And then came the final Test of his career at the Oval. But before that was a game against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. In that match the experienced wrist-spinner Eric Hollies bowled The Don a googly that he failed to decipher and almost had his stumps rattled. As Corbett related, Hollies turned to his captain Tom Dollery and asked if he had noticed that. “Yes,” replied Dollery, “if I were you I would not bowl him another. Save it for the Oval.” It was sage advice that Hollies stored in his mind. This only replicated the situation of the previous series wherein Bradman had been troubled by C.S. Nayudu. The Don was indeed not picking those wrong ‘uns.
At The Oval, England won the toss and batted. The Australian pacemen, led by Lindwall wrecked them on a sodden pitch. Debutant John Dewes was castled by Miller for 1. Johnston had Edrich snapped for 3. Compton was dismissed by Lindwall for 4. Miller had John Crapp caught behind by Tallon for a duck. Skipper Yardley was bowled by Lindwall for 7. Johnston trapped another newcomer Allan Watkins lbw for nought. It was 42 for six. So far the three pacemen had taken turns at knocking the English batsmen over. Lindwall probably thought he had had enough of the circus, and that he would like to finish the job himself. He knocked over Evans’ timber for 1, disturbed Bedser’s furniture for a blob, meted exactly the same treatment to John Young. Lastly he had the first man Hutton caught brilliantly by wicketkeeper Don Tallon, who dived to his left to snap up a leg-glance, having scored a badly-interrupted 30 in just over two hours, having hit the lone boundary of the innings. England were sent packing for 52; Lindwall had bagged six for 20 in 16.1 overs. Bradman did not need to take the second new ball, for the innings had lasted a mere 42.1 overs.
England were a demoralized lot. Barnes and Morris added to their misery. Each decided to overtake the England score by himself before they parted. Barnes had batted a shade longer than England had when, with his score on 61, and Australia at 117, Hollies had him taken by Evans. Brian Johnston, one of the doyens of broadcasters, was in the commentary box and, as related in his book It’s Been a Piece of Cake, this is what he saw “just before 6 p.m. on 14 August 1948”:
“From the pavilion emerged Don Bradman to play his last ever Test innings. In the TV commentary box Roy Webber had advised us that the Don only needed to make 4 runs to bring his Test match average to exactly 100.00. He was given a tremendous and emotional reception by the packed crowd, who stood and cheered him all the way to the wicket. As usual he walked to the wicket ever so slowly. As he approached the square Norman Yardley called for three cheers from his English team, who had all gathered on the pitch. Some shook him by the hand. Bradman quietly took his guard, apparently unmoved by all the emotional scenes. There was a hush from the crowd as Hollies ran up to bowl from the Vauxhall end. Bradman played the first ball quietly on the off side. The next pitched on a perfect length on or just outside the off-stump. Bradman pushed forward as if to play it as a leg-break, but it was a perfectly disguised googly. It touched the inside of his bat and he played on. Bowled for 0 in his last Test innings. The cheers as he turned and walked slowly back to the pavilion were as loud as when he came in. Not, I like to think, because the crowd was pleased that England had got his wicket, but rather as the best way possible to say goodbye to the greatest run-getter of all time.”
There is a view that Bradman missed the ball because he had tears in his eyes. He denied it vehemently. Sure, he must have been moved by the reception. But he was dismissed because either he did not read the googly, which is plausible, or he was just a bit casual, which is improbable because The Don was never so and would have wished to go out on a high note. He also stated later that he was not aware that he needed just four runs to achieve an average of 100. Also, Australia had already wrapped up the series, and England had been skittled in their innings. Had these been otherwise, Bradman may have been a little more wary in his forward prod. One will never know. In any case, how could anyone be certain at that point that he would not need to bat a second time in the Test? “Fancy doing that!” is what he is supposed to have exclaimed at that dismissal.
That is what destiny had in store for him. Maybe it was the Lord’s way of telling the world that Bradman was, after all, mortal. Perhaps if The Don had scored those four runs and more, the generations to come may have anointed him superhuman, a mythological figure to be worshipped. As it happened, Bradman stumbled a wee bit short of that exalted status. He still finished atop a peak, even the base of which no other man has been able to touch.
Brian Johnston made another point about Bradman’s last Test dismissal: “A film was made of the series and showed Bradman being bowled by Hollies with Hollies bowling ‘round the wicket’. This he did NOT do on this occasion. I believe that what happened was that the camera got Bradman being bowled, but had not shot Hollies as he ran up. So they must have gone to the film archives and found an old shot of Hollies – bad luck to them – to be bowling round the wicket. I don’t think many people noticed it. But I had to do commentary on the film and was very conscious of a fake picture.”
So the radio commentary of Bradman’s last Test dismissal would have been something like this: ‘Hollies in to bowl to Bradman, over the wicket, pitches on the off stump, Bradman is forward, and is BOWLED. Bradman is out second ball for a duck in his last Test match. He has not got those four runs for a hundred average. He may not get a chance to bat a second time in the match. What a pity, The Don may finish his Test career with 6996 runs and an average of 99.94. The crowd rises to salute the greatest batsman there has ever been!’ Alec Bedser echoed what every single person must have felt that evening, “We won’t see his like again. Don Bradman was unique.”
Lest we forget, there was still a Test match to finish. Hassett walked into the breach unnoticed and saw the day through in the company of Morris. Australia were already 101 runs ahead with eight wickets in hand, and only one day had been played out. And what a day it was!
Morris brought up his hundred and took his partnership with Hassett to 109. Hassett scored 37. It was essentially a Morris show as he stroked his way while wickets fell regularly around him. On 196, he was unfortunate to be run out. Coming on the heels of his stupendous 182 in the historic win in the previous Test, this was a superlative effort. These must have been two of the many reasons why Bradman had him in his All-time XI.
Also, not to be forgotten, should be Hollies who returned with a haul of five for 131 off his 56 overs. He was, after all, replacing the discredited Laker, who some had unfairly held responsible for the Leeds defeat. How badly stung people could be at humiliation in the Ashes was reflected in England’s dropping of two all-time greats Len Hutton and Jim Laker, one already a record-holder and the other to become one eight years hence. The Ashes, in fact, were born out of one such debacle at the hands of Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth at the Oval in 1882. The selection quirks were also indicative of the fact that Bradman’s 1948 team was far superior and the English had run out of ideas about how to halt its onward march.
Australia totalled 389, and the hosts found themselves in a hopeless situation. They lurched to 188 all out, Hutton once again battling it out with his 64. Edrich and Compton did offer some resistance, but it was clear that the fight had gone out of the English. This time Johnston took four wickets, Lindwall three and Miller two. When it came to the final punch, the three pacemen delivered the knockout blow; they captured 19 of the 20 English wickets in the Test.
History was indeed repeating itself. Warwick Armstrong’s powerful post-First World War outfit had slammed a shell-shocked English side 5-0 in 1920-21, and 3-0 in 1921. It was this side young Don had watched when he saw a Test match for the first time. Bradman’s all-conquering post-Second World War team annihilated a worn out England 3-0 in 1946-47 and 4-0 in 1948. They were both great Australian squads led by imposing figures on the last leg of their respective careers, forerunners to the champion combinations of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Bradman did not top the Test aggregates or averages one final time. That honour went to Morris who totalled 696 runs at 87 an innings with three hundreds. His opening partner Barnes, in four Tests, scored 329 runs at 82.25 per outing. Bradman hit up 508 runs, averaging 72.57. For England, Dennis Compton was, without doubt, the best batsman with 562 runs at an average of 62.44. In the bowling stakes, for Australia, Lindwall and Johnston captured 27 wickets each, averaging 19.62 and 23.33 respectively. Miller picked up 13 wickets at 23.15 apiece. Bedser was England’s highest wicket-taker with 18 scalps, but at a heavy cost of 38.22 per dismissal. Yardley topped his side’s averages at 22.66, bagging 9 wickets. In his three Tests Laker also got 9 wickets, conceding 52.44 runs for every occasion that he claimed a victim.
In his eleven Test series, Bradman had topped both the aggregates and averages for Australia six times, including the Bodyline series. In 1934 he had the highest aggregate by far, but was second to Ponsford in the averages by a fraction of a run. In 1938 he headed the averages, and trailed Brown in the run charts, but had been unable to bat in the Oval Test. In the other three series he was always close to the top. Don Bradman never failed.
The Don scored more than 500 runs in a series seven times; he averaged above 100 four times and in the nineties thrice. He logged up more than 900 runs in a rubber once, and above 800 runs and 700 runs twice each. That was the extent of his wizardry. Of those 11 series, Australia won 8 and lost 2 – Bradman’s first and the Bodyline assault, and never thereafter – and drew one. From 1934, Australia held the Ashes for 19 years – inclusive of the war years – until a series after Bradman’s retirement, six series in a row. If one man ever influenced Ashes contests, it was obviously The Don.
As captain, Bradman was never defeated in a series, winning four and drawing the one in which he could not bat in the lost Test. Australia won 15 of those Tests, drew 6 and lost 3. After the war, Bradman did not lose a single Test, won three series and averaged over 100 with the bat. Two of these three series were Ashes battles. And they said he had slowed down, was just a shadow of his former self! The truth is that the ageing lion roared, very loudly. Bradman himself put all these amazing numbers in perspective in his Farewell to Cricket: “Figures are not conclusive, especially short-term figures, but it is difficult to avoid their significance if a man produces them year after year against every type of opponent and under all conceivable conditions.”
(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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