November 29, 1946. Don Bradman had scratched around for 28 before chopping a ball to second slip. Strangely he did not walk and was allowed to resume his innings, sparking angry words from England captain Wally Hammond. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the sequence of events which made this particular incident stand out as epochal.
So briefly, this is what happened on the pitch.
Don Bradman, playing his first Test innings after eight and a half years, had grafted for 28 unconvincing runs when a Bill Voce delivery slanted across him. The ball seemed to fly off his edge and Jack Ikin at second slip clutched it near his chest. The jovial England players did not even appeal, so obvious seemed the dismissal. As they converged on the bowler, they suddenly discovered that Bradman was not walking. After a belated appeal, the umpires conferred and decided that they could not decide for sure. Bradman survived. He went on to score 187.
A batsman had doubts about whether he was indeed out. He left the decision to the umpires. They were not sure about it either and ruled in his favour. So, why was it an event that made headlines of the most sensational sort? Why did it smear the great man with murky enough soot to stain the sparkle of his glorious career?
To arrive at an answer we need to turn the clock back.
The Greater Game
Near Mount Carmel, Haifa, there suddenly appeared a huge hole in the middle of a park. And in the hole lay a big, fat landmine, one of the thousand pounders, dropped by the Germans with a parachute. A slightly built gunner was fascinated. He took his bayonet from his scabbard, stepped into the hole, and started cutting strips from the parachute.
A British Army Bomb Disposal unit arrived. Further down, they were stopping traffic because the vibrations could make the mine go off. “Get the hell out of the hole,” cried the officer in charge. Lindsay Hassett cut a last strip and then stepped out. Considering years and accomplishments, he had no reason to be barked at by this officer. As a batsman he was a Test star, and for the services, he had gladdened hearts of the battle weary soldiers against the South Africans, New Zealanders and Englishmen in those quaint cricket grounds in the Middle East. But, when offered commission in the 2/2 Anti-Aircraft Regiment in Melbourne, he had refused. He wanted to serve alongside his mates.
Infuriated by Hassett’s less than ideal discipline, one irritating young subaltern had exclaimed, “If you took the trouble to clean your rifle you might just manage to become a good soldier.” Pat had come Hassett’s reply, “If you cleaned and oiled your bat for twenty years sir, you’d never score a run.”
Further north in England, a blue eyed Keith Miller crashed a Beaufighter while returning from a night training spree over France. On its next flight the Beaufighter malfunctioned and the pilot flying it was killed. A few days later, Miller missed colliding with a hangar by the narrowest of whiskers. Following that he was too drunk to show up in a theatre while spending his leave in London, and the auditorium in question was hit that night by a V1 bomb. He joined the RAF station at Great Massingham and flew missions in Mosquito fighters. And after a raid on the Danish town of Sylt, he was forced to land with one of his unexploded bombs hanging from the wing of his aircraft.
At a charity game at Lord’s, Miller shaped up to bowl. Facing him was a dapper young batsman who also played as a winger for Arsenal. This London man was just back from serving in India. The batsman turned to the wicketkeeper Stan Sismey and asked what sort of bowler this new guy was. “Oh, he’s not really a bowler. Probably wants some exercise. You might find him a bit quick,” Sismey answered. Off a short run, Miller sent down a ball that left the hair on the batsman’s head standing on the ends. Thus took place the first meeting between Denis Compton and Miller, and they remained friends for life.
Another Londoner, Bill Edrich, flew Blenheims out of Great Massingham. In June 1941, his squadron went on a morning mission and lost two aircrafts with all the crew. Edrich was back in Norfolk in time to join the squadron cricket team in a game — against the village XI at Colonel Birkbeck’s private ground at Massingham Hall.
The Middlesex batsman would later recall: “There were the big elms throwing grave shadows on the English grass, the wild roses in the hedges, the lazy caw of a rook passing overhead, the old village in the distance, and the quiet sound of bat and ball; then would come a sudden vision, as real as the other, of a 5,000-ton ship heeling over, with pathetic little black figures scrambling up her tilting deck and trying vainly to escape the blast of the flames that belched and flickered out of her blazing hold, the drowning and burning sailors, the stab of the tracer coming at us, the interminable roaring of engines punctuated by the heart-thud of exploding bombs…As I batted I wondered whether, perhaps, young Germans who had rained down death and terror on London’s civilians the night before were now slowly cycling through some fairy glade of the Black Forest and thinking what I thought … why, why, why?”
The celebration of cricket
And as peace dawned after six years of madness, all these men met for the ‘Victory Tests’ — a series of cricket matches between the England team and the Australian Services, to raise the morale of the public, provide entertainment and promise a brighter future.
Wally Hammond led the England Services team as they walked out at Lord’s, striving with the skill and flair of their trade to provide the war ravaged public a glimmer of joy and hope. In his team were men like Compton, Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Edrich, Les Ames, Doug Wright. Most had seen action, all had served.
As the queues formed outside Lord’s at six in the morning, the long lines of shabbily dressed, vacant eyed Englishmen were punctuated intermittently by Australian soldiers in slouch hats, freed from prison camps a few days back. Captains Hammond and Hassett struck a deal. They would play cricket that would provide a spark of delight to the crowds, to men who had suffered through the years of air raid sirens, devastating bombs, war time rationing and concentration camps.
Cricket was not war. These players knew the distinction. Ken Farnes told them the difference, as did Hedley Verity — both from the world beyond. Charlie Walker, the South Australian wicketkeeper, was another one who did not survive the War. Other Test cricketers had lost their lives — Dooley Briscoe and Arthur Langton of South Africa, Maurice Turnbull, George Macaulay and Geoffrey Legge of England, Ross Gregory of Australia and Sonny Moloney of New Zealand.
The four ‘Tests’ were played in spirits that cannot be recaptured when cocooned in peace. Most of the players revelled in the happiest cricket they would ever play. Dick Whittington recalled, “The outlook was more like that of a cavalier. Cricket was for making friends, not enemies.” The quality of the matches was exceptional, the strategies aggressive and sporting. During the game, the players of the two teams shared the same dressing room. Afterwards, they travelled on the same coach.
Graham Williams, the main strike bowler of Australian Services, had been released from a German prisoner of war camp just a few weeks before the series. He was 31 kg below his pre-war playing weight and had to gulp down glasses of glucose and water between the overs.
During the fourth Victory ‘Test’, the Prime Minister of Britain, Clement Atlee, was present at the ground to watch Miller score 118.
And as the final match was played, Jim Swanton tuned in to BBC at a cafe in Kanchaburi, Thailand. He found himself listening to the voice of Rex Alston describing the proceedings from Old Trafford.
The players who played that series discovered cricket as a means of exultation, of happiness. Hassett took the Australian Servicemen to play matches in India. They remained happy and carefree, scoring runs, taking wickets, holding catches and rejoicing in the feeling that life had been given another chance.
There were other Australians who had not ventured to the battlegrounds of Europe, but had served closer to home.
Bill Brown had been a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flight lieutenant in the Pacific, and was now named captain for the tour of New Zealand. Ray Lindwall had marked out his bowling run up between palm trees in the Pacific islands, and had brought off a spectacular backward run to catch Arthur Morris in a softball game. Colin McCool was sent to New Guinea to fly transports and train as a navigator. Doug Ring was also in New Guinea with the anti-aircraft regiment. And Ian Johnson had ended the war by drinking whiskey in a slit trench on the island of Morotai.
Some had not left Australia, but served nevertheless. Sid Barnes had taught American soldiers how to play cricket at a camp at Warwick Farm racecourse, all the while dreaming of fighting from within a tank. Sam Loxton was made a corporal and put up in a cupola with the 37mm armour-piercing gun. Ron Hamence, Ron Saggers, Don Tallon, Ernie Toshack and Bill Johnston had all enlisted but not served outside the country.
When all these men played, it was while basking in the joy of being alive. Under Brown’s leadership the men won in New Zealand. They did not know at that time that the match at Wellington would be deemed a Test.
The resumption of The Ashes
The English team prepared to tour Australia in late 1946. In the side, there were Hammond, Hutton, Washbrook, Edrich, Compton and Wright — all of whom had played in the Victory Tests.
The men left the shores of what Atlee had called ‘a poor nation’. In an austere economic climate, and a centrally-planned economy under the post-war Labour government, resources were not available to expand food production and import. And when continual rain had ruined Britain’s wheat harvest in 1946, the country had witnessed the commencement of bread rationing. War debt was still being repaid, and the Cold War was already bringing the mercury plummeting down. National Health Service and public-owned transport were still fuzzy distant dreams.
For many of the men, the tour was a return to the long lost luxury of good and plentiful food — to a country remote enough to have escaped the worst whiplash of war. In fact, the sunburnt nation was standing on the verge of economic prosperity. Hammond promised the team ‘the happiest six months of your life’. Perhaps that is what they enjoyed in the greater picture of things. Everyone put on weight and sent parcels of food back home to aEngland still sticking to war time rationing policies.
Hammond and the rest, who had celebrated glorious cricket in the Victory Tests, expected the matches to be played in the same spirit when the Ashes rivalries were renewed. They had not considered one man.
Bradman’s War Years
It had been a long painful War for Don Bradman, but not one in which he had seen action.
After scoring 1,475 runs at 122.91 from nine matches in the 1939-40 season, he had enlisted in the RAAF. However, there had been too many volunteers and too few aircrafts. He had not been trained, and there had always been a slim chance of him seeing any combat. After all, he was the most famous Australian alive, and would not be pressed into action anytime soon. He was given the rank of lieutenant but was deemed redundant for the RAAF.
Bradman joined as a student at the School of Physical and Recreational Training at Frankston, Victoria. Along with him a fellow trainee was Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. It was planned for Bradman to be sent to New East as a divisional supervisor of physical training. Writers like Malcolm Knox suggest that he desperately wanted to portray himself as ready to serve in the War effort. In fact, his biography Farewell to Cricket is full of such claims.
After the 1940-41 Ashes series was cancelled, Bradman proclaimed that he would play only in patriotic fundraising matches. At Richmond he turned out against the Fire Brigade and private companies supported the War effort by donating a small amount for each run he scored. Bradman got 109.
However, he soon developed physical problems. A ‘muscular trouble which had bothered me on and off before’ now plagued him. It was fibrositis. His eyesight was also below par. That season he played just four innings and scored 18 runs.
In April 1941, he was taken off the Army roster. Just five days later, he was placed on the retired list. With his wife and new born daughter, he retired to Bowral, his hometown, and painfully battled his ailment. He found it difficult to even raise his arm, and lost all feeling in the thumb and index finger in his right hand. According to Bradman, the feeling did not return even when he played Test cricket again. In June 1941, he was formally discharged from the Army.
After his recovery, Bradman moved back to Adelaide and re-joined the stockbroking offices of Harry Hodgetts. His health remained poor, although he did manage to play tennis and golf by 1943. That year he followed the illustrious steps of Clem Hill to become elected as a member of the Adelaide Stock Exchange.
The name of Bradman did play its part in the War effort. On the downfall of Benito Mussolini in the summer of 1943, a British MP proclaimed at Westminster, “We have got (Bill) Ponsford out cheaply, but Bradman is still batting.” Adolf Hitler might not have understood the enormous compliment thus bestowed on him, but one wonders whether Bradman was amused.
In March, 1944, the signal sent to initiate the second assault on the Monte Cassino monastery in Italy read, “Bradman will be batting tomorrow.” Even if this was intercepted, the message would have been very difficult to decode for cricket-ignorant Axis powers.
However, the following year, as the Allies went through their final winning operations, Bradman suffered the worst mental trauma. Harry Hodgetts was exposed as a fraud who had fleeced £83,000 out of his firm. As his employer went to jail, Bradman had to manoeuvre his business astutely to stay afloat. Don Bradmanand Company had to be opened in the same building as Hodgetts.
By the end of the War, he was older, thinner, and had lost a lot of hair. He was 37 and doubts lingered about whether he would play cricket again, especially at the highest level.
So, Bradman had not seen action in these years. To him, the biggest War had been the attack on Australia’s cricketing supremacy — which rested on his own batsmanship. When Douglas Jardine had launched Harold Larwood at him with men crowding the leg side. When he had limped out of the ground with a broken shin at The Oval in 1938, and Hammond had taken a close look at the doctor’s report before finally declaring at 903 for seven. It was perhaps a bit premature to expect The Don to retire with The Oval of 1938 as his last Test match.
He did not tour New Zealand, but did get back to the field to score 112 against the Services Team for South Australia at Adelaide. It was not one of his best innings, and Cec Pepper hit his pads again and again with his leg-breaks and googlies and his appeals rang out against the silence of the peaceful after-War skies.Pepper finally cried out to the umpire Jack Scott, “What do I have to do to get this fellow out?” He was asked to apologise. He supposedly did but his letter was mislaid, and he was not included in the New Zealand tour. A disgruntled Pepper left for England to play as a professional.
And as Brown’s men enjoyed themselves across the Tasman Sea, Bradman chalked out his own War strategies. The news of Miller and Lindwall and their combined pace attack elated him. In fact, while running in, Lindwall resembled Larwood uncannily. Bradman could not wait to launch his twin missiles of destruction at the England top order.
Even when not playing Bradman was a powerful force in determining cricketing destiny. People flocked to see him, making him an icon on whom hinged the gates, the profits. It had been England’s intention to visit Australia in 1947-48, after the embers of War had died down and a team had been nurtured for the future. Bradman insisted on the previous season. He influenced his friends in the International Cricket Conference — two former England captains Gubby Allen and Walter Robbins. His wishes were honoured. It was imperative that Bradman was kept happy and convinced to tour England one last time, if only to ensure that the coffers of English cricket were sufficiently replenished after the War.
However, it was perhaps Jessie Bradman who swayed him in favour of playing. “It would be a pity if my son John grew up without having seen me play in Test cricket.” Thus, Bradman walked out to toss with the rather bulky form of Hammond at Brisbane. And he simmered with the relentless desire to win.
A fine ******* way
It was billed as the Goodwill Tour. The captains smiled as they posed for the camera. That was the last time they were going to smile in each other’s company. To Bradman, Ashes was no place for Goodwill. The irony was that not only the Englishmen, several of the Australians expected to play in the same carefree, cavalier way that had marked the ‘Victory Tests’. Bradman had not taken part in that particular Victory. To him the key word was just ‘Tests’. And he knew only one way to play them.
Bradman won the toss and Australia batted. Sid Barnes and Arthur Morris walked out to resume the battle for the Ashes. Debutant Morris was caught at slip off Alec Bedser after just eleven minutes. And in walked Bradman, with the score nine for one, playing his first innings in Test cricket after eight and a half years.
During the first phaseof his innings, he looked edgy, uncertain. “Bradman’s success through his opening minutes was close upon miraculous,” wrote JM Kilburn. Hammond was more biting: “He began like a schoolboy.” Bedser beat him time and again. Barnes actually ended up shielding his captain. After an hour or so, Barnes was brilliantly caught by Bedser at square-leg off the leg-spin of Doug Wright.
A while later, Bradman tried to chop a ball from Vocewide of the slips. It flew to Ikin at chest height. He clutched it, obviously delighted. Hammond at first slip had no doubt at all that it was a catch. The fielders converged upon the bowler, running and clapping. And only after a minute or so did they notice that Bradman was standing his ground. The fielders voiced a confused, belated appeal. Hammond later claimed, “Bradman was idly looking away over the square-leg boundary as if there was nothing to decide.” Borwick was not sure. He looked towards his colleague standing at square-leg, the same Jack Scott who had refused to give Cec Pepper the decisions against Bradman at Adelaide. And Scott said he could not be sure.
In the pavilion sat Keith Miller, not exactly the best devotee of Bradman’s way of playing cricket. He claimed that the Ikin catch was beyond dispute. However, sitting next to him was Colin McCool, and he remarked, “As Miller at the time was sitting next to me in the pavilion, that’s (his being so sure about the catch) the biggest mystery of the lot.”
Later Bradman would tell the press that he would not have remained there had he been sure that he was out. Scott wrote at the end of the series that it had indeed been a bump ball.
So, to the shocked disbelief of the English fielders, Bradman was given a reprieve. And according to a fellow England fielder, Hammond was ‘blazingly angry’. At the end of the over, the England captain passed Bradman on the pitch and made his famous remark, “A fine ******* way to start a Test series.”
Would Bradman have ended his career had he been out for 28? Would he have courted more failure with his confidence low and his health not at its best? Many say he would indeed have hung up his boots, and the celebrated Invincible Tour of 1948 would not have transpired in the same way. Early dismissal would have certainly meant his playing the second innings on the Brisbane sticky after violent thunderstorms.He never relished that sort of a wicket. However, there are others who disagree. As McCool put it, “I can’t think he would ever have pulled up his swag and cleared off just on the strength of one failure.”
But, within 90 minutes on the first day, the Goodwill part had disappeared from the series, in tiny fractious fragments of shattered hope, and unbridled acrimony had taken root. Bradman soon started to rediscover his confidence. Strokes flowed from his bat and in that heat, Hassett and he wore the attack down. Bedser, impressive throughout, could not bowl after tea, a War injury suffered in Italy sending shooting pains up his stomach.
It was Edrich in the second morning who bowled Bradman with his fourth ball. He had scored 187 with 19 boundaries.
Malcolm Knox writes, “Bradman, who hadn’t seen action and spent most of the war selling stocks, playing golf, and getting himself into committees, was taking field as grimly as ever … The War seemed just a blip in his long campaign for payback.” Indeed this appropriately describes the sentiments of most players who took field that day. Compton said that the entire series was damaged by Bradman not walking. “Hammond was very angry about the decision, and in my view quite justifiably.”
Australia batted into the third day, and a heavy shower interrupted the proceedings. As rain poured down, Ian Johnson heard Bradman cackling with laughter. The Australian captain explained to his off-spinner, “Ian, the first time I played against England, in 1928, they scored 521, caught us on a wet wicket and got us out for about 120. With a lead of over 400, they batted a second time and left us over 700 to make in the last innings. Then they invented Bodyline for my special benefit. The last time I played against them, in 1938, England made over 900 before Hammond declared and I broke my ankle bowling and couldn’t bat. Just this once, we have them in trouble. Do you really blame me for being so happy?”
Proof enough that the War was largely inconsequential in Bradman’s equations with England. His long memory hardly ever forgot any slight and humiliation. And he had not experienced the War to remember it.
Lindwall and Miller opened the bowling for Australia after the home side had been all out for 645. Hutton and Washbrook faced them, the former with his left forearm a couple of inches shorter than it had been before the War.
During the series Bradman supposedly coaxed Miller, “The selectors won’t drop you if by some accident you allowed a couple of flyers to slip at him.” Hutton’s inability to play the hook shot with his shortened arm was mercilessly exploited. During the first innings at Brisbane, the great opener walked up to Washbrook. “These people use Tommy guns and we use water pistols,” he observed. His partner replied, “I think you’re right too.”
Hutton took the barrage with grace and wry humour, “I confess that I felt that taking the first brunt of Lindwall-Miller explosion was to suffer something akin to being in the blitz.” On a wet wicket, Miller picked up seven and England collapsed for 141.
Miller also recalls how Bradman goaded him when Hammond and Edrich, the latter the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross, were trying to fight back: “They were holding us up and Bradman came to me and said, ‘Bowl faster, bowl faster. When you play Test cricket, you don’t give Englishmen an inch. Play it tough, all the way. Grind them into the dust.’ Those were his words. I thought to myself, a War has just passed, a lot of Test cricketers and near Test ones have been killed and here we are after the War, everybody happy to be alive, and we have to grind them to dust. So I thought bugger me, if this is Test cricket, they can stick it up their jumper. Don kept up this incessant will-to-win but it just wasn’t my way of playing cricket.”
However, Miller had bounced Hutton during the Victory Tests as well, and in the Ashes that followed after Bradman’s retirement. So how much of the tactics were due to Bradman’s persuasions remains dubious. And as McCool put it, “Miller is not president of the Bradman fan club.”
Yet, more people in the team had somewhat similar thoughts. Arthur Morris, a great protégé of Bradman, recalled, “When we were playing cricket again, we didn’t talk about the War much. We were so pleased to be away from being pushed around, saying, “Yes, sir” to idiot officers. I felt sorry for Don, actually, because he wasn’t feeling the same relief.”
With England on 117 for five on the sticky wicket, Bradman took Toshack to the middle of the pitch before the commencement of play, pointing at the spot on the wicket he wanted him to hit. Later Sid Barnes said, “It was gallery-play. No Test captain should find it necessary to give such a lesson in front of everybody. The Englishmen were all watching from the dressing room and must have thought, knowing that there was no future in front of them so far as the result of the game was concerned, that it was more than odd.”
England managed 172 in the second innings as Toshack took six for 82. Australia won by an innings and 332 runs. On the first day, Bradman had ripped off the Goodwill part of the tour. By the end of the Test, he had declared war on the tourists, a war that would continue to be fought duringhis farewell tour of 1948.
Australia 645 (Don Bradman 187, Lindsay Hassett 128, Keith Miller 79, Colin McCool 95, Ian Johnson 47; Doug Wright 5 for 167) beat England 141 (Keith Miller 7 for 60) and 172 (Ernie Toshack 6 for 82) by an innings and 332 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)
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