Not all were convinced that Don Bradman would succeed in England with his cross batted technique. Percy Fender, in particular, had predicted that he would not get a run in the country. The 21-year-old played his first match on English soil on April 30, 1930 and announced himself by scoring 236. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the day that saw Wilfred Rhodes confide to his county colleague that he had just witnessed the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.
Landmarks on the way
His first overseas venture had started with an eventful few weeks.
Just before the Orford crossed the equator, the 21-year-old Don Bradman had defeated Alec Hurwood 6-1, 7-5 in the final of deck tennis. The traditional stop at Ceylon had resulted in visits to ancient Buddhist temples and a solitary cricket match in which he had been dismissed hit-wicket for the first time in his career.
The ship had proceeded to Suez and young Bradman had opted to stay away from the dance floor. However, he had been game enough to entertain the cricketers and their co-passengers with masterly recitals on the piano.
In Cairo and nearby Gizeh, he had visited the Sphinx, the Pyramids and the famous Mosque of Mohammad Ali. A tour of Cairo bazaars had been followed by his one and only attempt at riding a camel. In this one respect, The Don was no better than his peers. Almost all the Australians got on a camel. None of them went back for more.
For the bad sailors, which included the young Bradman, the tour from Naples to the Channel was mercifully overland. The youthful master visited the Vatican City, St Peter’s, the grave of Keats in the Old Cemetery at Rome, and his young eyes peered quizzically at the Coliseum. The most bizarre journey was perhaps through the dark labyrinthine passages of the catacombs of St Sebastian — when the cricketers followed a medievally clad monk, each team member carrying aloft a lighted taper, to view the stone coffins and heaps of bleached bones.
He went on to see La Scala, Milan, and moved up to France and viewed Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Outside the Elysee Palace Hotel in Paris, the young Stan McCabe poked him in the ribs and pointed to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées that stretched out in front of them. McCabe said, “Bradman, you could make 490 not out right there in the middle of the road, and nobody in Paris would be the least impressed.”
From Wembley to Worcester
The team reached England on April 23, having spent the previous day sightseeing in Paris before catching the boat across the channel. The first night in London was spent at Sir Gilbert Scott’s luxurious Gothic expanse, the Midland Hotel above the St Pancras Station. And within 24 hours of his arrival, Bradman was at the nets at Lord’s batting for the first time on English soil.
On Saturday, April 26, the Australians left the soft wickets of Lord’s and travelled to Wembley, lunching as guests of the Football Association (FA). After the meal they sat alongside 92,000 spectators, watching Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 2-0 in the Cup Final. Bradman would go on to attend the Cup Finals of 1934, 1938 and 1948.
Apart from the football that day, the spectators were both entertained and genuinely alarmed when the German airship Graf Zeppelin appeared over the ground, looking like a long, silver cigar, and flew dangerously low over the stadium. The crowd at Wembley could clearly see the passengers waving handkerchiefs and distinguish between the male and female travellers. A catastrophe of major proportions could have taken place.
Having spent the last few weeks visiting landmarks, Bradman now proceeded to litter the land with monuments of his own. He played his first match in England at the County Ground, New Road, in Worcester.
At the end of the 1928-29 series, Percy Fender had infamously predicted that Bradman would not get a run in England. By the end of the first day, however, the results were a tad contradictory. After the Worcestershire innings had run its short course for 131 and Archie Jackson had been dismissed for 24, Bradman had come in and batted one and a half hours to stumps, scoring 75 not out.
Peter Jackson, then only 18, was one of the few men who bowled to Bradman both on his first and last tours. According to his analysis of the 1930 Bradman: “As I first saw him walking briskly to the wicket he was a small, compact and wiry man who soon proved that he was very quick on his feet, that he picked up the length and flight of each delivery in almost the first few feet. In his early style he was decidedly unorthodox but very sure. None of the old English ‘straight bat’ type. He rarely hit the ball in the air and his runs came all around the wicket. Although two successive deliveries may have been almost identical, that did not mean they would be hit in the same direction.”
On the evidence of the first 75 runs, HJ Henley wrote in the Daily Mail, “Bradman, as a newcomer, was especially interesting. He seems to have every stroke in the cricket book, from the long handled drive to the short-armed hook, and he revives the almost lost art of the late cut. Also, he jumps out to slow bowling.”
Of course, by Bradman’s gargantuan standards, the 75 had just been a glimpse of what was to follow. The next morning he took his score to 236, amassed in only 276 minutes. The Worcestershire attack was not the best in England, but a fairly decent one. Fred Root opened the bowling with Jackson and they were followed by HA ‘Barmy’ Gilbert. The latter, an old Oxford Blue and ornithologist, had finished second to Root in the previous season for the county. Bradman dominated all of them and simply murdered Gilbert. The poor man never played First-Class cricket again.
Along with Fender, even some of the old Australian cricketers were not convinced about Bradman’s technique to deal with the vagaries of English pitches. Yet, some luminaries inhabiting the highest cricketing echelons were instant converts. The great Wilfred Rhodes watched the innings at Worcester and confided to his old Yorkshire colleague Abe Waddington, “Abe, I have just seen the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.” On that day Waddington had dared to refute the judgement of Rhodes saying, “Nonsense. Never again will there be anybody as good as Jack Hobbs.” Years later, however, Waddington recounted, “It was not long before I was convinced that Rhodes was right. Bradman is the greatest batsman I am ever likely to see.”
Beyond all boundaries
However, Bradman was not looking at success in one innings. On the first evening, the Australians attended a reception at the Guildhall at the invitation of the Mayor of Worcester and the regular Worcestershire captain, the Hon. John Coventry. Beau Vincent of The Times recalled coming across Bradman during the party, “He was sitting in front of the fireplace in the public writing room, alone and thinking.” He excused himself at nine and went to bed.
When Fred Root arrived at New Road on May Day, Bradman was about to resume his innings at his overnight score of 75. Now he approached Root and asked, “Does George Geary turn the ball a lot on English wickets?” He was already planning his next innings against Leicestershire.
After Australia had won at Worcester by an innings, they faced Leicestershire at Aylestone Road on a ‘tailor-made Geary wicket’. Bradman batted five hours and fifteen minutes for 185 not out, rain robbing him of another certain double hundred. In his first 10 hours of batting in England, the young man had scored 421 runs for a single dismissal.
Worcestershire 131 (Clarrie Grimmett 4 for 38; Alan Fairfax 4 for 36) and 196 (Cyril Walters 44, Fred Root 48; Clarrie Grimmett 5 for 46) lost to Australia 492 for 8 decl. (Bill Woodfull 133, Don Bradman 236; George Brook 4 for 148) by an innings and 165 runs.
(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://twiter.com/senantix)