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Sir Donald George "Don" Bradman, AC (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), often referred to as "The Don", was an Australian cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest batsman of all time. Bradman's career Test batting average of 99.94 is often cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.
The story that the young Bradman practised alone with a cricket stump and a golf ball is part of Australian folklore. Bradman's meteoric rise from bush cricket to the Australian Test team took just over two years. Before his 22nd birthday, he had set many records for top scoring, some of which still stand, and became Australia's sporting idol at the height of the Great Depression.
During a 20-year playing career, Bradman consistently scored at a level that made him, in the words of former Australia captain Bill Woodfull, "worth three batsmen to Australia". A controversial set of tactics, known as Bodyline, was specifically devised by the Englandteam to curb his scoring. As a captain and administrator, Bradman was committed to attacking, entertaining cricket; he drew spectators in record numbers. He hated the constant adulation, however, and it affected how he dealt with others. The focus of attention on his individual performances strained relationships with some team-mates, administrators and journalists, who thought him aloof and wary.Following an enforced hiatus due to the Second World War, he made a dramatic comeback, captaining an Australian team known as "The Invincibles" on a record-breaking unbeaten tour of England.
A complex, highly driven man, not given to close personal relationships, Bradman retained a pre-eminent position in the game by acting as an administrator, selector and writer for three decades following his retirement. Even after he became reclusive in his declining years his opinion was highly sought, and his status as a national icon was still recognised—more than 50 years after his retirement as a Test player, in 2001, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia called him the "greatest living Australian". Bradman's image has appeared on postage stamps and coins, and a museumdedicated to his life was opened while he was still living. On the centenary of his birth, 27 August 2008, the Royal Australian Mintissued a $5 commemorative gold coin with Bradman's image, and on 19 November 2009, he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
Donald George Bradman was the youngest son of George and Emily (née Whatman) Bradman, and was born on 27 August 1908 at Cootamundra, New South Wales (NSW). He had a brother, Victor, and three sisters—Islet, Lilian and Elizabeth May. One of his great-grandfathers was one of the first Italians to migrate to Australia in 1826. Bradman's parents lived in the hamlet of Yeo Yeo, near Stockinbingal. His mother Emily gave birth to him at the Cootamundra home of Granny Scholz, a midwife. That house is now the Bradman Birthplace Museum. Emily had hailed from Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands, and in 1911, when Don Bradman was about two-and-a-half years old, his parents decided to relocate to Bowral, close to Mittagong, to be closer to Emily's family and friends, as life at Yeo Yeo was proving difficult.
Bradman practised batting incessantly during his youth. He invented his own solo cricket game, using a cricket stump for abat, and a golf ball. A water tank, mounted on a curved brick stand, stood on a paved area behind the family home. When hit into the curved brick facing of the stand, the ball rebounded at high speed and varying angles—and Bradman would attempt to hit it again. This form of practice developed his timing and reactions to a high degree. In more formal cricket, he hit his first century at the age of 12, with an undefeated 115 playing for Bowral Public School against Mittagong High School.
In 1920–21, Bradman acted as scorer for the local Bowral team, captained by his uncle George Whatman. In October 1920, he filled in when the team was one man short, scoring 37 not out and 29 not out on debut. During the season, Bradman's father took him to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to watch the fifth Ashes Test match. On that day, Bradman formed an ambition. "I shall never be satisfied", he told his father, "until I play on this ground". Bradman left school in 1922 and went to work for a local real estate agent who encouraged his sporting pursuits by giving him time off when necessary. He gave up cricket in favour of tennis for two years, but resumed playing cricket in 1925–26.
Bradman became a regular selection for the Bowral team; several outstanding performances earned him the attention of the Sydney daily press. Competing on matting-over-concrete pitches, Bowral played other rural towns in the Berrima District competition. Against Wingello, a team that included the future Test bowler Bill O'Reilly, Bradman made 234. In the competition final against Moss Vale, which extended over five consecutive Saturdays, Bradman scored 320 not out. During the following Australian winter (1926), an ageing Australian team lost The Ashes in England, and a number of Test players retired. The New South Wales Cricket Association began a hunt for new talent. Mindful of Bradman's big scores for Bowral, the association wrote to him, requesting his attendance at a practice session in Sydney. He was subsequently chosen for the "Country Week" tournaments at both cricket and tennis, to be played during separate weeks. His boss presented him with an ultimatum: he could have only one week away from work, and therefore had to choose between the two sports. He chose cricket. Bradman's performances during Country Week resulted in an invitation to play grade cricket in Sydney for St George in the 1926–27 season. He scored 110 on his debut, making his first century on a turf wicket. On 1 January 1927, he turned out for the NSW second team. For the remainder of the season, Bradman travelled the 130 kilometres (81 mi) from Bowral to Sydney every Saturday to play for St George.
The next season continued the rapid rise of the "Boy from Bowral". Selected to replace the unfit Archie Jackson in the NSW team, Bradman made his first-class debut at theAdelaide Oval, aged 19. He secured the achievement of a hundred on debut, with an innings of 118 featuring what soon became his trademarks—fast footwork, calm confidence and rapid scoring. In the final match of the season, he made his first century at the SCG, against the Sheffield Shield champions Victoria. Despite his potential, Bradman was not chosen for the Australian second team to tour New Zealand.
Bradman decided that his chances for Test selection would be improved by moving to Sydney for the 1928–29 season, when England were to tour in defence of the Ashes. Initially, he continued working in real estate, but later took a promotions job with the sporting goods retailer Mick Simmons Ltd. In the first match of the Sheffield Shield season, he scored a century in each innings against Queensland. He followed this with scores of 87 and 132 not out against the England touring team, and was rewarded with selection for the first Test, to be played at Brisbane.
Playing in only his tenth first-class match, Bradman, nicknamed "Braddles" by his teammates, found his initial Test a harsh learning experience. Caught on a sticky wicket, Australia were all out for 66 in the second innings and lost by 675 runs (still a Test record). Following scores of 18 and 1, the selectors dropped Bradman to twelfth manfor the Second Test. An injury to Bill Ponsford early in the match required Bradman to field as substitute while England amassed 636, following their 863 runs in the First Test. RS Whitington wrote, "... he had scored only nineteen himself and these experiences appear to have provided him with food for thought". Recalled for the Third Test at theMelbourne Cricket Ground, Bradman scored 79 and 112 to become the youngest player to make a Test century, although the match was still lost. Another loss followed in the Fourth Test. Bradman reached 58 in the second innings and appeared set to guide the team to victory when he was run out. It was to be the only run out of his Test career. The losing margin was just 12 runs.
The improving Australians did manage to win the Fifth and final Test. Bradman top-scored with 123 in the first innings, and was at the wicket in the second innings when his captainJack Ryder hit the winning runs. Bradman completed the season with 1,690 first-class runs, averaging 93.88, and his first multiple century in a Sheffield Shield match, 340 not out against Victoria, set a new ground record for the SCG. Bradman averaged 113.28 in 1929–30. In a trial match to select the team that would tour England, he was last man out in the first innings for 124. As his team followed on, the skipper Bill Woodfull asked Bradman to keep the pads on and open the second innings. By the end of play, he was 205 not out, on his way to 225. Against Queensland at the SCG, Bradman set a then world record for first-class cricket by scoring 452 not out; he made his runs in only 415 minutes. Not long after the feat, he recalled:
On 434...I had a curious intuition...I seemed to sense that the ball would be a short-pitched one on the leg-stump, and I could almost feel myself getting ready to make my shot before the ball was delivered. Sure enough, it pitched exactly where I had anticipated, and, hooking it to the square-leg boundary, I established the only record upon which I had set my heart.
...he will always be in the category of the brilliant, if unsound, ones. Promise there is in Bradman in plenty, though watching him does not inspire one with any confidence that he desires to take the only course which will lead him to a fulfilment of that promise. He makes a mistake, then makes it again and again; he does not correct it, or look as if he were trying to do so. He seems to live for the exuberance of the moment.
The encomiums were not confined to his batting gifts; nor did the criticism extend to his character. "Australia has unearthed a champion," raved former Australian Test great Clem Hill, "self-taught, with natural ability. But most important of all, with his heart in the right place." Selector Dick Jones weighed in with the observation that it was "good to watch him talking to an old player, listening attentively to everything that is said and then replying with a modest 'thank you'."
England were favourites to win the 1930 Ashes series, and if the Australians were to exceed expectations, their young batsmen, Bradman and Jackson, needed to prosper. With his elegant batting technique, Jackson appeared the brighter prospect of the pair. However, Bradman began the tour with 236 at Worcester and went on to score 1,000 first-class runs by the end of May, the fifth player (and first Australian) to achieve this rare feat. In his first Test appearance in England, Bradman hit 131 in the second innings but England won the match. His batting reached a new level in the Second Test at Lord's where he scored 254 as Australia won and levelled the series. Later in life, Bradman rated this the best innings of his career as, "practically without exception every ball went where it was intended to go". Wisden noted his fast footwork and how he hit the ball "all round the wicket with power and accuracy", as well as faultless concentration in keeping the ball on the ground.
In terms of runs scored, this performance was soon surpassed. In the Third Test, at Leeds, Bradman scored a century before lunch on 11 July, the first day of the Test match to equal the performances of Victor Trumper and Charlie Macartney. In the afternoon, Bradman added another century between lunch and tea, before finishing the day on 309 not out. He remains the only Test player to pass 300 in one day's play. His eventual score of 334 was a world-record, exceeding the previous mark of 325 by Andy Sandham. Bradman dominated the Australian innings; the second-highest tally was 77 by Alan Kippax. Businessman Arthur Whitelaw later presented Bradman with a cheque for £1,000 in appreciation of his achievement. The match ended in anti-climax as poor weather prevented a result, as it also did in the Fourth Test.
In the deciding Test at The Oval, England made 405. During an innings stretching over three days due to intermittent rain, Bradman made yet another multiple century, this time 232, which helped give Australia a big lead of 290 runs. In a crucial partnership with Archie Jackson, Bradman battled through a difficult session when England fast bowler Harold Larwood bowled short on a pitch enlivened by the rain. Wisden gave this period of play only a passing mention:
On the Wednesday morning the ball flew about a good deal, both batsmen frequently being hit on the body...on more than one occasion each player cocked the ball up dangerously but always, as it happened, just wide of the fieldsmen.
A number of English players and commentators noted Bradman's discomfort in playing the short, rising delivery. The revelation came too late for this particular match, but was to have immense significance in the next Ashes series. Australia won the match by an innings and regained the Ashes. The victory made an impact in Australia. With the economy sliding toward depression and unemployment rapidly rising, the country found solace in sporting triumph. The story of a self-taught 22-year-old from the bush who set a series of records against the old rival made Bradman a national hero. The statistics Bradman achieved on the tour, and in the Test matches in particular, broke records for the day and some have stood the test of time. In all, Bradman scored 974 runs at an average of 139.14 during the Test series, with four centuries, including two double hundreds and a triple. As of 2012, no-one has matched or exceeded 974 runs or three double centuries in one Test series; the record of 974 runs exceeds the second-best performance by 69 runs and was achieved in two fewer innings. Bradman's first-class tally, 2,960 runs (at an average of 98.66 with 10 centuries), was another enduring record: the most by any overseas batsman on a tour of England.
On the tour, the dynamic nature of Bradman's batting contrasted sharply with his quiet, solitary off-field demeanour. He was described as aloof from his teammates and he did not offer to buy them a round of drinks, let alone share the money given to him by Whitelaw. Bradman spent a lot of his free time alone, writing, as he had sold the rights to a book. On his return to Australia, Bradman was surprised by the intensity of his reception; he became a "reluctant hero". Mick Simmons wanted to cash in on their employee's newly won fame. They asked Bradman to leave his teammates and attend official receptions they organised in Adelaide, Melbourne, Goulburn, his hometown Bowral and Sydney, where he received a brand new custom-built Chevrolet. At each stop, Bradman received a level of adulation that "embarrassed" him. This focus on individual accomplishment, in a team game, "... permanently damaged relationships with his contemporaries".Commenting on Australia's victory, the team's vice-captain Vic Richardson said, "... we could have played any team without Bradman, but we could not have played the blind school without Clarrie Grimmett". A modest Bradman can be heard in a 1930 recording saying "I have always endeavoured to do my best for the side, and the few centuries that have come my way have been achieved in the hope of winning matches. My one idea when going into bat was to make runs for Australia."
In 1930–31, against the first West Indian side to visit Australia, Bradman's scoring was more sedate than in England—although he did make 223 in 297 minutes in the Third Test at Brisbane and 152 in 154 minutes in the following Test at Melbourne. However, he scored quickly in a very successful sequence of innings against the South Africans in the Australian summer of 1931–32. For NSW against the tourists, he made 30, 135 and 219. In the Test matches, he scored226 (277 minutes), 112 (155 minutes), 2 and 167 (183 minutes); his 299 not out in the Fourth Test, at Adelaide, set a new record for the highest score in a Test in Australia. Australia won nine of the ten Tests played over the two series.
At this point, Bradman had played 15 Test matches since the beginning of 1930, scoring 2,227 runs at an average of 131. He had played 18 innings, scoring 10 centuries, six of which had extended beyond 200. His overall scoring rate was 42 runs per hour, with 856 (or 38.5% of his tally) scored in boundaries. Significantly, he had not hit a six,which typified Bradman's attitude: if he hit the ball along the ground, then it could not be caught. During this phase of his career, his youth and natural fitness allowed him to adopt a "machine-like" approach to batting. The South African fast bowler Sandy Bell described bowling to him as, "heart-breaking ... with his sort of cynical grin, which rather reminds one of the Sphinx ... he never seems to perspire".
Between these two seasons, Bradman seriously contemplated playing professional cricket in England with the Lancashire League club Accrington, a move that, according to the rules of the day, would have ended his Test career.A consortium of three Sydney businesses offered an alternative. They devised a two-year contract whereby Bradman wrote for Associated Newspapers, broadcast on Radio 2UE and promoted the menswear retailing chain FJ Palmer and Son.However, the contract increased Bradman's dependence on his public profile, making it more difficult to maintain the privacy that he ardently desired.
Bradman's chaotic wedding to Jessie Menzies in April 1932 epitomised these new and unwelcome intrusions into his private life. The church "was under siege all throughout the day ... uninvited guests stood on chairs and pews to get a better view"; police erected barriers that were broken down and many of those invited could not get a seat. Just weeks later, Bradman joined a private team organised by Arthur Mailey to tour the United States and Canada. He travelled with his wife, and the couple treated the trip as a honeymoon. Playing 51 games in 75 days, Bradman scored 3,779 runs at 102.1, with 18 centuries. Although the standard of play was not high, the effects of the amount of cricket Bradman had played in the three previous years, together with the strains of his celebrity status, began to show on his return home.
"As long as Australia has Bradman she will be invincible ... It is almost time to request a legal limit on the number of runs Bradman should be allowed to make."
Within the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which administered English cricket at the time, few voices were more influential than "Plum" Warner's, who, when considering England's response to Bradman, wrote that it "must evolve a new type of bowler and develop fresh ideas and strange tactics to curb his almost uncanny skill". To that end, Warner orchestrated the appointment of Douglas Jardine as England captain in 1931, as a prelude to Jardine leading the 1932–33 tour to Australia, with Warner as team manager. Remembering that Bradman had struggled against bouncers during his 232 at The Oval in 1930, Jardine decided to combine traditional leg theory with short-pitched bowling to combat Bradman. He settled on theNottinghamshire fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce as the spearheads for his tactics. In support, the England selectors chose another three pacemen for the squad. The unusually high number of fast bowlers caused a lot of comment in both countries and roused Bradman's own suspicions.
Bradman had other problems to deal with at this time; among these were bouts of illness from an undiagnosed malaise which had begun during the tour of North America, and that the Australian Board of Control had initially refused permission for him to write a column for the Sydney Sun. Bradman, who had signed a two-year contract with the newspaper, threatened to withdraw from cricket to honour his contract when the board denied him permission to write; eventually, the paper released Bradman from the contract, in a victory for the board. In three first-class games against England before the Tests, Bradman averaged just 17.16 in 6 innings. Jardine decided to give the new tactics a trial in only one game, a fixture against an Australian XI at Melbourne. In this match, Bradman faced the leg theory and later warned local administrators that trouble was brewing if it continued. He withdrew from the First Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground amid rumours that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. Despite his absence, England employed what were already becoming known as the Bodyline tactics against the Australian batsmen and won an ill-tempered match.
The public clamoured for the return of Bradman to defeat Bodyline: "he was the batsman who could conquer this cankerous bowling ... 'Bradmania', amounting almost to religious fervour, demanded his return". Recovered from his indisposition, Bradman returned to the side in Alan Kippax's position. A world record crowd of 63,993 at the MCG saw Bradman come to the crease on the first day of the Second Test with the score at 2/67. A standing ovation ensued that delayed play for several minutes. Bradman anticipated receiving a bouncer as his first ball and, as the bowler delivered, he moved across his stumps to play thehook shot. The ball failed to rise and Bradman dragged it onto his stumps; the first-ball duck was his first in a Test. The crowd fell into stunned silence as he walked off. However, Australia took a first innings lead in the match, and another record crowd on 2 January 1933 watched Bradman hit a counter-attacking second innings century. His unbeaten 103 (from 146 balls) in a team total of 191 helped set England a target of 251 to win. Bill O'Reilly and Bert Ironmonger bowled Australia to a series-levelling victory amid hopes that Bodyline was beaten.
The Third Test at the Adelaide Oval proved pivotal. There were angry crowd scenes after the Australian captain Bill Woodfull and wicket-keeper Bert Oldfield were hit by bouncers. An apologetic Plum Warner entered the Australian dressing room and was rebuked by Woodfull. Woodfull's remarks (that "...there are two teams out there and only one of them is playing cricket") were leaked to the press, and Warner and others attributed this to Australian opening batsmanJack Fingleton, however for many years (even after Fingleton's death) a bitter war of accusation passed between Fingleton and Bradman as to who was the real source of the leak. In a cable to the MCC, the Australian Board of Control repeated the allegation of poor sportsmanship directed at Warner by Woodfull. With the support of the MCC, England continued with Bodyline despite Australian protests. The tourists won the last three Tests convincingly and regained the Ashes. Bradman caused controversy with his own tactics. Always seeking to score, and with the leg side packed with fielders, he often backed away and hit the ball into the vacant half of the outfield with unorthodox shots reminiscent of tennis or golf.This brought him 396 runs (at 56.57) for the series and plaudits for attempting to find a solution to Bodyline, although his series average was just 57% of his career mean. Jack Fingleton was in no doubt that Bradman's game altered irrevocably as a consequence of Bodyline, writing:
Bodyline was specially prepared, nurtured for and expended on him and, in consequence, his technique underwent a change quicker than might have been the case with the passage of time. Bodyline plucked something vibrant from his art.
The constant glare of celebrity and the tribulations of the season forced Bradman to reappraise his life outside the game and to seek a career away from his cricketing fame. Harry Hodgetts, a South Australian delegate to the Board of Control, offered Bradman work as a stockbroker if he would relocate to Adelaide and captain South Australia (SA). Unknown to the public, the SA Cricket Association (SACA) instigated Hodgetts' approach and subsidised Bradman's wage. Although his wife was hesitant about moving, Bradman eventually agreed to the deal in February 1934.
In his farewell season for NSW, Bradman averaged 132.44, his best yet. He was appointed vice-captain for the 1934 tour of England. However, "he was unwell for much of the [English] summer, and reports in newspapers hinted that he was suffering from heart trouble". Although he again started with a double century at Worcester, his famed concentration soon deserted him. Wisden wrote:
...there were many occasions on which he was out to wild strokes. Indeed at one period he created the impression that, to some extent, he had lost control of himself and went in to bat with an almost complete disregard for anything in the shape of a defensive stroke.
At one stage, Bradman went 13 first-class innings without a century, the longest such spell of his career, prompting suggestions that Bodyline had eroded his confidence and altered his technique. After three Tests, the series was one–one and Bradman had scored 133 runs in five innings. The Australians travelled to Sheffield and played a warm up game before the Fourth Test. Bradman started slowly and then, "... the old Bradman [was] back with us, in the twinkling of an eye, almost". He went on to make 140, with the last 90 runs coming in just 45 minutes. On the opening day of the Fourth Test atHeadingley (Leeds), England were out for 200, but Australia slumped to 3/39, losing the third wicket from the last ball of the day. Listed to bat at number five, Bradman would start his innings the next day.
That evening, Bradman declined an invitation to dinner from Neville Cardus, telling the journalist that he wanted an early night because the team needed him to make a double century the next day. Cardus pointed out that his previous innings on the ground was 334, and the law of averages was against another such score. Bradman told Cardus, "I don't believe in the law of averages". In the event, Bradman batted all of the second day and into the third, putting on a then world record partnership of 388 with Bill Ponsford.When he was finally out for 304 (473 balls, 43 fours and 2 sixes), Australia had a lead of 350 runs, but rain prevented them from forcing a victory. The effort of the lengthy innings stretched Bradman's reserves of energy, and he did not play again until the Fifth Test at The Oval, the match that would decide the Ashes.
In the first innings at The Oval, Bradman and Ponsford recorded an even more massive partnership, this time 451 runs. It had taken them less than a month to break the record they had set at Headingley; this new world record was to last 57 years. Bradman's share of the stand was 244 from 271 balls, and the Australian total of 701 set up victory by 562 runs. For the fourth time in five series, the Ashes changed hands. England would not recover them again until after Bradman's retirement.
Seemingly restored to full health, Bradman blazed two centuries in the last two games of the tour. However, when he returned to London to prepare for the trip home, he experienced severe abdominal pain. It took a doctor more than 24 hours to diagnose acute appendicitis and a surgeon operated immediately. Bradman lost a lot of blood during the four-hour procedure and peritonitis set in. Penicillin and sulphonamides were still experimental treatments at this time; peritonitis was usually a fatal condition. On 25 September, the hospital issued a statement that Bradman was struggling for his life and that blood donors were needed urgently.
"The effect of the announcement was little short of spectacular". The hospital could not deal with the number of donors, and closed its switchboard in the face of the avalanche of telephone calls generated by the news. Journalists were asked by their editors to prepare obituaries. Teammate Bill O'Reilly took a call from King George V's secretary asking that the King be kept informed of the situation. Jessie Bradman started the month-long journey to London as soon as she received the news. En route, she heard a rumour that her husband had died. A telephone call clarified the situation and by the time she reached London, Bradman had begun a slow recovery. He followed medical advice to convalesce, taking several months to return to Australia and missing the 1934–35 Australian season.
There was off-field intrigue in Australian cricket during the antipodean winter of 1935. Australia, scheduled to make a tour of South Africa at the end of the year, needed to replace the retired Bill Woodfull as captain. The Board of Control wanted Bradman to lead the team, yet, on 8 August, the board announced Bradman's withdrawal from the team due to a lack of fitness. Surprisingly, in the light of this announcement, Bradman led theSouth Australian team in a full programme of matches that season.
The captaincy was given to Vic Richardson, Bradman's predecessor as South Australian captain. Cricket author Chris Harte's analysis of the situation is that a prior (unspecified) commercial agreement forced Bradman to remain in Australia. Harte attributed an ulterio