As the accumulation of runs over the long term is the indisputable, ultimate measurement of batsmanship there can be no argument about Don Bradman's universal classification as the greatest batsman in the history of first class cricket.
The country boy from Bowral (NSW) with the ultra-quick footwork and flashing blade burst upon the sports entertainment scene at a time when Australian cricket required rejuvenation following the retirement of several of its old brigade. Bradman responded to the need brilliantly and subsequently generated nationwide warmth in a community dispirited by the great economic depression of the 1930s. He quickly became a household name, an icon and every-one's personal hero.
Nobody ever dominated cricket like "The Don". He was such a consistent rungetter that a worshipping public could confidently anticipate a big score whenever and wherever he was playing. Hence an enormous exodus from capital city offices when the news was abroad that Bradman was not out at the luncheon interval! The public confidence was rarely misplaced because the wonderful little man scored either a "ton" or multiple century 117 times whilst setting an Australian record 28,067 runs from 338 innings in a career spanning 21 years from 1927.
Those who paid to see the master had one chance in three of witnessing a century and such consistency has not been approached before or since. When he retired in 1948 he held the world record individual score (452 not out), highest test score by an Australian (334), record Australian tour aggregate (2960 runs in 1930) and most centuries on an English tour (13 in 1938).
The entire cricket world is well aware that had Bradman scored four runs in The Oval test of 1948, instead of being bowled for a duck, he would have departed the arena with an amazing test average of precisely 100 per innings. However, the magnitude of his all-time, all-countries achievement in recording a 99.94 test average may be gauged from the fact that of comparable run-scorers the second-highest Australian test average to 1996 was Greg Chappell's 53.86.
Bradman's first English tour (1930) was triumphant. He scored centuries, including two double centuries and a triple hundred, in four tests and his single failure inspired the unprecedented newspaper poster message "He's Out!". A method had to be devised to curb Don's dominance and the ruthless and dangerous Bodyline bowling, spearheaded by the extremely fast and accurate Harold Larwood, was introduced by the England side in 1932-33.
Bodyline was the persistent bowling of short-pitched balls at the batsman's body with an inner and outer ring of leg side fieldsmen. Modern observers can envisage, say, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall or Curtly Ambrose causing plenty of pain and embarrassment if they delivered fast, in-swinging bouncers at a batsman's throat, ball after ball.
Suffice to record that against Bodyline (outlawed subsequently by Marylebone Cricket Club) Bradman's rungetting was severely restricted (he averaged only 56.57!) and Australia lost the series.
Effectively, Bodyline left the batsman with very few safe strokes to play. It was an extremely negative ploy which, if allowed to continue, would have threatened the future of international cricket and Anglo-Australian relations.
Bradman was regarded as a natural genius earlier in his career, but evolved as a man of great intelligence with rare application at the practice nets and a willingness to strive for constant improvement.
He spent a lot of time reflecting on any dismissal, assessing the cause and ensuring that there would be no repetition of the particular error. Much of his alleged unorthodoxy was merely a reflection of lightning footwork which took him into position to play more than one stroke.
The most obvious differential between the technique of Bradman and other test batsmen was his grip. Bradman's right-hand was turned slightly inward of the norm, which explains his mastery of onside strokes, either in front of the wicket or behind. Most importantly, this unique grip ensured that the ball would be hit downwards when playing the hook or pull shots.
So much emphasis, perhaps understandably, has been given to his accumulation of runs, with match-winning speed, that few people have an overall appreciation of the various components of Bradman's cricket. For example, it would be impossible to amass such huge scores without having a sound defence. Don's book (circa 1934) "How to Play Cricket" ideally illustrates this aspect with sequential pictures of defensive and attacking strokes, all of them orthodox and safe.
Bradman took his block on the leg stump, contending that this would enable him to deal most adequately with any ball pitched outside the line on the leg side. As for his offside driving, many pairs of sore hands resulted from a day's fielding at mid-off or cover when "the little fella" was in full flight.
His running between wickets was an object lesson and it is questionable whether he ever missed the opportunity to take a run. His judgment was superb and, particularly in his salad days, he could travel like a gazelle. This speed over the ground also was a feature of his fielding. In the covers, the younger Bradman's anticipation and brilliant throwing would match modern capabilities in the one department of the game acknowledged to be of a much higher standard since the advent of limited overs cricket.
Bradman's public presentation and his on-field demeanour were exemplary. He is not known to have hesitated when given out or to have queried an umpiring decision. He was a good tactician who knew cricket inside out and while he was captain, from 1936 to 1948, Australia never lost a series.
On retirement he served cricket with tremendous influence and distinction in administrative roles, notably as Australian Board of Control chairman and test selector.
DON BRADMAN (1908 - 2001)
Right-hand batsman, occasional right-arm leg-break bowler
TESTS - 52, Runs - 6996 at 99.94; 2 wickets at 36.00
FIRST CLASS - 28,067 runs at 95.14; 36 wickets at 37.97
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