If Don Bradman had not eventuated, Bill Ponsford would have been acclaimed across the continent as our country's greatest run-making machine.
Nobody in history could boast a better hello and goodbye to the test arena. Probably nobody ever will. The great man scored a century in his first test (also in the second) in 1924 and departed the international scene ten years later with farewell innings in England of 181 and 266, both in record partnerships with The Don. He was 33 on retirement.
The only player to twice score 400, Ponsford also was the first to exceed 1000 runs in a domestic season. And in one unforgettable December he compiled 1146 runs in five innings!
On deciding to trouble the scorers no more, "Ponny" bequeathed to the insatiable statisticians a swag of marvellous career figures, some highlights being the Australian first wicket record (with Edgar Mayne) of 456, second and fourth wicket partnership records with Bradman of 451 and 388 respectively and an Australian-best third wicket partnership with Stan McCabe of 389 against MCC at Lord's in 1934.
And during his cricketing autumn he shared a VCA pennant record opening partnership for MCC of 331 (unfinished) with Keith Rigg, in 1935-36, which still stands.
Although Larwood was his bogey man, breaking his hand in the 1928-29 series in Australia and spearheading the lethal Bodyline attack here four years later, Ponny, always an opener, made enough runs to suggest he could cope with fast bowling.
Unenlightened rumour to the contrary probably was generated because of this wonderful batsman's complete mastery of spin bowling. There were plenty of top-line spinners around the world who preferred to bowl to Bradman, who at least gave them a sight of the stumps occasionally!
To the fast-rising deliveries, right on line, that he assessed as too risky for any stroke, Ponsford unflinchingly turned his broad back to the barrage, collecting painful blows instead of runs but keeping his high-priced wicket intact.
At Adelaide during the 1932-33 Bodyline series he scored a very plucky 85 and teammates were amazed when his shirt was removed to reveal red, blue and purple bruises from shoulders to buttocks. "I wouldn't mind having a couple more if I could get a hundred," said the battered batsman to sympathetic Bill O'Reilly.
As for Ponsford against slow bowling, you saw a sturdy, sure-footed figure in a surprisingly quick, spiked-shoe shuffle to the pitch of the ball at every opportunity. He played shots all around the compass but was dynamite to anything on his legs.
Of many stories about Ponsford, the item recounted by that fine writer Ray Robinson about Ponny's enlistment in the RAAF during World War Two illustrates the man's quiet humour and his dedication to the task of decimating bowlers.
The examining medical officer was surprised to find that Ponsford was colour blind (a definite no-no for RAAF air operations). "What colour did the new ball look like?" he asked. "Red," was the response. "And after a few overs?" "Red." "Well what colour was the ball after you'd made a hundred?" "I wasn't interested in the colour then, only the size!"
Apart from cricket, Bill Ponsford was one of Australia's top baseballers. At 13, he was the youngest member of Victoria's schoolboy team (Under 18) and began his senior career as a catcher for Fitzroy. He represented Victoria and at an embryonic period of Australian baseball he was renowned for his place hitting, a skill then acquired by few contemporaries. Ponny followed a long line of cricketer-baseballers whose fielding and throwing gave Australia a distinct edge over many years.
As a batsman, Ponsford was the only man who partnered Bradman at the highest level without being overshadowed. Sir Donald is on record with the ultimate compliment: "I liked batting with Bill. He gave me great confidence."
BILL PONSFORD (1900-1991)
Opening right-hand batsman
TESTS - 29, Runs - 2122 at 48.22
FIRST CLASS - 13,819 runs at 65.18
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