Don Bradman © Getty Images
Don Bradman © Getty Images

Don Bradman scored a record second triple hundred at Headingley on July 23, 1934. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at yet another emphatic performance by the greatest batsman in the history of Test cricket.

This article is about an Ashes innings of Don Bradman in 1934 when he scored a dominating hundred, which makes it significantly different from his previous Ashes innings that involved scoring dominating hundreds, and even more different from his subsequent Ashes innings which involved, well, scoring dominating hundreds.

The series began on a familiar note as the wily Bill O’Reilly crushed England with an eleven-wicket haul at Trent Bridge, supported by the guile of Clarrie Grimmett who took eight. England lost the Test by 238 runs.

To England’s credit, however, they came back strongly thanks to Hedley Verity’s 15 for 104 at on a rain-affected pitch at Lord’s, winning by an innings. They scored 627 in a high-scoring draw at Old Trafford, and seemed quite capable of retaining the Ashes — despite playing sans Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. The teams then moved to the fourth Test at Headingley.

None of these was the most important news, however. What caught the attention of all and sundry was the fact that Bradman was not in the best of forms: he had scored 133 from five innings in the series at 26.60 without reaching forty even once. His performance was worse than even in the Bodyline series, and quite a few eyebrows were raised.

A slightly out-of-form Bradman thus went to Headingley to take on an England side buzzing with optimism. True, he had started the season with an emphatic 206 against Worcestershire at New Road but the runs had petered out as the season had progressed. There was a match-winning 160 against Middlesex at Lord’s, but the centuries came sporadically at best: the usual downpour of runs was yet to come.

The last match before the fourth Test was against a very strong Yorkshire at Bramall Lane. Against an attack that boasted of Bill Bowes and Verity, Bradman showed ominous signs of returning to his best with a dominant 140, the last 90 runs coming in 45 minutes. Bowes took seven wickets, Australia managed only a slender eight-run lead, but the Englishmen had probably realised what had gone wrong.

Day One: Wickets, wickets, wickets…

Cyril Walters and the debutant Walter Keeton gave England a decent start after Bob Wyatt won the toss and decided to bat. Wyatt himself had later revealed that he had thought the track was a featherbed, and the openers did a decent job by putting up 43 in 55 minutes for the opening stand.

After the openers departed in quick succession Wally Hammond and Patsy Hendren took things in their own hands, adding fifty for the third wicket. Thing looked in order with England on 135 for 2, all set for a big score. The three leg-spinners — O’Reilly, Grimmett, and Arthur Chipperfield — all did the second-best job possible on a flat track: they stuck to bowling a steady line and length and did not allow Hammond and Hendren to get away with it.

Ultimately it was Tim Wall who broke the stand by bowling Hammond; Hendren was bowled by Chipperfield almost immediately, and despite some fight from Wyatt and Maurice Leyland, England were bowled out for 200 from a stage when they were 168 for 4. The tail was no match for Grimmett who finished with 4 for 57, while O’Reilly picked up 3 and Chipperfield 2.

Bowes and Hammond began proceedings for England, and just before stumps Wyatt brought on Tommy Mitchell to give Bowes a change of ends. Bowes struck almost immediately, running through Bill Brown’s defence; Bert Oldfield, promoted as night-watchman, was caught behind in Bowes’ next over, and Bill Woodfull, the Australian captain, fell two balls later for a duck.

Stumps were called with Woodfull’s wicket: Australia had slumped to 39 for 3 from 37 without loss; Bill Ponsford returned, unbeaten on 22, and England had every reason to believe that they had come back into the match.

Neville Cardus had a discussion with Bradman that evening. Bradman told the author that he wanted an early night as the team required a double-hundred from him. The author reminded him that The Don had scored 334 in his last outing at the ground. Surely the law of averages would not permit another big innings at that ground? Bradman responded with “I don’t believe in the law of averages”.

Day Two: Bradman and Ponsford decimate England

Bradman walked out with Ponsford the next day. Bowes ran in to bowl the two remaining balls of the over he had left unfinished the previous night. Both balls were pitched up outside the off-stump: Bradman had moved across, flicked his wrists, and had driven both between the bowler and mid-on for boundaries.

He returned at stumps a few hours later. Ponsford had fallen at 5.50 PM after adding 388 runs in 330 minutes. It still remains the highest stand for any wicket at HeadingleyIt also remains the record fourth-wicket Ashes partnership.

After a cautious first session the duo took 18 from the first three overs after lunch. That set the pace. Verity tried to stop the acceleration by bowling a nagging line but Bradman eventually broke the shackles, on-driving the Yorkshireman for four. The English score of 200 — also the cut-off for the new ball — was overtaken with that stroke, and the new ball was taken with Bradman on 99.

Bradman eventually reached his hundred in 185 minutes with a leg-glance off Bowes. A relatively cautious Ponsford looked edgy on 99, almost chopping one from Bowes on to his stumps. He eventually edged Hopwood for a brace to bring up his hundred in 250 minutes.

The 200-partnership came up in 210 minutes; neither batsman was still willing to take risks, but Bradman’s return to form meant that he did not need to take risks to accelerate. Then Ponsford broke into a flurry of strokes, and hit Leyland for two fours to go past Bradman. Bradman, perhaps incited by the challenge, off-drove Hopwood for four to win the lead back. In doing so the partnership went past the Ashes record for the fourth wicket — the 243 set by Bradman and Archie Jackson at The Oval four years back.

Then Bradman cut loose, hitting Mitchell and Leyland without any kind of mercy, and bringing up his 150 in 255 minutes. He square-cut Mitchell furiously to bring up Australia’s 300 in 295 minutes and left Ponsford far behind; tea was taken at 320 for 3 with Ponsford on 137 and Bradman on 169.

The crowd had poured in meanwhile, reaching an estimated count of 40,000. Ponsford soon achieved his highest Test score (going past the 181 against West Indies at SCG in 1930-31) and brought up his 150 in 335 minutes. Bradman reached his 200 in 295 minutes soon, and the two went past Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes’ 323 at MCG in 1911-12, setting a new Ashes record for any wicket.

On 154 Ponsford gave a half-chance to Wyatt off Verity; the English captain could not hold on to it, and Ponsford got a well-earned reprieve; he did not last long, though. The 413-ball 181 spanning over six-and-a-half hours and studded with 19 fours ended tragically as Ponsford tried to pull a short one from Verity and trod on to the stumps.

Despite his cautious approach it had to be admitted that Ponsford batted with authority: true, he was dropped by Mitchell at cover-point when he was 70 before being dropped by Wyatt, but these two blemishes apart, he was generally aesthetic in his clinical pursuit for runs. He was precise in his late cuts and looked busy when he turned the ball towards leg, and scored runs generally at a brisk pace, as the day progressed.

Bradman was another matter altogether. He gave a chance when he was 71 that Len Hopwood grassed — but generally dominated the English attack in a way that only he could. The Yorkshire crowd could not help but cheer even as they sat helplessly, watching Bradman take the Test away from their grasp; they saw the local bowlers Bowes and Verity (and Leyland) being clobbered; and yet they stood up in unison as Bradman passed one landmark after another.

Pelham Warner wrote of the innings in Daily Telegraph: “Bradman has been accused of fireworks cricket and giving his wicket away but he was safety itself on Saturday. He never took the least risk, yet his stroke was wonderful in power and versatility. He certainly did not cut much, but his forcing back-play, off-driving, and hooking were never surpassed by [Victor] Trumper, [Charlie] Macartney, Ranji [KS Ranjitsinhji], Hobbs, or Hammond. The most impressive part of his innings was forcing balls just short of length past the bowlers or wide of mid-on towards the boundary. A purist might urge that his bat was occasionally not straight, but ordinary rules do not govern a player who is perhaps the greatest batting genius the game has produced.”

Unlike Ponsford, Bradman scored the majority of runs in front of the wickets; he used his feet to excellent effect, hit two sixes off Verity and Hopwood, and added to Hopwood’s misery as he took 15 from an over off him. Barring those occasional risks he never failed to keep the ball on the ground and finished with a 370-minute 271 at stumps (he had hit 39 fours in addition to those 2 sixes) with Stan McCabe on 18 for company. The pair had added 67 in the last 35 minutes and Australia were 494 for 6, 90 runs ahead.

At the end of the day’s play Douglas Jardine wrote in Evening Standard that England were “out-selected, out-batted, out-bowled, out-fielded, and out-manoeuvred for two days.”

Day Three: Bradman misses record

As play resumed after the rest day Bowes bowled beautifully from the Kirkstall End, giving the batsmen a torrid time. He found Bradman’s edge but Verity dropped the chance at third slip. Bradman was on 280 at this point. Bowes then hit McCabe’s pad twice, and eventually broke through his defence.

Len Darling provided some resistance, but all eyes were on Bradman as he approached his triple-hundred: he eventually reached the landmark in 415 minutes with an edged boundary off Bowes. Bowes, however, had the last laugh when a pitched-up delivery made its way through Bradman’s forward defence and pegged back the middle-stump. It was the first time Bowes had dismissed Bradman since the great man’s golden duck at MCG during the Bodyline series.

Bradman had scored 304 in 430 minutes; he had faced 473 balls and had hit 43 fours and 2 sixes. He could not go past Hammond’s 336 or even his own 334, but it was a fantastic innings nevertheless. He became the first batsman to score 2 triple-hundreds and is still the only one to have scored 2 overseas triple-hundreds.

Bowes bowled beautifully meanwhile and wrapped up the innings with figures of 6 for 142 after a marathon 50 overs. Australia collapsed from 550 for 5 to 584. Jardine summed it up: “The wind veered, and enabled [Bill] Bowes to bowl downhill with a slightly favouring wind from the on-side. He bowled really pluckily, and refused to lose heart.”

A furious RC Robertson-Glasgow lashed out at the English selectors in Morning Post: ”England has been sent into the field with an attack, intended apparently for some Utopia where it rains and hails, and then the Sun shines strongly.”

England, requiring 384 runs to make Australia bat again, went in at 1 PM. Wall bowled at a brisk pace, and Woodfull brought on Grimmett after a two-over spell from McCabe. Grimmett beat Keeton with a leg-break in the first ball of his third over. Lunch was taken with that dismissal — with England on 28 for 1.

England looked in control of the Test shortly after lunch with Walters and Hammond batting well. Walters, especially, was at his wristy best, while Hammond played the role of the sheet-anchor, helping Walters to pile up runs. Soon, however, Hammond exploded, hitting Grimmett for three fours in an over. He was run out as he was too late off the block after pushing Grimmett to mid-on, and was run out by Wall.

Walters was then cleaned up by O’Reilly but Hendren and Wyatt hung in, adding 65 runs in 105 minutes before Wyatt was bowled by Grimmett. O’Reilly and Grimmett toiled hard but they could not break the fifth partnership. Play was, however, called off early due to rain. Hendren ended the day on 42, Leyland supporting him with a grim 22 not out. England were 188 for 4, still 196 runs behind.

CB Fry lamented in Evening Standard later that day: “Nothing I can see can prevent England from answering the huge score for the loss of three to five wickets. We have half a dozen batsmen who are worth centuries against this bowling. Why, then, did fortune grin at us? Because a cricket eleven only realises its power when it is a team.”

Day Four: Rain ends Aussie quest

Overnight heavy rain and a heavy morning shower had ruled out a full day’s play. Immediately upon resumption, however, O’Reilly trapped Hendren leg-before; Les Ames held fort but eventually fell to Grimmett. England were 213 for 6 now with only Leyland standing between Australia and a well-earned victory. O’Reilly and Grimmett looked menacing as a combination, and the fielders got closer and closer with every passing over.

Then, just before 1 PM, a thunderstorm broke out. Wisden called it “one of the shortest but heaviest rainstorms seen at a cricket match for years”. Any further play was ruled out in the Test. Australia were robbed of a well-deserved victory as England finished on 229 for 6 with Leyland on 49 and Hopwood on two.

Leyland’s 49 was the highest score by an Englishman in the Test. Grimmett and O’Reilly bowled 107.5 overs between them in the second innings picking up 5 for 160. In all Grimmett took 7 wickets from the Test, O’Reilly 5, and Chipperfield 2, which meant that 14 of the 16 wickets Australia managed went to leg-spinners.

What followed?

- England were not saved by rain for a third time in the series. Ponsford and Bradman got together again, this time putting up a 316-minute 451 for the second wicket, Ponsford scoring 266 and Bradman a 271-ball 244. Australia scored 701 and did not enforce a follow-on despite a 380-run lead. Bradman scored another 77 before Grimmett bowled Australia to an absurd 562-run victory. To his credit Bowes dismissed him in both innings and finished with a nine-wicket haul to earn a consolation of sorts.
- After the ordinary start Bradman finished the series with 758 runs at 94.75. His tour records read 2,020 at 84.16 with 7 hundreds — his worst (if that is the term) on a tour of England — as he finished off on a high with 149 not out against an England XI at Folkestone and 132 against HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI at Scarborough in his last two innings of the tour.
- Australia regained the Ashes after the Bodyline series: they did not forego it till Bradman’s retirement.

Brief scores:

England 200 (Cyril Walters 44; Clarrie Grimmett 4 for 57, Bill O’Reilly 3 for 46) and 229 for 6 decl. (Maurice Leyland 49*, Cyril Walters 45, Bob Wyatt 44, Patsy Hendren 42; Clarrie Grimmett 3 for 72) drew with Australia 584 (Don Bradman 304, Bill Ponsford 181; Bill Bowes 6 for 142, Hedley Verity 3 for 113).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42.)