Don Bradman’s iconic average remains 99.94, falling short of the 100 mark because of the final innings duck at The Oval. While that is well known, Arunabha Sengupta writes that the 100 average could have been achieved in the previous Test at Leeds, but for a magnanimous act by the legend.
The Hollies Hurdle
The Oval, 1948. All that took place has gone down as legend of epic proportions in the annals of cricket history.
In the middle, England captain Norman Yardley arranged his men to give the great man three cheers as he strode out to bat for the last time. To his teammates he remarked, “We’ll give him three cheers when he gets on the square, but that’s all we’ll give him. Then bowl him out.”
Brisk as ever Don Bradman took his guard and prepared to face Eric Hollies. His collection of runs stood at 6996 from 69 completed innings, with an average that stood staggeringly at 101.39. He went back to the first ball he faced, and played it to Allan Watkins at silly mid-off.
Hollies walked back to bowl the next ball from the Vauxhall End. John Arlott, behind the microphone, described the moment to perfection. “Two slips, a silly mid-off, and a forward short leg close to him as Hollies pitches the ball up slowly and …he’s bowled…Bradman bowled Hollies … nought …and what do you say under these circumstances? I wonder if you see the ball very clearly in your last Test in England, on a ground where you’ve played some of the biggest cricket in your life and where the opposing side has just stood round you and given you three cheers and the crowd has clapped you all the way to the wicket. I wonder if you see the ball at all.”
Hence, back walked the man for a duck in his final innings. His collection of runs remained 6,996 while his average inched down to 99.94. He did not get the four runs required for the 100 mark.The crowd rose in deafening applause yet again. And Hollies turned to Jack Crapp lamenting, “Best f***ing ball I’ve bowled all season, and they’re clapping him.”
In the press box, the reactions of Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton, neither of them quite the president of the Don Bradman fan club, left something to be desired.
As noted, all this is well known, repeated oft enough in the many accounts of the day.
What is not so frequently analysed is the role of young Neil Harvey in the final figure of 99.94.
The Harvey Holdup
Let us take a step backwards in time and northward in direction, and head to Leeds — 18 days prior to that epochal August afternoon.
It was the final day at Headingley and Bradman was playing another of his many supreme innings on the ground. Yardley had declared the second England innings at 365 for eight, leaving Australia 404 runs to get in 344 minutes. It was not the easiest of wickets. When Jim Laker turned one sharply across Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett at the other end grinned widely at the pavilion and measured off a foot on his bat. It was an indication that the pitch was a spinner’s paradise, and it was turning a foot.
However, after Hassett’s dismissal to the part-time Chinaman offerings of Denis Compton, Morris and Bradman got together to forge a partnership of a lifetime. Sure, the ball turned, but the English bowling was appalling and the catching ridiculous. Bradman was missed multiple times, by Jack Crapp at slip, and Yardley at point. Later he was let off by Godfrey Evans as he charged down the wicket and missed a ball from Laker. Morris had lives as well.
Laker bowled juicy full-tosses, and Yardley turned to the wrist spin of Compton and Len Hutton. The former took a wicket, induced an edge and briefly looked like winning the game for England, but he was an occasional bowler after all. In the end his 15 overs cost 82 in exchange of a wicket. Hutton sent down rank half volleys, and was taken for 30 off his four overs, Morris picking five boundaries off two overs at one stage. The runs came in torrents.
By lunch Australia were 121 for one. By four o’clock they stood at 250 for one, Morris 133, Bradman 92. at ten past four Bradman reached the 29th and final century of his career, his fourth at Leeds — which contained two triple hundreds. It had taken just 147 minutes. Soon after that, Laker dropped Morris at square leg off Compton. at tea, Australia required just 112 to win in 107 minutes, nine wickets in hand.
Morris finally departed at 358, having scored 182 with as many as 33 hits to the fence. Keith Miller came in and tried to finish the game with a few big hits, but missed one from Ken Cranston and was trapped plumb.
Eight runs were required when Harvey came out to bat. The 19-year-old had scored a fascinating century in the first innings, holding the innings together, enabling Australia to remain in the game after the hosts had put up 496. Bradman was batting on 169.
The following over started, and Yardley bowled to the Australian captain. By this time the great man could hit the ball anywhere, at will. He cut a boundary to take the score to 400. It was to be his final scoring stroke in Test cricket. Another boundary and the victory would have been achieved with Bradman’s bat doing the honours. What’s more, his aggregate in Test cricket would have reached 7000. Yes, it would have meant an average of 100, the duck at The Oval notwithstanding.
Yet, Bradman proceeded to pat the next few deliveries back. He left it for the young Harvey to finish things off.
Even Fingleton, the man whose anti-Bradman tirades often turned more than a tad too tedious, whose delight at the master‘s final innings blob was considered in poor taste by eye witnesses, and who would later go on to form an all-time world eleven without the legend — even he had the following to write in his much acclaimed Brightly Fades the Don:
“It would have been fitting had Bradman made the winning run in this game, but, most unselfishly, he worked the strike so that Harvey could make the winning run because of the lad’s great deeds in the first innings.”
It was Harvey who finished the match with a boundary off Cranston, cutting short his follow-through as he whirled around in youthful enthusiasm to grab a stump as souvenir. A delighted Bradman ran down the wicket to pat him on the back.
Hence, the master went into the final Test with his tally on 6996 and there it stayed.
While looking back at the day when Hollies sent the googly past his famous blade on to the woodwork, not many remember that all that would have been inconsequential with respect to the iconic average had the greatest batsman of all times not left the last rites of Leeds in the hands of his rookie batsman.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)