Such was the batting legacy that Bradman inherited. While he was busy making the grade, Bill Ponsford was fast becoming Australia’s answer to W.G. Grace in his penchant for tall scores in first-class cricket. Playing some defining innings for
Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground,
Ponsford hit up a record 429 against Tasmania
in 1922-23, overhauling Lancastrian Archie MacLaren’s 424 versus Somerset at
in 1895, the only quadruple hundred of the 19th century. MacLaren
had in turn surpassed Grace’s record of 344 for MCC against Taunton Kent at
in 1876. Canterbury
Ponsford then reeled off 352 - 334 in a day - against New South Wales in 1926-27, and 437 and 336 versus Queensland and South Australia respectively the following season. Ponsford was the only player to score two quadruple centuries until Brian Lara scored 501 not out for Warwickshire in 1994, and 400 not out in the Antigua Test against
in 2004. England
Bradman served notice with his undefeated 340 for
in 1928-29, having already
scored a century on first-class debut the previous season. Then in 1929-30,
Bradman broke Ponsford’s record with his 452 not out against New South Wales Queensland
at . Sydney
Having scored hundreds in his first two Tests in 1924-25 against England, Ponsford later combined with Bradman in two record partnerships in consecutive Tests - 388 for the fourth wicket at Leeds, and 451 for the second wicket at The Oval in 1934. It was a summer in which Ponsford had a Bradmanesque average of 94.83, having scored 569 runs in 4 Tests. Bradman aggregated 758 runs in 5 Tests at an average of 94.75.
One has then, not surprisingly, come across several references to Bob Wyatt’s famous remark describing Ponsford as “A very great player indeed.” This was during the Lord’s Centenary match in 1980 when Ponsford walked across the former players’ enclosure. Len Hutton recalled the incident, as did Alec Bedser, and both wondered how great, then, was Bradman.
Ponsford would indeed be rated very high for his monumental first-class scores, his record Test partnerships with Bradman and brilliant series in 1934. But he had his problems with pace, surprising for an opening batsman. As Hartland noted: “Ponsford possessed a similarly insatiable appetite for big scores, once recording 2183 runs in thirteen consecutive first-class innings at an average of 167, but also a weakness against the fastest bowling, ruthlessly exploited by Larwood.” That would go against Ponsford being rated alongside the true greats despite Wyatt’s generous off-the-cuff remark. Indeed, Ponsford floundered in the Bodyline series, though he did score a brave 85 in the infamous Adelaide Test after Woodfull and Oldfield had been hit.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).