Don Bradman’s farewell to cricket, 1948 : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

Cricket - The Ashes - Fourth Test - England v Australia - Headingley - Fifth DayThe tour was not over yet. Fingleton remembered in Brightly Fades the Don: “We had seen the thousands gather in the blitz-scarred Kennington Oval pavilion and applaud him most generously when he appeared and spoke to them at the end of his last Test match against England. Exactly a week later, he came, after hundreds had whistled and cheered and called for him, on to the pavilion balcony at Lord’s and waved to the crowd below. This was at the finish of the game against the Gentlemen of England and everyone knew then that Lord’s was seeing Bradman for the last time. A few minutes before he had fled from the field at the head of his Australian team as the match finished in yet another hollow victory.”

Bradman’s 40th birthday was celebrated on that occasion, and he recalled in his interview to BBC television in 1987: “I celebrated my birthday on the last day of the match. I was very happy to think that I made a century in that game – I wish to goodness I had done it at the Oval in my last Test as well, but I didn’t – and to celebrate the occasion they produced a lovely birthday cake when we went off for lunch. It had my photo set in on the cake. The only problem was that as I was still playing I couldn’t eat as much of it as I wanted to.”

Having resolved to return unbeaten after his last tour, Bradman played even the last two festival games with utmost care, remembering that Armstrong’s 1921 team had faltered in one of these fixtures. Then came that final moment, as Fingleton described it: “On the sunny afternoon of 10th September 1948 (against H.D.G. Leveson-Gower’s XI at Scarborough) Don Bradman was dismissed for the last time on English soil in a first-class match. Indulging in a hectic splurge of boundaries and running his score to 153, thus topping Barnes’ 151 for the highest score of the match. Bradman singled out Bedser for his wicket and hit the ball high over the covers. By fate, it was Len Hutton, who, ten years before at the Kennington Oval, had taken the record score for the Test series (between England and Australia) from Bradman, who stood underneath the catch, but whilst the ball was still soaring, Bradman turned, took off his cap and ran full pelt for the pavilion. By the time that Hutton’s two safe hands had closed on the ball, Bradman was half-way to the pavilion. He did not turn to see whether the catch had been taken. He continued running, gloves, cap and bat fluttering from his hands, and almost before this huge Yorkshire crowd at the Scarborough Festival had had time to warm its hands in appreciation to him, Bradman was lost to view for ever as a first-class batsman on an English ground.”

As the Scarborough Cricket Festival of 1948 came to an end, President of Yorkshire A.J. Taylor presented Bradman with a silver salver inscribed with his scores in the four Headingley Tests. To recap, these scores were 334, 304, 103, 16, 33 and 173 not out. Need one say more? We turn to Fingleton again to understand the feeling that existed for Bradman in England: “At Leeds, the most famous of all his happy hunting grounds, there was that lovely but practically unnoticed gesture of the English man-in-the-street to Bradman as a very old and very squat Englishman stood clapping, gnarled pipe in mouth and the most intent look and smile of appreciation on his face, as Bradman sprinted past him to the dressing room. ‘Ah’, said the aged Yorkshireman, forgiving in a trice all the humiliation which Bradman had showered on his bowling heroes, ‘you _____’ In Australia you may call a man such a name and it is a compliment when you say it with a smile. At Leeds, this day, this simple old Yorkshireman epitomised what the English cricketing public thought of Bradman over the years. The smile; the clap; the all-embracing look of intense pleasure which the retreating form had given him and finally, the complimentary epitaph which spoke so well the thought that Bradman had been just too good – too good for every country and everybody if we except the turbulent period of bodyline when the most vicious form of attack known to the game was devised to curb the greatest batting automaton the game of cricket had produced.”

And so Bradman achieved his final aim of being unbeaten through his last tour of 1948. His team played 31 matches, won 23 and drew the rest, and came to be known as ‘The Invincibles’. Bradman was immaculate in his captaincy. He thought deeply about the game, and just as he did not begin any innings of his own without an objective, he had plans for each match, series and tour. As Fingleton recalled, “He had more conferences on the field than any other captain I knew. He took longer to place a field and was constantly in attendance on most of his bowlers during an over but he always knew what he was striving for and always had something in mind.” Len Hutton made a similar observation in Fifty Years in Cricket: “I would look at Bradman conferring with Lindwall, Miller or Big Bill and wonder what they were hatching up, and I resolved if ever I became captain I would endeavour to implant the same curious doubts in the minds of my opponents.” Hutton did indeed lead England, the first professional to be bestowed the honour, and he wrote about the experience, “….. Tyson and Statham deserved all the help I could give them in field placings. Now and again I had a chat with one of them, a ploy I copied from the master tactician himself, Bradman.” The Don was indeed a hands-on captain, and coupled with his stature as a player, was always the cynosure of all eyes.

Yet the great man was sometimes alleged to be playing favourites, particularly as regards bowling to tailenders. Fingleton wrote about it, as did Miller who accused The Don of bringing on Ian Johnson to knock over nine, ten and jack after the others had done the hard work in dismissing the main batsmen. That punctures the theory that men like Johnson would be deployed for holding operations after the ball lost its shine and hardness, until the second new ball was available after 55 overs. These might be different inferences but they did show very clearly that even a towering personality like Bradman had vociferous critics, and was human after all. The criticism might have been out of jealousy, objectivity or merely to indulge in sensationalism. It was, perhaps without doubt, a combination of all three, and that is where the point about the man being under fierce scrutiny, in triumph and adversity, takes over.

That is why Bradman shut himself off from the public gaze. To answer all the critics, and fans, was humanly impossible and unnecessary. Invariably, Bradman kept a dignified silence. Also on this tour, because Bradman was so intent on returning undefeated, it was said, he would not include some of those who could not make it to the Test team, in the playing elevens for other first-class matches. These players, consequently, composed a song, which they sang boisterously in the dressing room. It went like this:

Ground staff bowlers is our name,

Ground staff bowling is our game,

At the nets we bowl all day;

In a match, we’re never asked to play,

We’re the heroes of the dressing room;

Ground staff bowlers is our name.’

That might have been out of boredom or frustration, or maybe in jest, but it negates the concept of team spirit of winning combinations. There are several factors that create victorious outfits. In a group of strong individuals there are bound to be differences; even a superstar like Bradman would have detractors.

Yet again The Don topped the season’s first-class averages at 89.92, having scored 2428 runs with 11 hundreds. In his four tours to England, Bradman scored 9837 runs in 92 matches, averaging a familiar 96.44, having hit 41 hundreds. Years later, he presented his baggy green cap of that tour to his godson Richard Robins, son of his good friend Walter. In 1998 Richard returned the cap for display in the Bradman Collection at the State Library of South Australia.

Stories abound of Bradman’s batting exploits in England. Hutton tells one such in Fifty Years in Cricket: “Bramall Lane, now, alas surrendered to football, was the ground for lively wit. The Sheffield spectator had no equal anywhere in the world, and it was a treat to field near the boundary and listen to the comments. One handed down in the Yorkshire dressing room involved George Macaulay, and there is a moral to it. Don Bradman had been batting only a short time and, as usual, looked to be in ominous form. Macaulay, who had been known to quail batsmen with a glare and a mutter, asked for the ball and in a loud voice declared: ‘Let me ‘ave a go at this booger.’ His first over produced the considered achievement of a maiden to Bradman, but in the next he was hit for five boundaries, and a further 16 runs in his third over. As silently he took his sweater, a voice with the strength of a loudhailer came from the crowd: ‘Tha should have kept the bloody mouth shut, George’.”

After the Scarborough Festival, the Australian team was invited by the King and Queen to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. It was there that the King famously asked the veteran scorer W.H. Ferguson in jest whether he used an adding machine when The Don came in to bat. Bradman not only made the scorers and statisticians work overtime but also sent scoreboard operators in a tizzy, overwhelmed by the mountains of runs that he scored. There were two matches against Scotland, in the second of which Bradman, inevitably, hit up an unbeaten hundred.

At a luncheon and presentation in his honour at the Savoy Hotel in London, Bradman bid a formal farewell to first-class cricket in England. The Earl of Gowrie, President of the MCC, presented The Don with a silver replica of the famous Warwick Vase, bought from the Shilling Fund subscribed by cricket lovers in England. He also autographed a bat for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Then Bradman sailed for home with his team for the last time as a player. In the Australian first-class season of 1948-49, he played three matches. He scored his ultimate first-class hundred in his own testimonial game at Melbourne for a D.G. Bradman’s XI. The match produced receipts of over $ 9000. In his farewell first-class match in the Sheffield Shield for South Australia against Victoria at Adelaide, Bradman scored 30 in the first innings, but could not bat in the second owing to a leg injury sustained while fielding. His first-class figures are staggering. In 234 matches and 338 innings, The Don scored 28,067 runs at an average of 95.14, with 117 hundreds and a top-score of 452 not out. Indeed the cricketing world would not see the like of him again. The only other occasion when Bradman trod on a cricket field again was on February 6, 1963, when he was persuaded by his friend Sir Robert Menzies to put in an appearance for his Australian Prime Minister’s XI against Ted Dexter’s MCC team at Canberra. He played five balls, being bowled by new generation paceman Brian Statham.

Let the ultimate tribute to Don Bradman come from another brilliant batsman Dennis Compton who was a close witness during the twilight years of the maestro’s magical acts: “If any should doubt the crushing power of his strokes, please I beg you to take the word of one who fielded on the boundary to him and watched a round red bullet repeatedly pass at unstoppable speed and placed with such precision that I had no earthly chance of getting within reach. His like will not be seen again and I count it as my privilege that I was able to study his technique and methods from the closeness of slip and gully.”

Indeed his like will not be seen again, and six decades after his retirement, Bradman continues to be the towering figure that he was in his playing days.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

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.

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