When you think of boxing you have Muhammad Ali, when you think of football you have Pele, when you think of baseball you have Babe Ruth, when you think of tennis you have Roger Federer.
And when you think of cricket icons it is ‘The Don’ who stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Sir Donald George Bradman is quite simply the greatest cricketer to ever grace the gentleman’s game.
No other cricketer has transcended the sporting climate quite like Bradman, from his incredible batting record to his status off the pitch; no one has come close to the respect awarded to him.
The Australian hero scored 6,996 runs for his country and still holds 20 Test records, including the highest batting average and most runs against one opponent – despite retiring 70 years ago.
On Monday, on what would have been his 110th birthday, Google is honouring him with a Doodle, imagining him drive a shot through the Google logo.
Here is the story of the cricketer dubbed “The Boy from Bowral”….
Don Bradman’s early life in Australia and how he became a batting great
Born on August 27 in Cootamundra, New South Wales in 1908, to George and Emily Bradman, he lived alongside his older brother Victor and sisters Islet, Lilian and Elizabeth May.
Bradman is said to have told his father, having been taken to watch an Ashes Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1921, that “I shall never be satisfied until I play on this ground.”
Bradman developed his skills by hitting a golf ball off the curved base of a water tank, using a cricket stump.
The ball came back to him fast and at all angles. “I found I had to be pretty quick on my feet and keep my wits about me,” he said, “and in this way I developed, unconsciously, perhaps, sense of distance and pace.”
This allowed him to create his own unique grip and batting stance and it worked almost from the beginning.
He scored his first hundred aged 12 for Bowral High School, before moving through Bush cricket – where he was only promoted from scorer when his team were one-short – and then First-Class cricket for New South Wales.
Aged 19, he made his First-Class debut for his state, inevitably collecting three figures against South Australia at Adelaide, before continuing to pile on the runs with his quick feet, guileful hands and supreme confidence and ability at the wicket.
He would go on to play 234 times for NSW, scoring an incredible 28,067
Early Test career
No one has come close to dominating a Test crease quite like Bradman.
It didn’t start with a Hollywood opening though, as Australia were bowled out for 122 and 66 at Brisbane on Bradman’s first appearance – the debutant scoring a combined 19 runs batting at No.7 in a 675 runs thrashing and was promptly dropped.
He was just as quickly recalled for the third Test of the series and became the youngest player to score a Test ton.
From then he was in.
Although his trademark, yet completely against any training manual, technique, was not universally backed to work at the highest level, especially by the English.
Percy Fender, an English all-rounder, said ahead of the 1930 Ashes, for which the hosts England were overwhelming favourites: “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.”
He was proved very wrong.
Bradman had already scored 1,000 runs before the end of May, and then scored 131, 254, 334 and 232 as he clattered 974 runs in the Test series.
Bradman’s personal all-time favourite innings was the 254 scored against England at Lord’s in 1930. He would say about the knock: “Every ball went exactly where I wanted it to go until the ball that got me out.”
The most notable stat about Bradman is his record of scoring no sixes during his career – quite simply the thought behind it was if you only hit the ball on the floor you cannot be caught out.
The infamous Bodyline Series
One of the darkest episodes in cricket history, it caused a diplomatic furore in both England and Australia and forced the rules of cricket to be changed.
England needed a way of getting Bradman out, and captain Douglas Jardine came up with the perfect plan for the 1932-33 trip Down Under, however unsporting to do so – use “leg theory”.
The basic premise was get fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce to bowl very very quickly at Bradman’s body and pack the legside with fielders, forcing him to hit straight to them while avoiding getting hit.
It was hostile, dangerous and left the Australian press, players and fans up in arms.
Bradman would say after three Tests that “I wanted to hit one bowler [Verity] before the other [Larwood] hit me.” Then after the fourth “I would sooner return from Brisbane with a pair of ducks than a pair of broken ribs.”
The barracking from the crowds towards the English players, especially arch-villain Jardine, was brutal. With one punter at the SCG shouting “Don’t give the b****** a drink. Let him die of thirst” when the England captain requested a beverage.
The MCC were not happy, and saw the tactic as un-British and against gentlemanly fair play. Jardine only played First-Class cricket for a further year, while Larwood became persona non grata.
Bodyline forced the authorities to allow a maximum number of fielders on the legside and the number of bouncers in an over.
Nevertheless, Bradman still managed to average 56.57 during the series!
What records does Bradman still hold?
For someone who has been retired for 70 years, and dead for 17 years, it is a mark of his legacy that there are still records which have not been beaten by any of the other great cricketers to come after him.
From Brian Lara to Sachin Tendulkar, Allan Border to Ricky Ponting no one has managed to beat these, as per Wikipedia.
Don Bradman’s Test Record
Highest Score: 334
Debut: 30 November 1928 vs England, Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane
Last Test: 18 August 1948 vs England, The Oval, London
First batsman in Test history to score 2 triple centuries.
Why is Bradman’s average famous?
The most infamous, and frustrating, quirk of Bradman’s career is his final Test batting average: 99.94.
That tantalising 0.6 away from the mythical career average of 100, ie if you take every one of his 52 Test innings he would score 100 in each.
For any non cricket aficionados scoring a century is the measure of cricketers; it requires physical, technical and mental skill to do it once, but to average out of doing it with every single visit to the wicket is beyond astounding.
Arriving at the crease for the final time, against England at the Oval in south London, Bradman needed to score four runs to hit the three figure average.
But just two balls in he was bowled for a duck by English leg spinner Eric Hollies.
Bradman said about the failure to reach the magical 100 average: “I didn’t know it at the time and I don’t think the Englishmen knew it either. I think if they had known it they may have been generous enough to let me get four.”
What is Bradman’s legacy?
Bradman might well be the most respected cricketer of all-time.
He died on 25 February 2001, having struggled with pneumonia.
When Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack polled 100 former cricketers and journalists to determine the top cricketers of the 20th century, “The Don” was nominated by all 100.
After his retirement he remained a fixture in the cricket world as an administrator – during which time he helped brokered the World Series Cricket which revolutionised cricket – and also as a commentator.
Bradman was honoured with his own museum during his lifetime, called the “the greatest living Australian” by the then-Prime Minister, and knighted in 1949.
Despite the accolades he earned, he remained a courteous and modest man. His beloved SCG still has a stand bearing his name.
Famous Bradman quotes
Bradman on Bradman
“If it’s difficult, I’ll do it now. If it’s impossible, I’ll do it presently.”
“I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill. They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty.”
Others on Bradman
“He is probably the most important Australian of all time.” – Former Australian cricket captain and broadcaster Richie Benaud
“He reminded Australians that they were capable of great things in their own right.” – Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard
“Isn’t that Don Bradman over there? I would like to be introduced.” – Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
“As I ran up to bowl, Bradman seemed to know where the ball was going to pitch, what stroke he was going to play and how many runs he was going to score.” – Former England spin bowler Jim Laker