ASHES: Will England Ever Face A Challenge As Potent As Sir Don Bradman?
As we approach another edition of the oldest test series in history - Ashes and the cricket fans around the world are awaiting the wonders one would get to witness in this oldest cricket rivalry. However, one batter's name comes first & foremost whenever Ashes are discussed - Sir Donald Bradman.
In his illustrious career from 1928 - 1948, he played 52 matches and scored 6,996 runs in 80 innings. 'Sir Don' smashed 29 centuries, with a top score of 334. He has a magnificent average of 99.94. However, out of these 6,996 runs, he scored 5,028 runs against England, with 19 centuries in 63 innings (37 matches) averaging 89.79. Allan Border, another legend, has scored 3,548 runs against England while Sir Gary Sobers has scored 3,214 runs in 36 matches. This record is enough to understand the calibre of Sir Don Bradman.
Bradman had a different identity in the cricketing world, and whenever he competed in the Ashes, the audience would term the competition as 'England vs Bradman'. Bradman boasts of the best performance in a bilateral series between two particular teams. Even though his average against England is 89.79, less than his career average of 99.94, it's still better than any other batter.
When Bradman played his first game against England at Brisbane in 1928, he had played just 10 first-class matches. He was able to score just 18 and 1 and was consequently removed from the playing XI. He made his comeback at Melbourne and smashed 79 & 112 runs. This was the jump-off point for Don Bradman and started breaking records without looking back. Not only as a batter, he never lost a series against England as a skipper as well.
One topic which is inevitable while discussing Don Bradman & England - 'bodyline'. In Ashes 1928-29, Don Bradman smacked 468 runs in 4 tests, and in Ashes 1930 he scored 974 runs in 5 test matches. The next two test series he played were against West Indies & South Africa and he scored 447 runs & 806 runs in 5 tests each respectively.
England was to tour Australia in 1932-33, and they had only one primary challenge - how to limit Don Bradman? The tourists knew that if Don Bradman achieves his rhythm, the Ashes is as good as lost. In a quest to face this obstacle, the English team decided to try something different. Douglas Jardine was handed the captaincy of the England team, and along with team manager Pelham Warner, Jardine used the traditional 'leg theory' on short length balls. This strategy was embodied by Nottinghamshire pacer Harold Larwood & Yorkshire pacer Bill Bowes.
In the history of cricket, it is mentioned several times that this strategy of 'leg theory' with short-pitched deliveries restricted Don Bradman from scoring a flurry of runs but what isn't mentioned is Bradman wasn't completely focused on cricket at that time. He was suffering from a sickness that even the doctors had failed to identify. At the same time, he was in a tussle with the Australian Cricket Board - the board had stopped Bradman from publishing a column in the Syndey Sun newspaper. This placed Bradman in more difficulties as he had already signed a 2-year contract with the newspaper. The situation was such that Don Bradman prioritized the column more than playing the series and was ready to withdraw from the Ashes. All the losses were to land on Cricket Australia's head, and so the newspaper released Bradman from the contract without imposing any penalty.
Amongst all this, the question remains - was Donald Bradman in the right mood to participate in the Ashes? Before the test match, Don Bradman registered a disappointing average of 17.16 in 3 first-class matches. The England team had tried the 'leg theory in just one of these matches.
Don Bradman didn't play the first Test at Sydney, and rumours had it that he was going through a nervous breakdown at the time. Even though he wasn't playing the match, England used the 'body line' tactic and won the match. This was perceived by the Australian audience with only one solution - to counter the body line, Bradman needs to make a comeback. He's the only one who can dominate this dangerous bowling attack. Don Bradman returned for the second Test at Melbourne. Bradman managed 396 runs in 4 matches, averaging 56.57 - his lowest runs and average in a series. Even though Bradman was short in height, he managed to ignore injuries on a pitch where many batters bled. This series disrupted not only the cricketing relations but also the political relations between these two countries.
England won the series and then paid a heavy price. After this series, Sir Don Bradman smashed 3,190 runs averaging 91.14 with 12 centuries. English team would be thanking their stars that they won't have to face a 'Bradman' ever.
Original Article by Charanpal Singh Sobti
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