While Bradman was making waves in
George Headley burst on the scene on the other side of the world, in . He
came to be known as the ‘Black Bradman’. His is quite a remarkable saga.
Bradman apart, only three men have averaged sixty in a complete Test career of
reasonable duration - South African southpaw Graeme Pollock 60.97, Headley
60.83 and Herbert Sutcliffe 60.73. Michael Hussey appears to be positioning
himself between Bradman and these luminaries, but his average dipped to just above 51. Headley’s achievements are all the more creditable because Jamaica West Indies then were only taking their first tentative
steps in the Test arena. About nine months younger than Bradman, Headley made a
more dramatic entry in Test cricket, hitting 176 in the second innings of his
debut Test against England
in 1929-30. He relished English bowling, cracking a hundred in each innings,
114 and 112, of his third Test at Bridgetown Georgetown in
the team’s maiden triumph, and a double century, 223, in his fourth Test, on
home turf at .
The colonial masters were humbled, returning with the four-Test series drawn
1-1. It was a tremendous initiation at the highest level, 703 runs at an
average of 87.87. No wonder the happy people of sunny Kingston Caribbean
called Bradman the ‘White Headley’.
In the testing 1930-31 tour Down Under, Headley notched up hundreds in the Brisbane and Sydney Tests, encountering Bradman for the only time in his career. Bradman himself scored 223 at
Headley continued to flay Brisbane ’s
bowlers. A big hundred - 169 not out - at Old Trafford in the 1933 series was
followed by his top score of 270 not out, inevitably at England , in 1934. For the second time in
Tests, Headley hit a century in each innings, 106 and 107, this time in the
hallowed arena of Lord’s in 1939. Len Hutton was an unabashed admirer of Headley, as he wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket: “Headley rightly
had a devoted following. No one admired him more than I did, as I fielded at
Lord’s in 1939 when he scored faultless centuries in both innings on a losing
side. For years he WAS the West Indies batting, and he has to be mentioned in
the same breath as Bradman (the ‘white Headley’ according to Jamaicans), Kingston Hammond and .
Clarrie Grimmett described him as ‘the greatest on-side player ever’. (He was)
one of cricket’s master batsmen who had never failed in a series between 1929
and 1939 and, as a scorer, was second only to Bradman.” Hobbs
Just before the Second World War broke out, Headley had scored 2135 runs at an average of 66.71 in 19 Tests. Thereafter he played one Test in each of three different series upto 1953, managing only another 55 runs.
Upto the war, rarely has a team depended so much on one batsman as the
did on Headley. He scored a quarter of their runs, two per cent more than
Bradman did for .
Strong on the back foot, he relished hitting past mid-on and handled the bad
wickets deftly. He brought fresh fragrance of Australia Caribbean
flair to the international game, a pioneer in the long line of inherently
gifted batsmen from those distant pristine islands.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).