Don Bradman reached 232 at The Oval on August 20, 1930. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the record-breaking innings that helped Australia regain the Ashes.
England had perfectly good reasons to be complacent during the Ashes 1930: they had, after all, given Australia a sound 4-1 thrashing a year-and-a-half ago, Down Under. True, a young batsman called Don Bradman managed to score 468 runs from four Tests at 66.85 with two hundreds, but he certainly wasn’t the first man to have a great start to his career.
1st Test: Trent Bridge
Bill Woodfull’s team had succumbed meekly at Trent Bridge. It was déjà vu for the Australians: Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe added 53 and 125 in the two innings and Walter Robins scored a fifty and picked up seven wickets. The hosts won by a comfortable 95 runs on a sticky wicket that favoured them.
Bradman had scored eight in the first innings. However, in the second essay he top-scored with a cautious 287-ball 131. A collapsed ensued after his dismissal as Australia lost their last seven wickets for 106 runs.
2nd Test: Lord’s
England must have felt confident when KS Duleepsinhji’s 173 took them to 425. However, Bradman scored 254 in only 376 balls – and the worst bit was that it never felt like he could be conquered. Woodfull also scored a hundred, Bill Ponsford and Alan Kippax both recorded 80, and Australia secured a lead of 304.
England captain Percy Chapman’s resolute 121 put up a fight, but the English were no match for Clarrie Grimmett’s guile. Australia polished off the 72 required in the fourth innings, but the English probably breathed a sigh of relief when Maurice Tate dismissed Bradman for a single.
3rd Test: Headingley
To cut things short, Bradman scored 309 on Day One. He eventually finished with a world record 334 in 448 balls. Grimmett’s five-wicket haul was good enough to make England follow-on, but the hosts saved the Test thanks to a fighting performance by the batsmen.
4th Test: Old Trafford
The rain-affected fourth Test was generally an unremarkable one. Nobody scored a hundred or bagged a five-for (though Hobbs and Sutcliffe added 108) and only 18 wickets fell in 275.1 overs of bowling. Bradman was claimed by Ian Peebles for 14. So far, he had amassed 742 runs in the series.
5th Test: The Oval
It all came down to The Oval. Thanks to Bradman’s brilliance, Australia had managed to look at England in the eye throughout the series. Bradman had already attained cult status in England. The Ashes decider was also Hobbs’ last and the ticket sales soared as a result.
Australia brought in Archie Jackson for Victor Richardson. England left out Tom Goddard and Stan Nichols to include Harold Larwood and the 42-year-old ‘Dodger’ Whysall. More significantly, Chapman, their captain, was dropped, and Bob Wyatt was brought in to lead the side.
Wyatt had not played a single Test in the series and had never led England before. The decision gave rise to a lot of controversy. Wisden wrote: “With the bowling at command, [Percy] Chapman could have done little, if any, better than [Bob] Wyatt in his management of it. There can be no question, however, that the absence of Chapman’s inspiring influence in the field was felt.”
Bradman later wrote in A Farewell to Cricket, “Australia welcomed the idea, for the changing of their leader at such a critical stage suggested to us that the English selectors lacked confidence in their team.” David Frith wrote that Wyatt “received at least one threat on his life for his — or the selectors’ — temerity.”
Since it was a decisive Test, it was agreed that it would be played to a finish (in other words, it would be a ‘timeless Test’). Wyatt won a crucial toss on a bone-dry pitch and elected to bat.
Day One: Sutcliffe’s Day
Hobbs took first guard as usual and batted serenely in his trusted apprentice’s company. Runs came slowly but the illustrious pair seemed to be at ease before Tim Wall had Hobbs caught by Alan Kippax at short-leg for 47. He was applauded on his way back as Whysall made his way to the crease with the score on 68.
Wall picked up his second wicket when he trapped Whysall with the score on 97 — which brought Duleepsinhji to the crease. What followed was an exceptional display of batting. Wisden wrote that Duleepsinhji was “driving, hooking and cutting in dazzling style” and reached his 50 in 76 balls. The 50-minute partnership of 65 runs ended when Duleepsinhji was snared by Grimmett.
A minor collapse followed when Wally Hammond was bowled by Stan McCabe and Grimmett followed by bowling Maurice Leyland. The hosts had been reduced to 197 for five as Wyatt walked out to join Sutcliffe.
Sutcliffe had been a silent spectator at the other end while all the drama was going on and was batting on 66 from 255 minutes. He decided to take control with his side in trouble; he mastered Wall and Grimmett, and passed his hundred in no time. He drove with panache, playing most his shots within the V, and when anything was pitched on the leg-stump ,he flicked them to the square-leg fence. At stumps, he remained unbeaten on 138 with the reliable Wyatt on 39. They had added 119 and England had reached 316 for five.
Day Two: Woodfull and Ponsford lay foundation
Sutcliffe was eventually caught behind off Alan Fairfax for a 391-ball essay of 161 after play resumed following a rest day. He had batted for 17 minutes short of seven hours, and had hit only ten boundaries. He had found a reliable partner in Wyatt and the duo put on 170 in 155 minutes. Their running between the wickets, though nowhere in the same class as Hobbs and Sutcliffe’s, was quite exemplary.
England collapsed from 367 for six to 405 as Grimmett picked up four for 135 and Fairfax three for 52. Wyatt eventually managed an obdurate 219-ball 64, and like Sutcliffe, he hit most of his strokes in the V.
The ever-reliable George Duckworth had a nightmare beginning to the innings, dropping Woodfull on six and missing a stumping of Ponsford when he was on 23. Australia went to lunch at 36 without loss, and Duckworth again spilled Ponsford when then the batsman was on 45.
Thus let off, the duo carried on and added 159 in 159 minutes before Ponsford was bowled by Peebles on the third ball after tea. He had outscored Woodfull heavily, reaching his hundred before the captain could score fifty, and had eventually scored 110 in 203 balls with 11 fours.
There had been speculations before this Test that Ponsford was not comfortable against quality pace, especially Larwood’s. However, in this innings, he handled Larwood quite well, using the hook and the cut to great effect when the Nottinghamshire fast bowler pitched anything short.
Bad light held up play for a few minutes as Bradman walked out. Woodfull hung around, and eventually became Peebles’ second wicket as he edged one to Duckworth. He had scored a gritty 54 in 196 balls, and despite hitting only three boundaries he had, in the company of Ponsford, set the foundation of what looked like an ominous total.
Australia finished the day on 215 for two, 190 runs behind England. Bradman remained unbeaten on 27 and Kippax on 11.
Day Three: An outstanding partnership
Runs came at a brisk pace on Day Three even after Wyatt summoned Larwood and Tate to operate with the new ball. Just when it looked like the duo would take the match away from England, Peebles picked up his third wicket, having Kippax caught by Wyatt at short-leg. Jackson walked out at 232 for three.
Jackson did not have the greatest of summers. The 21-year old had failed at Headingley and had not done anything of note on the tour till then. But on this day, in the company of his old partner-in-crime, and with the knowledge that a big partnership was essential on a pitch that would definitely turn, Jackson regained his form.
The first ball from Peebles was a dramatic one. Jackson drove Peebles past mid-off and ran for what seemed to be a certain single. The frame of the 47-year-old Hobbs glided at an incredible speed, bent down, and threw the ball – all in one fluid motion; Peebles was nowhere near the stumps, and had the ball hit the woodwork, Jackson would have fallen short. Instead, he ended up collecting an overthrow.
Jackson, often accused of excessive pad-play against spin, came to his elements before lunch; he drove and pulled Peebles for two boundaries; with Bradman also joining in, Australia looked in command at lunch. Bradman was dropped by Duckworth (again) when he was on 82, but looked formidable in general. He reached his customary hundred – the fourth in the series – in an obvious manner and resumed batting.
It rained at lunch and play did not resume till 3 PM; the two youngsters ended up having a rendezvous with the Prince of Wales instead of confronting Larwood, Tate, and Peebles.
Wyatt resumed with Larwood and Tate. Pn a damp yet hard wicket Larwood bowled with pace and broke Jackson’s bat with a thunderbolt. David Frith wrote in Archie Jackson: The Keats of Cricket, “One of the Australians caused amusement by bringing him four replacements.” The reaction probably tells us a lot about the contents of a typical cricketer’s kit in 1930.
Eventually, Larwood was replaced by Peebles and Tate by Hammond. The situation changed with Hammond’s advent. A bouncer missed Jackson’s face and the next hit him on the glove; the third ball hit his wrist and knocked the bat out of his hand. However, to Australia’s aid, the light got worse and the players left the field at 3.52 PM.
There was an argument between Woodfull and Wyatt as the former wanted play to be called off for the day and the latter tried to initiate resumption. Eventually, to everyone’s surprise, Bradman and Jackson walked out at 6.25 PM, survived 13 balls, and left for stumps at 403 for three — only two runs behind England. Bradman was unbeaten on 130 and Jackson on 43.
Day Four: Bradman smashes records
Wyatt started the next day with Hammond and Peebles. Despite Jackson taking the lead with a single off Hammond, the batsmen only managed to score seven singles off the first eight overs. It rained again, and it took a while for play to resume. Jackson was stuck on 49 for some time before hooking Leyland for an all-run four after playing out the Yorkshireman for three consecutive maidens.
Bradman, however, looked in no trouble, plundering runs at will, hitting Peebles for two boundaries. Frith wrote: “[Don] Bradman cruised past his 150 [with a leg-glance off Tate], and the peacefulness of the situation was disturbed only by a raucous appeal by [George] Duckworth which seemed to startle everyone – so unrealistic was the thought that a wicket might fall.”
Tate bowled beautifully at this stage: Bradman late-cut him for four, but he came back strongly, finding Bradman’s edge that flew just out of Duckworth’s reach and then “shaved the stump” with the next ball. However, Bradman duly reached 164 and eclipsed Hammond’s series record of 905 runs in the previous Ashes. It is to be noted that Hammond’s feat took him six innings.
Then it happened. Around noon, the pitch mysteriously changed its character (“livened up almost supernaturally”, wrote Frith) and Hammond managed to extract an absurd amount of bounce off the pitch. Wyatt switched to Larwood – and the contest began.
As Aubrey Faulkner recollected, Jackson was “hit on the elbow, the jaw, the hip and several times on the thigh”. The bruises formed a black-and-blue pattern. However, he did not move away and after Hammond hit him on the knuckles, he late-cut him for four.
At the other end, Larwood bounced at Bradman — a ball that soared harmlessly over Bradman’s head. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Queensland) describes what happened next, “The next ball struck him [Bradman] on the chest, almost laying him out. Bradman appeared to be in great pain, and the game was held up for five minutes.”
Neither Bradman (unsurprisingly) nor Wisden (rather surprisingly) mentions this phase of play in details. Wisden used a single line to describe the action: “On the Wednesday morning the ball flew about a good deal, both batsmen frequently being hit on the body.”
In a nutshell, both batsmen were hit – especially by Larwood – but while Jackson showed tremendous courage in standing up to the Nottinghamshire batsman, the same did not hold true for his more famous partner. Bradman’s discomfort was clear; Duckworth was the first to notice the significance of this. The history of cricket would be changed forever.
Coming back to the Test, Jackson eventually holed out to Sutcliffe off Wyatt’s military medium-pace. He had scored a 311-ball 73 and had helped Bradman add 243 for the fourth wicket in 285 minutes. They had set a new world record fourth-wicket partnership going past the 221 added by Syd Gregory and Harry Trott at Lord’s in 1896.
Surprisingly, Wisden wrote that Jackson “played nothing like as well as those who we saw him in Australia knew he could.” Not a single word was mentioned about Bradman’s discomfort against pace. The would-be-legend brought up his 200 – being the first batsman to score three double-hundreds in a series – and marched on.
McCabe had replaced Jackson at the wicket and hit some brilliant strokes. Wisden wrote, “[Don] Bradman all this time had gone steadily on but when joined by [Stan] McCabe was overshadowed, the latter driving brilliantly.” Bradman eventually fell to what Frith claimed to be a “dubious dismissal” – caught by Duckworth off Larwood – for a 417-ball 232 that included only 16 fours. He finished with a world record tally of 974 runs in a series.
McCabe bludgeoned his way to a 76-ball 54 with nine boundaries, and to add to England’s woes, Fairfax and Oldfield added 76 runs for the seventh wicket. Peebles came back into action and picked up the last three wickets to go with his first three as Fairfax was left stranded on 53. Peebles picked up his first Test five-for, but returned the rather unglamorous figures of six for 204. Australia were 290 runs ahead.
Hobbs received a tremendous ovation as he walked out for the last time. Wisden wrote, “The Australians gathered round [Jack] Hobbs and gave three cheers as a tribute to the great batsman playing presumably his last innings for England.” He did not last long, though.
Bradman recollected, “Jack Hobbs played his final Test Match, and I felt rather sorry when the old master pulled a ball from Alan Fairfax onto his wicket for nine runs. I wanted to see him make a good score in his final appearance. I didn’t know in 1930 that Jack Hobbs’ nine runs would be nine more than I was going to make in my final appearance on the same ground.”
Wyatt did not employ a night-watchman and Sutcliffe (eight) and Whysall (six) played out time. England finished on 24 for one, still 266 runs in arrears.
Day Six: Hornibrook brings the Ashes back
Rain ruled out play on Day Five, and when the Sun came out on Day Six, the English morale had a received a serious jolt. Wisden wrote that “everyone realised that only a miracle could save England.” Shortly after play began Grimmett removed Whysall for ten — which would remain his last Test innings.
Australia still had Sutcliffe to contend with, and with Duleepsinhji also looking good, England went past the 100-mark with only two wickets down. Woodfull threw the ball to the 31-year old Percy Hornibrook, playing his sixth Test.
The Queenslander struck just before lunch: the ball jumped up awkwardly from a length, took the shoulder of Sutcliffe’s bat and landed in Fairfax’s hands at second slip. The pair had added 81 in 95 minutes and Sutcliffe scored a patient 54 in 174 balls. England went to lunch at 126 for three. After resumption, Hornibrook struck again, having Duleepsinhji caught at forward short-leg by Kippax to have England at 135 for four.
Some desperate hitting from Hammond followed: he plundered five fours in three overs from Hornibrook and added 54 in 43 minutes with Leyland before the latter was bowled. The left-armer achieved his best figures when he bowled Wyatt.
Tate was run out shortly afterwards and Hornibrook picked up his fifth wicket when he had Larwood caught by McCabe. Duckworth hit a 12-ball 15 with three fours before Hornibrook hit his stumps, and with Peebles at the crease, Hammond made a desperate effort to score runs.
Hammond wanted to go for a six but only managed to grass the catch at long-off. Then, three runs later, he edged to Fairfax off Hornibrook. He had scored a 136-ball 60 with eight fours and the only six of the match, while Hornibrook finished with seven for 91. Australia won by an innings and 39 runs, regaining the Ashes.
- Bradman’s 974 runs and three double-hundreds still remain series records.
- Thanks to his supreme temperament, Wyatt succeeded Hobbs as Sutcliffe’s partner.
- Hornibrook never played a Test again.
- Jackson lost a battle against tuberculosis and passed away two and a half years later at the age of 23.
- Watching the clippings of the series, Douglas Jardine noticed Bradman’s discomfort against Larwood and famously exclaimed “I’ve got it… he’s yellow!” He went on to plot Bodyline to master Bradman, and managed to regain the urn in the next series Down Under.
- After General Motors presented Bradman with a car in 1931, the legend gifted the bat (the one used during the 232) to the Chief Mechanic. Gideon Haigh, however, mentioned in an article that Bradman gave it away to the literary agent David Cromb. It was later put up on auction in Melbourne in 2005.
England 405 (Herbert Sutcliffe 161; Clarrie Grimmett 4 for 135, Alan Fairfax 3 for 52) and 251 (Wally Hammond 60, Herbert Sutcliffe 54; Percy Hornibrook 7 for 92) lost to Australia 695 (Don Bradman 232, Bill Ponsford 110; Ian Peebles 6 for 204) by an innings and 39 runs.
(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.)