Don Bradman
Australia Between The Warsdon bradman montage.jpg

In the 1930s many Australians looked for distraction from the hardship of the Depression through their interest in cricket. Cricket matches attracted large crowds and extensive newspaper coverage as well as providing radio entertainment. Australia had many cricketing heroes: Woodfull, Ponsford, McCabe, O'Reilly, Fingleton and others. Above all of these ‘greats’ there was — in the words of the song — ‘Our Don Bradman’.

Donald Bradman was an Australian sporting hero whose achievements over a 20-year career in international cricket are legendary. As well as playing Test cricket for Australia from 1928 to 1948, he played for New South Wales, captained the South Australian Sheffield Shield team, captained the Australian cricket team for over 10 years and served as a selector for state and national teams.

He was an exceptional batsman. When Bradman retired in 1948, his Test series batting average was 99.94, the highest achieved by any first-class player. The next highest (correct as of July 2009) is 60.97. The best first-grade batsmen of any team are generally happy to achieve an average score of around 50 in their Test careers.

Bradman's Early Life
Donald George Bradman was born at Cootamundra on 27 August 1908 and grew up in Bowral. He went to the local public primary and high schools and was a keen sportsman from an early age. Bradman often told the story of how he developed his cricketing skills by repeatedly throwing a golf ball against a brick water tank stand and then hitting it on the rebound with a cricket stump. He scored 55 in his first match as an 11-year-old and made his first century the following year. He left school at 14, was playing for the Bowral senior team at 16, and at the age of 18 was playing first grade cricket for St George in Sydney. In 1927 Bradman was chosen as a member of the NSW team and one year later was selected for Australia.

Bradman's first-class and Test career achievements
Bradman played for New South Wales against England in 1928 and began his Test career in the 1928–29 Ashes series against England. He began this series poorly, scoring only 18 in the first innings and 1 in the second. As a result, selectors dropped him from the team in the Second Test. When they gave him another chance in the Third Test, he scored 79 in the first innings and 112 in the second. With scores of 40 and 58 in the Fourth Test and 112 and 37 not out in the Fifth Test, Bradman's international cricketing career was under way.

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"The Don' aged 12

1929 to 1931
Bradman's 1929–30 season playing for New South Wales saw him score 452 not out against Queensland — 15 higher than the previous highest first-class score. At the same time, he became the youngest batsman ever to score over 400 at this level.

Bradman's performance in the 1930 Test tour of England was another triumph. His series total was 974 runs, including individual scores of 334, 254 and 232. Cricket enthusiasts consider his performance in the Third Test match at Leeds to be one of the all-time great innings. Bradman had scored a century by lunchtime, 220 by the tea break, 309 at close of play and was out for 334 after play resumed the next day. At the time this was the highest score in Test cricket.

English cricketers had begun to think they would have no chance of achieving victory as long as Bradman continued playing. The News Chronicle in London reported ‘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.’ In Australia, Bradman was a national hero.

Bradman's success continued throughout the 1930–31 season with a double century (223) against the West Indies and a score of 258 when playing for New South Wales against South Australia. He also scored a double century (219) for New South Wales against South Africa and scores of 226, 112, 167 and 299 in Test matches against South Africa. Bradman's high batting scores seemed set to dominate international cricket for at least the next decade.

1932–33: Bodyline
When the English team toured Australia for the 1932–33 Test series, the English captain, Douglas Jardine, was determined to prevent Bradman dominating the game. For some months before the tour, he had been working with some of England's fast bowlers to develop a strategy to prevent Bradman from gaining high scores.

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English pace bowler Harold Larwood was directed to implement the bodyline tactic by his captain Jardine to prevent Bradman from gaining high scores

Jardine's goal was to defeat Bradman and, in so doing, defeat Australia. His ‘fast leg theory’ tactic, which the Australians labelled bodyline, effectively meant that the English team's bowlers seemed to be deliberately aiming for the batsman's body. The tactic required bowlers to bowl fast, short-pitched balls to the leg-side of the batsman. This would force the batsman to play a defensive shot towards the fielders on the leg side and limit his ability to make runs. Jardine chose pace bowler Harold Larwood to lead the implementation of the bodyline tactic.

The tactic succeeded. Larwood's skill restricted Bradman to a batting average of 56.57 during this series — still a very respectable average and far higher than those of his team mates. England won the series 4–1. Harold Larwood never played for England again. Douglas Jardine resigned from the captaincy before the next Test series with Australia.

Cricket had been an important part of Australian sporting life and a source of friendly competition with England. The 1932–33 tour changed that. English newspapers gave the impression that ‘fast leg theory’ was harmless and that the Australians were complaining about it only because they were losing. Australian spectators thought otherwise, especially when they saw the popular Australian captain, Bill Woodfull, hit above the heart and the Australian wicketkeeper, Bert Oldfield, end up in hospital with a fractured skull as a result of bodyline bowling.

1933 to 1938
Bradman continued to achieve high scores in the 1933–34 New South Wales season. In the 1934 Test series in England, he gained a triple century (304) in a Third Test partnership of 388 with Ponsford and a double century (244) in the Fifth Test as part of a 451 partnership with Ponsford.

Bradman was hugely popular in England. After an operation for acute appendicitis at the end of the 1934 tour, he was dangerously ill with peritonitis. People all over England were volunteering to give blood in case Bradman needed a transfusion. King George V asked for continual updates on Bradman's health. Charles Kingsford Smith, the famous Australian aviator (see 3.2 Individuals and pioneers — their contribution and significance), tried to find space in his Centenary Air Race plane so that Bradman's wife Jessie could get to her husband in England as quickly as possible.

After moving to South Australia, Bradman began playing in its state team, then in 1936 became captain of the Australian team. In the 1936–37 Ashes series in Australia, Bradman and Fingleton scored 346 in their successful partnership in the Third Test and the following day Bradman scored 270, including 110 singles. He achieved scores of 212 in the Fourth Test and 169 in the Fifth Test and achieved three centuries in the Ashes series in England in 1938.

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 meant that Bradman did not compete in Test cricket again until 1946.

1948: The Invincibles
During the war, Bradman played in a number of fundraisers and resumed his Test cricket career only when England toured Australia in 1946–47. In 1948, at 40 years of age, he led the Australian team, nicknamed The Invincibles (considered the greatest Australian side ever), to a 4–0 victory in the Ashes series in England. He scored two centuries during this series. When Bradman came out to bat for the last time, the crowd watched in expectation of him achieving an overall batting average of 100 or more. He was out for a duck (no score) on the second ball. He had scored zero in the match where he needed only four runs to bring his batting average up to a century. Players and spectators formed a guard of honour as he left the ground for the last time.

Celebrating ‘the Don's’ contribution and significancebradman dies.png
Sir Donald Bradman died of pneumonia on 25 February 2001. His memorial service, held at St Peter's Cathedral near the Adelaide Oval, was broadcast live on television and radio throughout Australia and to an audience of millions around the world. Australia's then Governor-General, Sir William Deane, delivered one of a number of eulogies praising ‘The Don's’ qualities as a human being as much as his talents as a cricketer. Singer-songwriter John Williamson performed his composition Sir Don, calling on him to ‘come out for just one more parade’. The South Australian Cricket Association handed out candles to the crowd who had assembled to watch the service on the giant screens at the Adelaide Oval.

Summary
Sir Donald Bradman:

  • was one of the greatest cricketers of all time; he led the side judged the greatest Australian side ever; his first-class batting average of 99.94 is the highest ever
  • was one of the greatest sportspeople of the twentieth century
  • contributed hugely to Australian victories over England and became a source of national pride in the gloomy years of the 1930s Depression
  • was widely respected for his personal integrity
  • was a personal success story that showed people what someone could achieve from humble beginnings and by working hard to make the most of his or her talent
  • is still a role model and an inspiration for aspiring and successful cricketers.




References

Mason, K.J., Experience of nationhood : modern Australia since 1901, South Melbourne, Cengage Learning Australia, 2010.
Webb, K., Discovering Australian history. Stage 5, Port Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 200