia just about two and a half hours of play was possible. Johnson was again out early, and Bradman was forced to carry out holding operations with Morris.
Fingleton pointed out: “Bradman, after every ball, walked down the pitch and energetically patted it, whereas, at the other end, Morris barely worried about it. This pitch was not bad. Something has happened to English pitches so that nowadays one rarely gets a bad one, and the turf certainly did not lift at Old Trafford this day. It was a sodden pitch, but Bradman’s exaggerated patting of it was as if to suggest that it was a nasty business. Not a single ball flew.” Bradman might have been extra cautious on that occasion, but the fact is that, along with Morris, he took his side to safety. He was unbeaten with 30 after two hours, Morris on 54, and Australia finished at 92 for one after 61 overs. It was a battle for survival that could easily have gone awry, but Bradman, exaggerated patting or not, had helped save the day. Old Trafford was to remain the only one of the ten grounds that he played Tests on, where he did not score a hundred at this level. In fact he never got beyond 30 here.
(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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