Ashes 100-1 Countdown: 56 Days Until the Ashes…
David Green aka The Reverse Sweep considers why the Don is considered the greatest ever batsman to play the wonderful game.
“There is a genuine case for saying that Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest player of any sport that ever plied his trade” Simon Barnes, The Times
This is certainly a view that we subscribe to at the Reverse Sweep where Bradman sits above Ali in our pantheon of sporting champions. So it was a rudimentary decision to select The Don at first drop in our All-Time Australian Ashes XI yesterday.
Indeed, as Bradman is statistically at least 40% better than any other batsman that has played test cricket, one post doesn’t seem enough to justify The Don’s supremacy. So here are ten reasons (we could have come up with at least 99.94) why Bradman is not only the greatest Ashes cricketer ever, but the best that has ever played the game that God would play.
Let’s start with the obvious. Bradman’s astounding average is one that will never be beaten. The doomsayers who argue that batting was easier in Bradman’s era seem to conveniently forget that this was a time of uncovered wickets, which rendered pitches unplayable at times. They also forget that several other great batsmen who played at the same time like Hobbs, Hammond, Sutcliffe, Headley and Hutton all averaged at least 40 runs less. Can the supposed great batsman of today say the same? Case closed.
2. Making the difference in Ashes deciders
The 1930, 1934 and 1936/37 Ashes all went down to the wire where it was winner takes all in the final test of each series. All were timeless tests, so playing for the draw was out. As it turned out, it was Bradman who was the decisive performer each time.
In 1930, Bradman completed his miraculous first series in England by hitting a courageous 232 to enable Australia to win by an innings. Then in 1934, he hit 244 in an awe-inspiring 451 run partnership with Bill Ponsford as Australia yet again scored a massive victory. Even Bradman’s nemesis Douglas Jardine was moved to say that the Don’s innings:
“was as good as any of his past prolific efforts with the bat, and that is saying a great deal.”
Finally in his first series as captain in 1936/37, Australia found themselves 2-0 down. Bradman hit 270 in the third test, then 212 at Adelaide in the fourth and finally 169 in the decider so that for the only time in test history, a side came back from 2-0 down to win a five test rubber.
These feats proved that Bradman was not only a statistical phenomenon, but also a cerebral one.
Back in the day when touring sides actually played competitive matches against the counties, Australia traditionally started with a game against Worcestershire at New Road. Naturally it was important for the tourists to make a positive start and no-one understood this more than Bradman. In four tour openers, Bradman hit 236 in 1930, 206 in 1934, 258 in 1938 and finally 107 in 1948 in front of 15,000 appreciative supporters. Incredible.
If the Don showed a liking for New Road, that was nothing to what he produced in his four tests at Headingley. He started quietly with a then test record score of 334 (including 300 runs in a day) in 1930, before repeating the trick with 304 in 1934. Bradman then returned to mortality in 1938 with just 103, before producing a heavenly 173 not out on his final appearance at Leeds in 1948, which enabled Australia to chase down 404 for victory. As Geoff Boycott would probably say that’s proper cricket that is.
Which other cricketer has had a whole team’s strategy designed to thwart him? That was the dubious accolade paid to Bradman by Jardine in the infamous 1932/33 series. The strategy worked in the sense that England won the series 4-1, but was Bradman nullified? By his standards, yes, as he had to make do with a measly series average of 56.57. But this is a figure that any other batsman in history would have been delighted with.
6. Make mine a double
Bradman’s hunger for runs was astounding, his powers of concentration remarkable and the results mind-blowing. He hit 29 hundreds in 80 test innings, which means that he hit a hundred at a rate of better than every three visits to the crease. By comparison Sachin Tendulkar, who has the most test centuries with 48 in 276 innings, only scores a ton every five and a half innings. And unlike pretty much every other batsmen in history, The Don wasn’t content with just a hundred hitting a test record 12 double hundreds including two triples.
7. Captain Extraordinaire
Bradman was also a fantastic captain losing only three tests out of 24 and never losing a series. As we wrote earlier he actually lost his first two tests as captain, with the only other defeat coming in the 1938 Ashes at The Oval where Len Hutton hit 364. The Don didn’t get an opportunity to respond as he had been carried from the field injured. If he had, we wouldn’t have bet against him beating Hutton’s new mark. Bradman never lost another test as captain and bowed out at the zenith by leading the 1948 Invincibles – perhaps the greatest test side in the history of the game. And did the captaincy affect Bradman’s batting? Not a bit of it. He actually averaged 101.51 with 14 hundreds from his 24 tests as captain.
By the time Bradman finished playing, he held or had held most of the batting records in test cricket. Although some of these have now been surpassed by batsmen who have played twice or three times as many tests, some still remain such as the never to be beaten average, the most runs in a series, most test double hundreds and most runs in Ashes contests. One can only imagine how many records would still be in The Don’s possession had World War II not stolen six years of his career.
How many other cricketers give their name to a phrase that celebrates outstanding performances by others – and not always limited to cricket either. That is positively Bradmanesque.
10. The standard bearer of a young nation
As a young nation, Australia was still searching for its identity and to assert itself on the world stage as Bradman began his phenomenal career. The Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression hit Australia harder than most and it was the feats of Bradman that helped Australians find the inspiration to continue, recover and ultimately flourish. This may even be Bradman’s greatest epitaph.
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