Sunday, March 27, 2016

Don Bradman, the only captain to win a five-Test series after being down 0-2. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

After a near-death experience at the end of the tour to England in 1934, Don Bradman appeared on the Test arena only in the home Ashes series in 1936-37 as captain.  Australia promptly lost the first two Tests and there were question marks over his own form too. Reproduced below are excerpts from my book ‘Don’s Century’ about this landmark series, which saw a feat that has never been repeated again:  

Bradman was due to appear for South Australia in 1934-35 as he had taken up employment in Adelaide. But this serious illness caused him to miss the entire season which he spent in convalescence. He also opted out of the tour to South Africa in 1935-36. Happily, though, not only did he begin to play for, and captain, South Australia, but was also back to his usual run-making ways. To give but one example of the ‘Bradman effect’, collections from the turnstiles at the Adelaide Oval soared by more than a hundred percent, whereas the receipts at the Sydney Cricket Ground, his erstwhile home venue, plummeted to half.

The Don blazed to 357 against Victoria, and 369 versus Tasmania. In eight first-class matches during the season he notched up 1173 runs at an average of 130.33 with 4 hundreds. South Australia lifted the Sheffield Shield, being unbeaten through the season. There was a huge sigh of relief and a yelp of joy from his legion of fans. The reconditioned run machine, serviced, oiled and tuned, was again cruising effortlessly in overdrive.

This was indeed a new era. Bradman was named captain of Australia for the 1936-37 Ashes series at home. It was a new look side with the stalwarts of the past decade and more, including the two previous skippers Woodfull and Richardson, top-quality strokeplayers Ponsford and Kippax, the great leg-spinner Grimmett (who blamed Bradman for having him dropped) and paceman Wall, gone. That was a combined experience of 160 Tests, no mean figure considering that Test matches were not played so frequently then. Leading England was The Don’s good friend, the genial Gubby Allen, who was also knighted later for his services to cricket.

Bradman became the first captain to win a five-Test series after being down 0-2. It was a titanic struggle, a tribute to his amazing batting skills, concentration and determination, strength of mind and acumen. He led from the front, sweeping aside the English advance like a raging tornado, stamping his suzerainty with knocks of 270, 212 and 169 in the last three victorious Tests. All this, while leading a depleted side with many untested youngsters, himself returning to the Test arena after a near-death experience. What would you call that, if not one of the most inspiring stories of the sporting arena? Bradman was a fighter all the way. As he said in an interview at the end of his career, “I can never remember taking the field in any match without setting out to win.” He had now firmly entrenched himself as The Don of cricket, unquestionably and irrevocably.

To those who hold the view that statistics are misleading, one would only suggest that they take a look at the figures of this series, and Bradman’s batting record in particular. His aggregate of 810 is still the highest by a captain in a Test series. Nobody else on either side got to 500, and that included the likes of McCabe, Hammond and Leyland. After Bradman’s average of 90, these three luminaries registered between 58.50 and 54.55 per innings. That really sums up the mark Bradman left on the series, and the game as a whole. Spin was Australia’s forte, with O’Reilly, as usual, and the chinaman specialist Fleetwood-Smith, picking up 44 wickets between them. England followed the opposite course, Voce and Allen sharing 43 wickets. Yet everything pales in comparison with the great turnaround in the series wrought by Bradman’s magic wand, his run-hungry willow. No wonder Gubby Allen accepted in one of his letters home, “The Australian XI is simply Bradman and no-one else.”

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email
Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla.)

Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:   
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6   
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3   
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0   
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110 001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567.