The many men whom Sir Don Bradman rubbed the wrong way

Sir Don Bradman made a lot of enemies in his time – team mates as well as opponents © Getty Images

Former Australian cricketer Gary Cosier recently made headlines by saying that the 1970s Australian cricketers hated Don Bradman. Arunabha Sengupta says that it is not surprising and lists a number of men Bradman rubbed the wrong way during his long career as a player, captain and administrator.

While the very thought of sullying the name of the greatest batsman who ever lived has obviously come as an eyeball grabbing revelation, the truth is that such animosity is well documented, and not at all unexpected.

Ian Chappell, Rod Marsh and Ian Redpath, among others, were known to be distinctly against Bradman’s point of view during the negotiations between Australian Cricket Board (ACB) and the cricketers, just before Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) came into being.

Apart from that, in his long career as a player, captain and, later, administrator, Bradman’s trail is littered with episodes of rubbing people the wrong way.

Solitary, Masonic and Miserly

Aloof and ambitious, someone who would much rather shut himself in his room and write or listen to the phonograph after a day of scoring runs, Bradman did not really share a drink and bond with his fellow men. In fact, one reason for that was his being a teetotaller.

Ruthless in his zeal to succeed, he left teammates to fend for themselves and rushed off to attend ceremonies and business meetings centred around his genius, often immediately after matches.

And he was a miser to boot.

When Arthur Whitelaw, a soap manufacturer, presented him with £1000 for his 334 at Leeds, 1930 – a very substantial amount in those days – Bradman did not even offer to buy his mates a drink.

In his biography, Bradman writes, “Was I expected to parade the streets of Leeds?”

In Irving Rosenwater’s magisterial biography Sir Donald Bradman, he is quoted saying, “If I gave you fellows dinner every night from now on until we got home to Australia you would only say what a fool I am.”

Apart from this characteristic of coldness and parsimony, Bradman’s problems with teammates also rose from religious issues. In the 1930s, sectarianism had created a chasm within the great side. On one side were the Masons – including Bradman himself, Bill Ponsford, Bert Oldfield and others. On the other hand there were the Catholics, including Jack Fingleton, Bill O’Reilly, Stan McCabe, Leo O’Brien and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith.

Later, during his administrative days, Bradman continued his tight-fisted attitude to gain major notoriety as a Scrooge of the first order. It is often argued that his inability to evolve with time led to the creation of World Series Cricket as a desperate measure for professional cricketers.

Given below is a list of some of the people who were not exactly bosom-buddies of the great man: 

1.   Bill O ’Reilly: Bradman considered Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly as the best bowler he had ever seen. And O’Reilly was always in awe of his phenomenal batting ability. In his opinion, compared to Bradman, batsmen like Greg Chappell and Allan Border were mere “child’s play”.

However, on the personal front their relationship could not have been worse.

According to O’Reilly, “Bradman was a chap who found it terribly hard to mix with the hoi polloi. He never made the slightest effort to be a real hundred per cent team man.”

Bradman responded saying, “There were those who thought I was unsociable because at the end of the day I did not think it my duty to breast the bar and engage in a beer-drinking contest.”

In 1995, after O’Reilly and Fingleton had both passed away, Bradman wrote: “With these fellows out of the way, the loyalty of my 1948 side was a big joy and made a big contribution to the outstanding success of that tour.”

It is hard to believe, but Bradman’s vindictiveness resulted in a premature end to the career of the “Tiger”. O’Reilly summed up his feelings when he complained to a board member, “You have to play under a Protestant to know what it’s like”.

When the master was bowled off the second ball by Eric Hollies in his final Test innings, O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton were said to have been hysterical with laughter in the Press Box.

For the most part though, the great leg-spinner kept his deepest feelings about Bradman silent, saying, “You don’t piss on statues.” 

2.   Jack Fingleton: During a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Bradman came to know that Fingleton’s bat had been sprinkled with holy water by a Catholic bishop.

When the opening batsman fell cheaply, Bradman, at No 3, passed him on his way to the middle, remarking: “We’ll see what a dry bat will do out there.” The master, of course, scored his usual century.

Fingleton’s rift with Bradman is one of the most long-lasting conflicts in the history of the game, and it kept them from speaking to each other right up to the former’s death in 1981.

Fingleton maintained that it was Bradman who kept him out of the Test side during the 1934 tour of England. In extraordinary letter written to Bill Woodfull, the Australian captain and selector, Fingleton had noted that certain Australian players “probably don’t want me as a teammate”.

The biggest issue between the two was the infamous Adelaide leak during the Bodyline series.

Woodfull’s famous comment:  “There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so” was somehow leaked to the press from the Australian dressing room, kick-starting the Bodyline controversies.

Since Fingleton worked as a journalist for a Sydney newspaper, the suspicion fell on him. However, in his 1946 book, Cricket Crisis, Fingleton alleged that it had actually been Bradman who had leaked the news to Claude Corbett of The Sun.

Bradman, in turn, rubbished the claim and blamed Fingleton for the leak, and the two hardly ever spoke again.

Fingleton remained a brutal critic of Bradman’s character, and although grudgingly accepting Bradman’s genius, he seldom analysed his batting prowess without adding the caveat, “… on good wickets.” 

3. Wally Hammond: But for the presence of Bradman in the cricketing firmament, Hammond would have been the brightest star. This fact never settled easy in his heart. In quiet moments at Bristol, his Gloucestershire team-mates could often hear him exclaim “f***ing Bradman!”

When England toured New Zealand in 1933, Hammond passed Bradman’s then world record score of 334, and celebrated by looked skyward, letting out an uncharacteristic scream: “Yes.”

Their conflicts continued through the 30s, with Hammond allowing his batsmen to pile up 903 for seven at Oval, before declaring only after the doctor’s diagnosis reached him that Bradman’s ankle would render him unable to bat.

The animosity persisted after the War. Hammond brought the English side to Australia for the series that resumed cricketing ties between the countries. When he went into the first Test, the Don had just come out of prolonged illness, and was trying to scrape through the heavy remnants of rust that had crept into his batting. A failure in the Test would perhaps have ensured a premature end to his career.

During Australia’s first innings, Bill Voce induced an edge off Bradman when he was on 28, and it was held in the slips by Jack Ikin. To the surprise of many, Bradman refused to walk, claiming the ball had gone to the fielder on the bounce. The umpires were unsure and allowed him to resume his innings.

Hammond was far from amused and as he crossed the batsman after the over, he remarked, “That’s a fine f***ing way to start a Test series.”

Bradman went on to score 187 and Australia won the Test, and proceeded to clinch the series 3-0. Hammond failed with the bat and found Bradman’s attitude so infuriating that he did not exchange another word with the great man except during the toss.

4. Leo O’Brien: While he never fell out in public with Bradman during his playing days, O’Brien made a very striking comment about the great man. Just before he died in 1997, leaving Bradman as the only survivor of the Bodyline series from either side, he remarked: “He had an inferiority complex, except when he had a bat in his hand.”

This is in perfect agreement with another of Bradman’s teammates, a 1948 Invincible, who privately expressed the view, “It was the small-man syndrome that drove him to excel.”

5. Arthur Mailey:  Arthur Mailey came across as carefree, jovial and without apparent acrimony. However, his problems with Bradman were not caused by the very human characteristics of the supreme batsman as in the other cases. It was, in fact, his penchant for making runs that perturbed the colourful leg-spinner.

When as a young country-boy Bradman had entered the cricketing scene, Mailey had analysed his technique with great scrutiny and had pointed out why he would never be a successful batsman. Obviously, this laid the roots of lifelong diet of eating his words. Mailey spent chapters and chapters in books outlining exactly why Victor Trumper was actually a much better batsman than Bradman could ever be. And like every other Bradman baiter, he stuck like glue to the sticky wicket argument with eyes wide shut.

6. Vijay Merchant and the Indians: In 1948, on the way to England for Bradman’s final series, Strathaird, the ship carrying the Australian cricketers, docked at Bombay. The news reached many cricket-mad Indians who rushed to the harbour for a sight of the great man.

A large group of students gathered in the wharf, shouting, “We want Bradman.” When Bradman appeared at the rails of the deck, the cheer that went up was deafening.

Vijay Merchant led a contingent of Indian cricketers to Bradman’s cabin and requested him to disembark so that the men who had assembled could meet him. Vice-captain Lindsay Hassett, and journalists Ray Robinson and Fingleton obliged, and also went down for a bit of cricket at the Brabourne Stadium. Bradman, however, refused. He never set foot in India.

7. Keith Miller: In 1948, during a tour match against Essex, Miller was involved in an incident which famously highlights his differences with Bradman. When the Australians were piling up the world-record of 721 runs in a single day, Miller walked in with the score reading two for 364. Seeing no point in getting more runs, he deliberately allowed himself to be bowled first ball. This did not really endear him to Bradman, who never forgot the 903-run mountain of 1938.

During England’s first innings in the second Test at Lord’s, Miller was unfit to bowl due to back problems. Regardless, Bradman threw him the ball, hoping that his condition had improved. Miller refused to bowl and lobbed the ball back. This generated a lot of headlines citing insubordination. Ian Johnson, in particular, revisited the issue in 1953, recalling how Miller had forestalled Bradman by claiming his ‘back was gone.’ In his autobiography, Cricket Crossfire, Miller denies this vehemently, saying he was really in no physical state to have a bowl.

After returning to Australia, Miller played against Bradman in a testimonial match for Alan Kippax and Bert Oldfield, and proceeded to bowl three consecutive bouncers at the legend, Bradman hooked two of these impeccably before being caught at mid-on off the last short-pitched delivery, after scoring 53. One week later, the squad to tour South Africa in the following season was announced by the selectors, Bradman being one of the three, and Miller was not included.

There remains a lot of speculation that Bradman’s unhappiness with Miller’s attitude was the cause for this omission. Bradman maintained that he had voted for Miller, but both the other selectors, Jack Ryder and ‘Chappie’ Dwyer, claimed to have done so as well.

8. Vic Richardson: In 1935, Australia needed to replace the retired Bill Woodfull as captain for the forthcoming series in South Africa. When Bradman opted out of the tour at the final juncture, Vic Richardson, whom Bradman had replaced as the skipper of South Australia, was made the Test captain.

The tour was very successful and senior players like O’Reilly openly said that they enjoyed playing under Richardson.

To start the new season, the Test side played a rest of Australia team captained by Bradman at Sydney in October, 1936. The Test XI suffered a big defeat, mainly due to a 212 by Bradman. He bluntly communicated to the Test team that for all their tall feats in South Africa, they were not quite as good as they thought they were.

Vic Richardson later commented, stretching the truth a bit, “We could have played any team without Bradman, but we could not have played the blind school without Clarrie Grimmett”.

In Chappelli Speaks Out, Richardson’s grandson, Ian Chappell, remembers the following interaction between his grandfather and Bradman many years later.

Arthur Gilligan, the former England captain and close friend of Richardson, had just been made the MCC president. Bradman was graciously congratulating Richardson for his friend’s success, when the latter remarked, “Good thing they don’t work on the Australian system.”

“Why’s that Vic?” Bradman asked.

Richardson’s reply was biting, “In England the president is picked by his friends. If they had that system in Australia, you’d never get a vote, you c**t.”

9. Ian Meckiff:  When Meckiff was dropped after being called for throwing during the Ashes series in 1963, several sections of Australian cricket community believed that he had been the victim of a conspiracy to demonstrate that Australia was serious about the issue.

At a dinner for the visiting state captains hosted by Bradman during the series, it had supposedly been hinted that Meckiff might turn out to be a sacrificial offering. At the dinner, Bradman had run a film showing bowlers with suspect actions – Meckiff among them. The legendary batsman definitely had his doubts about Meckiff’s action, yet he was one of the selectors who ensured his inclusion in the Test side.

Phrases such as “smacks of a set-up”, “obvious fall-guy”, and “sacrificial goat” flew about.  Several, including Keith Miller, wanted Bradman to resign. Cricketer-turned-journalist Dick Whitington said that umpire Col Egar, who called Meckiff during the Brisbane Test, had travelled with Bradman from Adelaide, making it look very much like a plot. 

10.  Ian Chappell: In 1975, when a majority of Australian cricketers threatened to go on a strike during an Ashes Test, the ACB secretary, Alan Barnes, a Bradman disciple, said to The Australian, “There are 500,000 cricketers who would love to play for Australia for nothing.

A fuming Ian Chappell went out to toss, and when he walked back to the dressing room, he saw that Ian Redpath had grabbed Barnes by the shirt and tie and had pinned him against the wall, saying, “You bloody idiot, of course 500,000 people would play for nothing, but how bloody good would they be?”

When the cream of the Australian team defected in favour of World Series Cricket, Bradman remarked that the players had ‘stabbed us in the back.’ However, according to Chappell, it was Bradman’s meanness with money that had led cricketers to opt for the financial security offered by Kerry Packer.

Every negotiation with the Cricket Board would result in an impasse. Whenever the question of money was raised with Bradman would pipe in his high pitched voice, “No son, we cannot do that.”

Interestingly, out of respect for Bradman the batsman, Chappell had not spoken about these showdowns until well into the 1980s. However, he broke his silence after watching an interview given by Bradman in the early 80s. According to Chappell, when asked about his career, Bradman remarked, “I managed to do it all without getting my hair permed or getting divorced.”

Chappell, who had been through a divorce and had recently got his hair permed, took it as a personal affront. As he puts it, “I thought, ‘Bugger you, mate. It’s personal now.’ And from then on, if I was asked a direct question about Bradman, I would say exactly what I had experienced.”

(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


PHOTO GALLERY: The Many Men Who Disliked Don Bradman