August 14, 1948. England were skittled out for 52 by a lethal Ray Lindwall, following which Don Bradman fell for the most infamous duck in the history of cricket. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the day when the great man played his last Test innings, stopping short of 7,000 Test runs and an average of 100 by four runs.
Arthur Morris ended the day on 77. After the sun had worked its magic on the rest day rendering it ideal for batting, the left handed Australian opener carried his score to 196.
On the first day, Eric Hollies bowled perhaps the best delivery of his life — a googly.
However, in spite of their commendable deeds, the applause of the match was reserved for the most famous duck of all time. And the best innings was played not by Morris but the man to whom Don Bradman passed his mantle of the best batsman of the world. Len Hutton was exceptional as he scored 30 in the paltry England total of 52.
As he went out to toss, Bradman averaged 101.39. His previous Test innings at The Oval fetched him 232, 244 and 77. In 1948, he had already batted twice on the ground against Surrey, and had scored 146 and 128. All he needed was four runs to complete 7000 Test runs and end with a career batting average of 100. Sadly, he finished four short. As Jack Fingleton later observed: “The game that had given him so much had denied him at the very last Test appearance.”
On that Saturday, Bradman lost the flip of the coin and Norman Yardley decided to bat. The wicket was saturated with overnight rain, but the England captain was not really left with an option. With more rain in the air and uncertainty surrounding the conditions, the decision was inevitable.
And on that sodden wicket, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston maintained a stranglehold on the English batsmen for 42 overs and one ball before the pitiful innings ended for a miserable 52. It was England’s lowest total since they had been routed for 45 by Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris at Sydney in 1887. England had ended up winning that Test by 13 runs. Nothing of that sort was about to happen in this one.
Lindwall varied his pace superbly, mixing it up with his occasional express delivery. The ball rose to different heights while seldom deviating from the line of the stumps. Norman Yardley, Godfrey Evans, Alec Bedser and Jack Young were bowled, all gingerly hesitant to come forward. Allan Watkins was struck on the shoulder and his abilities as a bowler was taken out of the equation for the Test match. After lunch Lindwall’s figures read 8.1-4-8-5.
And all through this tale of plight, Hutton demonstrated absolute mastery. With class written over each and every stroke, he proceeded untroubled to 30. And then, with the last man at the other end, he essayed a perfectly genuine leg-glance off an express Lindwall delivery down the leg side. Behind the wicket Don Tallon took off in a spectacular dive and took the ball at full stretch with his left glove. “A great finish to Australia’s splendid performance,” wrote Wisden. Hutton scored just 30, but it must rank as one of the very best innings he ever played in his illustrious career.
There had been a good chance of Hollies not playing at The Oval. Leslie Duckworth writes in his Story of Warwickshire cricket, “When the invitations to Hollies to play arrived, he told Leslie Deakins he would rather play for Warwickshire. The rubber had already been decided and it would have meant that he missing two county games when he could well be spared. It was the Warwickshire Committee who persuaded their ‘home boy’ to play; if they had not succeeded cricket history would almost certainly have been different.”
And now, after Morris and Sid Barnes had already taken the Australian total to more than twice that of England, Hollies struck. Barnes was caught behind by Godfrey Evans. The great moment had arrived. The Don walked out for what would be his farewell innings, accompanied by a sterling ovation from the 20,000 strong crowd.
In the middle, Norman Yardley arranged his men to give the great man three cheers. Less known is Yardley’s full statement to his team as Bradman strode out to bat, “We’ll give him three cheers when he gets on the square, but that’s all we’ll give him. Then bowl him out.”
In the commentary box, Rex Alston handed it over to a young John Arlott with the words, “The crowd settles down again — they’ve got 40 minutes left to play and Bradman is now taking guard. Hollies is going to bowl and John Arlott shall describe the first ball, so come in, John.”
Arlott took it up from there in a piece of splendid imagery laced with emotion, “Well, I don’t think I’m as deadly as you are, Rex, I don’t expect to get a wicket. But it’s rather good to be here when Don Bradman comes in to bat in his last Test. And now, here’s Hollies to bowl to him from the Vauxhall End.
“He bowls, Bradman goes back across his wicket, pushes the ball gently in the direction of the Houses of Parliament, which are out beyond mid-off. It doesn’t go that far as that, merely goes to Watkins in the silly mid-off. No run, still 117 for one. 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.”
The man who had scored tons of runs at The Oval, in all the other English grounds, everywhere he had played his cricket, did not get the four runs required to go past 7000 Test runs and spike his average beyond 100.
The legend walked back with the crowd rising in deafening applause yet again. And Hollies turned to Jack Crapp lamenting, “Best f**** ball I’ve bowled all season, and they’re clapping him.”
After his dismissal, Sid Barnes had rushed back to the pavilion, armed himself with his new cine-camera, and had captured every moment from the time Bradman had walked out to bat. And as Bradman returned, he sat beside him unbuckling his pads and informed his captain that he had got his entire innings.
In the press box, Jack Fingleton sat alongside Bill O’Reilly, and there had never been two greater lynchpins of the anti-Bradman brigade. When Bradman was bowled for a duck, the two of them burst into a spontaneous fit of uncontrolled laughter, “I thought they were going to have a stroke they were laughing so much,” reported a fellow commentator.
There is a legend that Bradman played the ball through a mist of tears — something he supposedly confided later to Len Hutton. Alec Bedser, a few yards from the man when the three cheers were proffered, remarked that he was indeed deeply affected.
Yet, there are many who disagree. The inimitable Jack Crapp, standing in slip during that delivery, voiced the opinion that “The b***er Bradman never had a tear in his eye his whole life.” And there is a counter-legend in Warwickshire that, before leaving for the Test, Hollies had told his county captain Tom Dollery he would send down a second ball googly to Bradman.
Hollies ended the innings with five for 131, having dismissed Barnes, Bradman, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey and Don Tallon. Yet, his best bowling performance had perhaps been witnessed 10 days earlier. Bowling against the Australians for Warwickshire, he had captured eight for 107, and had rattled Bradman’s stumps for 31. So, tears or not, Hollies was a top notch bowler who had the ability to knock over Bradman’s stumps.
The closest witness was Arthur Morris who stood watching the epochal moment from the other end. To this day when the subject of Bradman’s duck is raised, Morris says, “I often say to people, ’Yes, I was there’ I am asked, ‘Were you playing?’ I reply ‘Yes, I got 196.’”
With Morris providing the backbone of the innings, Australia totalled 389. England fared somewhat better in the second innings, but once again they got the worse bargain from the weather, and surrendered for 188 early on the fourth day.
When Hollies skied Johnston, the Australians scrambled to collect stumps as souvenirs even before Morris held the catch. The series was secured 3-0 as curtains came down on the greatest batting career of all time.
England 52 (Ray Lindwall 6 for 20) and 188 (Len Hutton 64; Bill Johnston 4 for 40) lost to Australia 389 (Sid Barnes 61, Arthur Morris 196; Eric Hollies 5 for 131) by an innings and 149 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)