Millennium Post

Long live the Don

Len Hutton himself wrote at length about Bradman. He described his wide-eyed admiration when as a boy he saw The Don score his triple century in a day at Leeds in 1930. Later he wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket: “During his first visit to England in 1930 it was fashionable to say that The Don was unorthodox, a law unto <g data-gr-id="123">himself,</g> and that his bat was not as straight as it ought to have been. A genius to confound all theory, but not one to copy. Yet from Headingley onwards, and certainly later when I was better able to judge, I never saw any part of his technique which could not serve as a model for any batsman from school age upwards. His movements were so right and so emphatic. To the straight good-length <g data-gr-id="117">ball</g> he would either go forward or back with precise judgement, never across the <g data-gr-id="118">pitch,</g> and at the crucial moment, his bat would be as straight as a Scotch fir.”

Someone who played against Bradman at his zenith in 1930, and then watched him through his career, K S Duleepsinhji, summed up his batting in Indian Cricketer Annual 1954: “Will there be another like him? I doubt it – in our <g data-gr-id="124">life time</g>. They come so rarely. What is the secret of his success? Cricket sense, extra quickness of eye, footwork, suppleness of wrist, looseness of shoulders and correct timing. His highly developed cricket sense helped him to make up his mind regarding the stroke in a split <g data-gr-id="127">second,</g> after the ball left the bowler’s hand. Bradman was seldom at fault in judging the correct position to play the stroke he intended to play. The suppleness of wrists, looseness of shoulders and correct timing gave his strokes the great speed with which he dispatched the ball to all corners of the field. The hook shots, square-cuts, leg-glides off the balls on the <g data-gr-id="125">leg-stump</g> and pushes to the on off balls on the wicket which he could execute with safety were due to the combination of the above gifts. With his large repertoire of strokes, he always found gaps in the field. The opponents always found eleven fielders too few.”

On Bradman’s impact on the game, Duleepsinhji reflected, “Bradman during his career caught the imagination of the public as only three others – W.G. Grace, Ranji and Victor Trumper – succeeded in doing in the past. Where W.G. Grace reeled off centuries, Bradman reeled off two and even three <g data-gr-id="115">hundreds</g>. Nearly every batting record was smashed. Huge scores came off the modern factories with Bill Ponsford setting the target. Where Ponsford left off, Bradman took up. Totals of four hundred were considered not only safe but match-winning in four-day Tests in England up to 1930 when Bradman first came to England. How quickly that summer we had to change our ideas, as Bradman began to reel off double centuries and once 309 in one day! No other country could produce a cricketer to match not only his big <g data-gr-id="112">scores,</g> but the fast rate of his scoring which gave his bowlers plenty of time to dismiss their opponents. ‘Bradman is batting’ – at those magic words people would rush to the ground. More than once I noticed in Australia that if Bradman was not out at lunch, five to ten thousand extra spectators would be on the ground when the game was resumed.”

Alec Bedser, who dismissed Bradman six times in Test matches, bowled to him only after the war when the great man was past his prime, but still a <g data-gr-id="100">rungetter</g> beyond compare. He wrote in the April 2001 issue of The Cricketer International: “My one regret was not to see him at his peak when, as the great Test umpire Frank Chester told me, Bradman had to be seen to be believed. Fielders were wont to whistle with astonishment at the sheer brilliance and audacity of his stroke-play.”

“One of his striking attributes,” added Bedser, “was the way he made full use of <g data-gr-id="110">the space</g> from the popping crease to the stumps. At times when he played <g data-gr-id="109">back</g> he almost trod on his wicket. When executing his deadly pull shot there were two distinct movements: his right foot moved to outside the off-stump and his left foot would move across to end in a perfect position to hit the ball on the ground. It goes without saying that he kept his head perfectly still and appeared to pick the length of the ball quicker than anyone else I was pitted against. To add to his abundant gifts was a nerve that did not know the meaning of the word temperament.” And that, one may repeat, was in the twilight of Bradman’s career.

For a true understanding of the Bradman phenomenon, it would be prudent to go back to the First World War. Before 1914 England fielded their best team only at home, where they won nine of the thirteen series. Australia’s four triumphs were only by the odd game. In Australia, despite the depleted English touring teams, the honours were even. England <g data-gr-id="96">were</g> the dominant force until then.
The war changed it all. As Peter Hartland wrote in The Balance of Power in Test Cricket 1877-1998, “The war had claimed not only a million lives from the British Empire, but also much of the energy, confidence and optimism of the period before. In <g data-gr-id="92">1921</g> people were already looking back to a Golden Age which could never return. They still are.”

Warwick Armstrong’s team whitewashed England in Australia in the first series after the war in 1920-21, but what the English could not reconcile to was the three straight defeats at home in 1921, before the last two Tests were drawn. On that tour, for the first time since Test cricket began, Armstrong used a tactic which since then became routine: opening at both ends with fast bowlers. His pacemen Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald settled the issue for the all-conquering team.

There was <g data-gr-id="132">further</g> humiliation for the English when Arthur Gilligan’s 1924-25 touring side was trounced 4-1 by the Australians, now led by Herbie Collins. Just as the sun had begun to set on the British Empire, so also was their pre-eminence on the cricket field coming to an end. England <g data-gr-id="131">were</g> no longer the paramount power in cricket either. The other feature was that advance in technology had put heavy rollers and mowing machines in the hands of groundsmen, producing wickets that were over-prepared, perfect for batting and not liable to deteriorate. Australian tracks were rock hard with scarcely a blade of grass, which would remove the shine off the ball very quickly. 

For three decades <g data-gr-id="103">upto</g> around 1950, batsmen <g data-gr-id="104">revelled</g> on these pitches. It was a period of high scoring when all but the best bowlers were rendered innocuous. Only when it rained, could they exact retribution on the uncovered surfaces. Before the <g data-gr-id="129">war</g> three days of fair weather were adequate to produce a result in a Test match. By 1930, the increasing number of high scoring draws caused the duration of Tests to be increased to four days in England, with the last Test played to a finish if the series was undecided at that stage. In Australia, all Tests continued to be played to a finish.

Bradman was brought up on wickets he could trust, and that bred confidence. This is what Len Hutton emphasised, “Bradman had the considerable advantage of learning his cricket on matting surfaces with a concrete base, and later to play on <g data-gr-id="200">bulli</g> surfaces.” Duleepsinhji elaborated the point: “Bradman as a <g data-gr-id="201">rungetter</g> on a good wicket had no superior. But he never made an effort to master the difficult technique which is required to play on a sticky wicket. I can only guess the reasons. 

Owing to the practice of covering wickets (during county matches to cut losses), sticky wickets are rare and Bradman may have come to the conclusion that perhaps no more than five <g data-gr-id="207">per cent</g> of his innings may be played on sticky or wet wickets. Would it be worth his while to change his style, successful on fast wickets, to suit a small number of innings on wet wickets? The change in technique may easily reduce his phenomenal run-getting powers on hard wickets. Taking some such argument into consideration, he must have decided not to worry about a few failures on wet or sticky wickets and keep to the technique which had brought such rich dividends on hard wickets.”

The argument against Bradman was indeed that he was not as good a player on nasty pitches as Trumper or Hobbs were. It was also contended that he did not face much of genuinely fast and hostile bowling as batsmen of the 1970s and 1980s did. Peter Hartland was of the view that, “Whenever he did face it, notably during the Bodyline series, he did not handle it as well as McCabe, nor as imperiously as Viv Richards has done in more recent times.” It was even suggested that Bradman was not as far superior to his contemporaries as W.G. Grace was at his peak.

It can be nobody’s case that Bradman’s technique was ideal for any kind of wicket. That honour can be taken by ‘the original master’ Jack Hobbs and ‘the little master’ Sunil Gavaskar. In this <g data-gr-id="198">category</g> one could also include two other fine opening batsmen, the Yorkshire technician Len Hutton and the first ‘little master’ Hanif Mohammad of Pakistan.... 

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