Obituary, 2002

Don Bradman

© Getty Images

BRADMAN, SIR DONALD GEORGE, AC, the most effective batsman in cricket's history, died in Adelaide on February 25, 2001, at the age of 92, having been ill with pneumonia. He was born on August 27, 1908, with Australia, as a nation-state, but seven years old; 25 years later, he had become and would remain its most illustrious citizen. A legion of obituarists recorded and analysed his skills, and such was his impact on the game and on society that some of their analogues - Winston Churchill, Jack Kennedy, Shakespeare, Diana, Princess of Wales, the Pope - did not appear unduly extravagant.

Family and other background
Donald Bradman was the youngest of the five children of George and Emily Bradman. His father, a farmer and carpenter, was the son of Charles Bradman, who emigrated from East Anglia in 1852. Born at Cootamundra in the south-east corner of New South Wales, the young Don lived for three years on a farm at nearby Yeo Yeo, whereupon the family moved to Bowral, some 80 miles from Sydney and now the home of the Bradman Museum and Trust. These were humble beginnings. It was here that the legendary practice with golf ball and single stump was undertaken, employing the brick stand of the family water tank. A bright and quick-witted scholar, an adept pianist and an active participant in several sports, he attended primary and intermediate high school, leaving at 14 to find work in the Percy Westbrook estate agency. During his early cricketing career, he was involved, perhaps a little reluctantly, with sports goods promotion and journalism. Among his writings are four books, Don Bradman's Book (1930), My Cricketing Life (1938), Farewell to Cricket (1950) and a crystal-clear manual of instruction, The Art of Cricket (1958).

Later he would become a stockbroker with the Harry Hodgetts company in Adelaide, going on to establish his own successful stockbroking and investment concern, Don Bradman and Co., from which he retired in 1954. Over the next decades he took up directorships in a number of businesses and, having taken to golf with a will in his later years, was a long-time member of the Kooyonga Golf Club, near Adelaide. For many years, he was a strenuous worker in the field of cricket administration, serving six years as chairman of the Australian Cricket Board of Control (1960-63 and 1969-72), the first Test cricketer to hold this post, as a selector from 1936 to 1971 (apart from the 1952-53 season, when his son was ill) and, unflaggingly, as a member of the South Australia Cricket Association committee from 1935-36 to 1985-86. He did his best to offer sensible counsel on such issues as throwing, the South African ban and the Packer crisis, and he remained an unrepentant advocate of a reversion to the back-foot no-ball ruling.

In 1920, Don Bradman met Jessie Menzies of Glenquarry and, as schoolchildren, they became firm friends, eventually marrying at St Paul's Church, Burwood, Sydney on April 30, 1932. A vibrant and attractive brunette, Jessie Bradman provided him with a close and stable relationship over 65 years until her death, after severe illnesses, in 1997. Some commentators have suggested that she was his only close ally, at once his solace and his occasional good-natured goad. Having lost a baby in 1936, the Bradmans had two children, John, born in 1939, and Shirley, born in 1941. So acute did John Bradman find the stress of being his father's son that he adopted the not wildly different name of Bradsen in 1972, but, to his father's pleasure, he reverted to the family name in 2000. Bradman himself remained a warily private, if not wholly reclusive, figure, prepared to take on arduous sporting and managerial tasks but flinching a trifle at dazzling limelight or unwarranted intrusion. It was Arthur Mailey's astute conclusion that Don Bradman never made the error of confusing popularity and success. Whether, for all his triumphs, the Australian champion often pushed beyond contentment into genuine happiness is a moot point.

In the later part of his life, he lived in the fashionable Kensington district of Adelaide. He was knighted in 1949 and appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1979. Following a private funeral - his family politely refused the accolade of a state funeral - a public memorial service was held in St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide on March 25, 2001, with the proceedings shown on giant screens at the Adelaide Oval. On October 18, in the presence of family members and 60 privately invited guests, his ashes were spread at the Bradman Oval in Bowral.

Cricket: the early years
In 1920-21, the 12-year-old Bradman scored 115 not out for Bowral High School against Mittagong School, his first century, and when, a season later, one of the Bowral club first team failed to turn up, Bradman, their scorer, played instead and made 37 not out. It was his first game with adults. After a convincingly successful flirtation with tennis, he settled down determinedly to cricket and, in 1925-26, scored a triumphant 234 for Bowral against Wingello, for whom Bill O'Reilly was bowling. He joined the St George club in Sydney for the 1926-27 season and made 110 on debut against Petersham in the more sophisticated realms of city club cricket. He had adjusted seamlessly from dirt pitch to coir matting to turf, and, in December 1927, he made his first-class debut at Adelaide for New South Wales against South Australia. Not long past his 19th birthday, Bradman made 118.

Such marked achievement quickly led to Test selection a year later, but, as Australia were trounced by England at Brisbane by 675 runs on a sticky wicket alien to his youthful experience, he made only 18 and one, and was dropped for the first and last time in his international career. Returning for the Third Test at Melbourne, he scored 79 and 112 amid tumultuous scenes as the crowd recognised the emergence of a genius and a likely upturn in Australian cricketing fortunes. They were not disappointed: Bradman hit another century at the MCG in the Fifth Test. Between these hundreds, he completed a marathon 340 not out against Victoria at Sydney; the following year, again at the SCG, he established a world first-class individual record of 452 not out in New South Wales's second innings against Queensland. Almost three-quarters of a century later, it remained the highest innings by an Australian and in Australia.

His introduction into the international arena was crowned by an astonishing first tour of England in 1930, when he assembled what remains the record sum for a series: 974 runs, with an average of 139.14, in the five Tests. This included 334 at Leeds, his highest Test score and then the highest such score ever, an innings watched by the young Len Hutton, who observed how carefully Bradman found the spaces between the fielders. But it was the 254 in his first Test at Lord's that Bradman considered his perfect innings, in that every shot, including the one when he was out, was exact in its technical assessment and operation. That fabled summer he made 2,960 runs, with a thousand before the end of May, and ten centuries. At the more material level, there was also a gift of £1,000, worth something like 40 times as much today, from the soap magnate, Arthur Whitelaw, which indicated that, although he was an amateur, his cricket was the serious key to Don Bradman's livelihood.

The West Indians were his next victims when they toured Australia in 1930-31, with 447 more Test runs flowing from his quicksilver blade. There was a national frisson of dismay when he was tempted by Accrington to play as its club professional in Lancashire league cricket, but a counter-offer of newspaper, radio and promotional work kept him true to his Australian roots. Against South Africa in 1931-32, he achieved his highest seasonal Test average of 201.50 from 806 runs in five innings; his four centuries included 299 not out at Adelaide. Throughout these years, he was also scoring regularly and fruitfully in club and Sheffield Shield cricket, similarly able to sustain his concentration and acumen without undue stress.

Cricket: the middle years
Then came the notorious Bodyline series against England, though before it started, on his return from touring North America with Arthur Mailey's team, he became involved in a dispute with the Australian board over his journalistic activities. That was resolved, but he still missed the First Test of 1932-33 through illness. Bill Bowes bowled him first ball in the Second, but he responded well with 103 not out in the second innings, his only hundred, as it transpired, of that controversial rubber. Douglas Jardine, the autocratic English captain, employed, as has been well rehearsed, intimidating legtheory bowling, with Harold Larwood, along with Bill Bowes and Bill Voce, delivering short-pitched balls at high speed to a packed on-side field. There is little doubt that this ruthless campaign arose from an English despair over the ascendancy of Don Bradman. His riposte was to shift leg-wards and rap the ball through an almost deserted off side, rather after the fashion of J. T. Tyldesley's murderous approach to leg-spin bowling. England won the battle but lost the war, for Jardine's tactics were condemned as unsporting and perilous. There were unfriendly exchanges and diplomatic ramifications, followed by changes in the Laws of Cricket to restrict on-side field placements. Although Bradman's average was pared to 56.57 for the series, and this was considered a measure of containment, it is worth noting that the next best Test career average to Bradman's (from a minimum 20 innings) is the 60.97 of South Africa's Graeme Pollock. Len Hutton's Test average is 56.67.

The rancour of the Bodyline series lingered, but there was a substantive element of reconciliation on the 1934 tour of England, when Australia regained the Ashes. After a comparatively tentative beginning to the tour, Bradman scored 304 in the Headingley Test, followed by 244 at The Oval, where he shared a record second-wicket stand of 451 with Bill Ponsford. Even now, this is the third-highest Test partnership and the best in Ashes matches. Such heavy scoring sent his average for the series soaring to 94.75 from 758 runs, and he made 2,020 runs in that English summer. However, his health, which had for a year or so been troublesome, became critical when he fell victim to acute appendicitis. The cricketing world held its breath, but he recovered, although it was a year before he played first-class cricket again.

In pursuit of his business concerns, he moved to Adelaide and commenced playing for South Australia in 1935-36. Having scored a century on his last appearance for New South Wales, at Sydney in 1934, he marked his first Shield match for his new team with 117 against his old state, and captained South Australia to their first title since 1926-27. He made the sixth and last of his triple-hundreds, 369, against Tasmania at the end of the season, giving him an aggregate of 1,173 runs at 130.33, and the following season, when MCC toured under Gubby Allen, he was appointed captain of Australia. After an uneasy baptism, with two lost Tests, he rallied in characteristic fashion and saved the Ashes with spirited knocks of 270 at Melbourne (putting on 346 for the sixth wicket with Jack Fingleton after reversing Australia's batting order to counter a rain-affected pitch), 212 at Adelaide and 169, again at Melbourne. He averaged 90 from 810 runs in the series, and huge crowds cheered him on in noisy admiration.

Visiting England in 1938, he began excellently with a thousand runs by the end of May in an amazing seven innings, and overall he scored 2,429 on the tour, with 13 hundreds. In the Tests, he hit centuries at Nottingham, Lord's and Leeds and enjoyed an average of 108.50, although his exploits were overshadowed by Hutton's monumental endeavour in the final Test when he accumulated 364 to eclipse Bradman's Ashes record. Undaunted, Bradman launched into his own domestic season, 1938-39, with a stream of six consecutive centuries to equal C. B. Fry's record from 1901, and he ended it with a phenomenal average of 153.16 from seven innings in seven games. Soon, war came to rob him, as others, of manifold opportunities to add to his laurels. Statisticians may only muse over what his record might have been.

Cricket: the later years
Weary bowlers and knowledgeable critics, who had assured their readers and listeners that his genius lay in sharp eyesight, were doubtless bemused to find that, when examined during his military service, Bradman's eyes were below average, a condition ascribed to his run-down condition. Next, an excruciating back problem led him to be invalided out of the army in the June of 1941. It took him a long time to recover, and he was further dogged by the financial and legal troubles suffered by his business patron, Harry Hodgetts, a situation that led Bradman to establish, with gritty determination, his own brokerage.

Thus there were question marks over both the fitness and availability of the now 37-year-old Bradman for post-war cricket. He had an uncomfortable start to the 1946- 47 MCC tour. In the First Test at Brisbane, he had laboured over 28 runs when, on the English submission, he was caught at second slip by Jack Ikin, the premier closein fielder of his day and a chevalier among sportsmen. To Wally Hammond's chagrin, both Bradman and, more crucially, the umpire believed it was a bump ball; Bradman eschewed his ring-rustiness and flourished in what Neville Cardus termed a "Lazarus" innings of 187. In the next match, at Sydney, chiefly in a massive partnership of 405 with Sid Barnes, he scored 234, and went on to total 680 runs at an average of 97.14 for the series, a calamitous one for England.

The touring Indian party of 1947-48 was treated to even greater exercises in dominance, with Bradman notching 715 runs for an average of 178.75. It was also against these visitors, for an Australian XI at Sydney, that he completed his 100th century, all done and dusted in 295 innings. He was the first non-English batsman to reach this target, as well as the quickest to the mark before or since.

As well as nonpareil batsman, he was also now recognised as an astute and unbending captain. In 1948, he led the famed "Invincibles", a team still acknowledged by many commentators as the finest international combine ever fielded, on their unbeaten tour of England. Carping voices might have hoped for a spin bowler of the uppermost rank to complete that "ministry of all the talents", but by and large the claim remains a fair one. Don Bradman himself made 2,428 runs at an average of 89.92, while in the Tests he scored 508 runs (72.57), including the 173 not out at Headingley that enabled the Australians to speed to a winning total of 404 for three on the final day. He celebrated his 40th birthday with 150 against the Gentlemen in his adieu to Lord's. But a fortnight earlier, in the final Test at The Oval, Eric Hollies had bowled him second ball for "the most famous duck in history" when, to cite perhaps the best-known cricket statistic, he required only four runs to preserve an overall Test average of 100.

Apart from three more first-class games in the 1948-49 season, including a valedictory century, that was, from the straightforward cricketing angle, that. An adequate compendium of his figures is difficult to draft. The awe and the majesty of this exceptional sportsman did lie more in his serial acquisition of runs than in the manner of his doing. Other cricketers might be prettier or more regal in demeanour (although it would be unfair to hint that he was unattractive to watch, such was the balance and command of his technique), but none could realistically expect to keep the scoreboards rattling so peremptorily.

Click here for Bradman's career summary

In the broadest of brush-strokes, he totalled 28,067 first-class runs in 234 matches and 338 innings at an average of 95.14 including 117 centuries, 37 of them doublecenturies. In 62 Sheffield Shield games, he averaged 110.19 from 8,926 runs, with 36 hundreds. Of his 29 Test hundreds, there were 12 doubles including the triples at Leeds in 1930 and 1934. Within those parameters may be traced a thousand intricacies of mathematical astonishment, but in the end they all subscribe to the one fundamental truth: that a man who is able to score a century every 2.88 innings and a doublecentury every 9.13 innings has perfected a skill beyond normal imagining.

The Cricketer
The numbers are mightily persuasive. Donald Bradman is assuredly the most efficacious batsman cricket has known. There may be mutterings about this or that batsman emulating him on damp wickets, but they scarcely affect the outcome, and it should be recalled that Bradman played all his first-class cricket in Australia or England and none, for example, on the subcontinent, where he might have found conditions to his especial liking. Another discussion relates to the alterations in the game that might have tempered his run-getting, but these, too, may be exaggerated. Certainly in comparison with other major sports, cricket has not witnessed much basic change since, about the turn of the 20th century, its institutional construct and principal techniques had been rounded and developed. The shifts have been slighter than some modern critics would claim, and may also have been self-cancelling. What, for example, Don Bradman might have lost on the swings of more consistently agile fielding, defensive field placements and dilatory over-rates, he might have gained on the roundabouts of shortened boundaries, less varied attacks and improved equipment. Visualise him in a limited-overs match, with its restrictions on bowling and fielding.

Of moderate size, some 5ft 7in tall, he was a wiry, tireless character, though beset with occasional illnesses, who seemed as unpressed at the end of a long, hot day as at its beginning. He walked slowly to the wicket, adjusting his sight to the light, always with a genial smile playing about his lips, and that measured tread was guaranteed to signal to opponents a discouraging assurance. He is said to have picked up the ball quicker than most, yet it was perhaps his ability to move rapidly into position from a stance of serene stillness that was an important key to his mastery.

From that juncture, he appeared to be ready to select shots with deceptive ease and execute them with a frightening dominance, his unusual grip always militating against him lofting the ball. Much has been written of his indomitable powers of concentration. Mortal man cannot begin to understand the degree of composed self-reliance upon which this mental vigour was based. Other cricketers, said C. L. R. James, "had inhibitions Bradman never knew". The sole tiny bow to convention lay in his rarely opening the batting, although it seldom seemed to diminish him if a wicket fell immediately and he had perforce to take centre stage. W. G. Grace would have scorned the wasted time of an inferior being permitted to replace him at the top of the order. None the less, no one has matched what Neville Cardus called Bradman's "cool deliberate murder or spifflication of the bowling".

He was a single-minded but never a selfish batsman. His compulsion, and it was as fierce in other branches of his life, was the winning of cricket matches, not the selfaggrandisement of personal run-making. Where some cricketers may have felt that making individual runs was the purpose, for Don Bradman it was a means to the end of victory. Thus he recognised that there were two foes. As well as the opposition, there was that proverbial old enemy, time. Using his unparalleled skills, he therefore conflated two extremes of batsmanship - an unrelenting tenacity in defence and a complementary resolve to score quickly. It was as if the obduracy of Richard Barlow had been wedded to the élan of Gilbert Jessop. He adhered to the text of the American Civil War general who believed that the spoils went to those "who get thur fustest with the mostest".

The Sportsman
Charles Davis, the Melbourne author of The Best of the Best, demonstrated with lucid arithmetic what many cricket fans have believed as an item of faith: namely, that Bradman was not only the best cricketer but the best sportsperson of all time. Jack Nicklaus would have had to win 25 major golf titles, instead of his meagre 18, and Michael Jordan would have had to have increased his average basketball points a game from 32 to 43 to rival the great cricketer. Although the ghost of Sir Donald Bradman might occasionally glance over its ethereal shoulder to mark the progress of the phenomenal Tiger Woods, there the mathematical matter rests.

Under the pressure of such attainment, one feels forced to seek counter-arguments. It has been suggested that Bradman rarely played against what, by the statistics of wicket-taking, bowling average and strike-rate, might be regarded as England's top bowlers of all time. One statistician, Peter Hartland, has calculated that W. G. Grace, when aged 25 and having scored some 10,000 first-class runs at an average of 61, was at that moment twice as good as any contemporary batsman - a dominance not even Bradman could match. It might be cavilling to recall that Don Bradman was not a great cricketer but a great batsman. He was an unassuming leg-spinner with a mere 36 first-class wickets to his name; a highly competent out-fielder who took 131 catches, plus a solitary stumping; and a hard-nosed, shrewd captain. But this did not make him an all-round cricketer in the Garry Sobers or W.G. mould.

If one scrutinises the careers of some of his contemporaries, one finds that, because of the structure of their sport, their predominance was more comprehensive. Gordon Richards was 26 times champion jockey and, unbelievably, 4,870 of his 21,843 mounts were winners; Joe Louis held the world heavyweight title from 1937 to 1946, longer than anyone else, during which period he defended the title 25 times, more than his eight predecessors in toto; Joe Davis monopolised the world snooker championship from its inception in 1927 to 1946, potted 687 centuries and contrived to lose only four games on level terms between 1927 and 1964. Moreover, apart from Sir Gordon's obliging equine companions, they did it alone, whereas, a truism, Bradman depended on his fellows to dismiss the opposition twice. Of course, that is rather like criticising Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton and George Best for not keeping goal in addition to their other duties. Whatever the criteria, anecdotal or numerical, Donald Bradman's top-ranking place among the very highest achievers in sport is undeniable.

The legend
The young Australia was struck by three hammer-blows in its first half-century as a nation-state. Its sacrifice in World War I amounted to 14.5 per cent of its mobilised troops. That is 1.2 per cent of the entire population; close to the 1.6 per cent of the British slain. The Depression years brought unemployment to 29 per cent of the labour force, with national income dropping by 30 per cent from 1929 to 1932. Then World War II brought more perils, including the possibility of Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland. Historians are agreed that, from the late 1920s to the post-war years, Don Bradman acted as a unifier of the nation, a focus for its battered self-belief and damaged social fabric.

Of course, he was not a knowing standard-bearer: he had secular sainthood thrust upon him. At best, he was a reluctant Hereward the Wake, which makes the comparison with Churchill, an ambitious seeker after power, a little lavish. Bradman hurriedly and perhaps wisely rejected invitations to accept political or diplomatic appointments. As Charles Williams perceptively analysed in Bradman (1996), in cricket as well as to some extent in the nation, there was a rift in Australia. Reduced crudely to an oversimplified equation, it was Protestant-Masonic, lower middle-class English, monarchical and subdued versus Roman Catholic, working-class Irish, republican and ebullient. Naturally, some irritable envy was involved. Although Don Bradman was not over-gregarious, he was by no means unconvivial. But, as Australian commentator Mike Coward graphically said, he was not into "mateness": one man's bonhomie is another's yobbishness. However, there is no more telling tale in the Bradman canon than E. W. Swanton's recollection of the Oval press box in 1948, with Jack Fingleton and Bill O'Reilly at hazard of strokes as they choked with mirth at Bradman's downfall in his last Test.

Cricket was modified and embraced by the Muscular Christianity of the Victorian era and imbued with a genuine ethical content, and this makes it vulnerable to a gloss of religiosity. Half-consciously, mistily, the Bradman myth adopted some of this sheen. As well as the miraculous triumphs, there were in turn: his agrestic origins - "the Boy from Bowral" - which Australian historian Bernard Whimpress terms "the bush ethic"; the material temptation, with friendly Accrington in satanic garb; the torment and the trial of Bodyline, with Jardine the haughty Roman inquisitor; and the Calvary of that mortal failure at The Oval in 1948. Indeed, one might guess that the impact of that duck has, over time, been more significant than had Bradman actually scored those beggarly four runs.

That uniformly abused tag of icon may legitimately be applied, however bold the deeds of other heroes, to only two cricketers. In that cricket is transparently a cult, Grace and Bradman played the roles of founder and consolidator. Because of the initial momentum of cricket, W.G., the creature of the railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the popular newspaper, has the wider distinction of being the father of modern sport at large, while the Don, although aided by the wireless, missed out on the expansion, engendered by air travel and satellite television, that has given sport a broader global spread. Indeed, spectator sport is the nearest we have to a lingua franca, a common cultural denominator, making a very few persons into meaningful beacons. The great Brazilian footballer, Pelé (incidentally, number two to Bradman on the Davis scale of earth-shattering sports activity, with a ratio of 3.7 to the cricketer's 4.4), must take some precedence, while Muhammad Ali also must be keenly considered in such a cultural examination.

Bradman is definitely of that tiny ilk - so much so that obituarists who compared him with Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Keats were slightly missing the point that Bradman may not be exclusively captured as part of an elitist, classical culture, but glows as a bright star in the popular constellation. Much as it might offend those who admired Don Bradman in quasi-religious and high artistic terms, the logical comparisons, outside sport itself, are with the other global art-forms, such as cinema or pop music, coupling him with such names as Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Elvis Presley. As both highly functional craftsman and cultural idol, he was exalted by millions.

© John Wisden & Co