Don-Bradman-(1908---2001)-batting-during-an-England2
Don Bradman was also regarded as an exceptional fielder © Getty Images

In a span of 16 days in October and November 1928, Don Bradman went from a promising young cricketer to the next big thing in Australian cricket. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta lists several of the firsts of Bradman’s career.

At a pinch

The 1927-28 season had amounted to 416 runs in five matches with two hundreds, and an average of 46.22. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 1: Don Bradman plays for the Shield side for the first time — in his civilian shoes

It was not a bad start for a 19-year-old Bowral boy taking his first tentative steps in the First-Class world. Yet, on the final table of the Australian domestic season, it did not look quite that formidable. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 2: Don Bradman’s First-Class debut

There were 13 men with higher averages, 11 with more runs. Bill Ponsford had amassed 1,217 runs at 152.12, towering above the rest. From Bradman’s own state, Alan Kippax (926 at 84.18) and Archie Jackson (464 at 46.40) had better averages, and Tommy Andrews with 509 runs at 42.67 had more runs as well. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 4: His disappointing Test debut

So, was Don Bradman good enough for the highest level?

JC Davis, editor of Sydney Referee, had this to write: “It is years since I met a young player possessing such a fine temperament for big cricket … he is exceptionally quick on his feet, and gets into the slow bowling with skill and relish. Bradman has a good defence and fine strokes on both sides of the wicket. He represents the old type of batsmen as distinct from that, so common in these times, with the two-eyed stance and the monotonous push to leg. As Bradman is a keen and splendid field, generally in the outfield, and a good batsman, at a pinch he is potentially a Test match cricketer.”

At a pinch! And that too because he was a good batsman and an exceptional fielder.

Nevertheless, he was rewarded for his efforts by being selected for the Test trial game as the 1928-29 season kicked off. Batting for Rest of Australia against Australia at Melbourne, he failed miserably. In the first innings he was caught-behind off Clarrie Grimmett for a 34-minute struggle that yielded 14. Australia ran up a lead of 287 runs. In the second innings, Bradman was unbeaten on 5 when rain stopped play at tea on the third afternoon. The five runs came from a single stroke, a pull off Grimmett, and were all-run. When play resumed, Ron Oxenham bowled him first ball with a yorker.

Percy Chapman’s MCC side that had embarked from the Ontoro was regarded as the strongest since the War. Australia wanted their best men to take them on. And Bradman was not considered to be one of the best eleven.

The 17 days

A major turn of events awaited him as he returned to First-Class cricket for New South Wales. He had never batted above No. 6 in any major cricket. Now, he was asked to go in at No 3. There followed 17 days that changed the complexion of his career, and thereby world cricket.

At Brisbane Exhibition Ground Bradman had to wait for his turn as Queensland batted through the first day. They ended on 324 and The Don walked in to bat on the second morning with the score on 7 for 1. At the other end was Jackson.

The two young men added 113, Bradman reaching his 50 in 77 minutes. Kippax was in next and Bradman added 93 more with his captain. There was one near miss when Oxenham failed to hold on to a rather difficult return catch with Bradman on 32, but after that there was no further lapse of concentration.

He was 95 not out at tea, and reached his century in two hours 44 minutes.  The bowling consisted of Percy Hornibook, Oxenham, Pud Thurlow and Otto Nottling, all of them played for Australia in their careers.

Finally Thurlow got him caught at the wicket at 131, triggering a collapse. Bradman was fifth out at 246 and only two more were added to the score before his side was bowled out.

Cecil Thompson’s 158 not out meant an imposing target of 399. Roy Loder and Jackson got the innings off smoothly, adding 121 before the former was run out in the fourth and final innings of his career. Bradman walked in after lunch on the fourth day, and it was apparent that the first innings ton had done little to abate his appetite for runs.

By the end of the day’s play he was 88 not out, having been missed in the slips off Thurlow when on 38. Kippax had stroked his way to a delightful 96, outscoring Bradman in a partnership of 185 before falling minutes from the close of play. New South Wales were 319 for 3, and the near-impossible victory was very much on the cards.

The next morning Bradman continued in the same efficient vein, bringing up his second hundred of the match after 34 minutes of play. It had taken 211 minutes in all, and was the first of the four twin hundreds he would score in First-Class cricket.

Bradman was not done though. He went on batting, scoring the winning runs with an on-driven boundary after 262 minutes at the wicket. The scoreboard showed 133 not out against his name.

And now it was time for him to face the England cricketers for the first time. MCC came down to Sydney to play New South Wales on November 9.

As the match approached, the greatest desire of the 20-year-old Bradman was to watch Jack Hobbs in action. A few days earlier, in the match against South Australia at Adelaide, the great England opener had reached 50,000 runs in First-Class cricket and completed his 158th century.

He was disappointed: after seven strenuous days of cricket against South Australia and Victoria, the ageing legend decided to sit out at Sydney.

During the elaborate welcome ceremony for the Englishmen, it was former great Warren Bardsley who confided to Chapman’s men that the state had produced a new cricketer by the name of Bradman and that the Englishmen would be well advised to look out for him.

Yet, all MCC saw for most of the first two days was Bradman’s prowess in the field. The absence of Hobbs did not really do much to help the hosts. Douglas Jardine opened with Herbert Sutcliffe and added 148, Wally Hammond and Jardine put together 105 and then Patsy Hendren and Hammond combined in a 332-run stand.

Thus Bradman did not see Hobbs, but watched plenty of world-class batsmen in action. Hendren and Jardine got hundreds, substantial ones, and Bradman’s first glimpse of Hammond was a long, long one, amounting to 225 runs.

Apart from the 903 for 7 at the famed Oval Test of 1938, this total of 734 for 7 was to be the highest total Bradman would ever field to. He rolled his arm over as well, capturing the wicket of Hendren, but his five overs amounted to 55 runs. He also ended Hammond’s innings with a lightning return from mid-off.

And finally, after two days of fielding, he went in to bat with the score reading 38 for 3. With Andrews back in the side, he was back to No. 5. Maurice Tate and Hammond had knocked over the first three wickets and Bradman joined captain Kippax at the wicket with the hosts looking up the barrel, a few minutes to go before the close of play. He proceeded to six before stumps. That was Saturday, and the 43,117 present in the stands constituted the biggest crowd Bradman had played in front of till then.

On the following day, England got their first taste of Bradman brilliance. The classy Kippax stroked the ball sweetly, and Bradman waged a fierce battle. The attack consisted of Tate, Hammond, Tich Freeman and a young Harold Larwood. The conditions were hot and stifling. Bradman battled his way to 87.

However, it was noticeable that he was not at all comfortable against Freeman’s leg-breaks and googlies. There were seven appeals of leg-before against him before a ball struck his bat, went on to his foot and rolled on to the stumps. He was the fifth out at 196. His 87 had come in two hours 11 minutes and contained eight fours.

Freeman’s five wickets checked a fightback by veteran all-rounder Charles Kelleway and New South Wales were restricted to 349 in the first innings.

The follow-on was enforced, and soon after lunch on the fourth and final day Bradman once again walked out to join his skipper at 115 for 3. The Englishmen were eager, alert;, the whiff of a victory in the air.

However, by now Bradman had got over his uncertainty against Freeman. The drives flowed, and all four bowlers were mastered. Chapman did all he could to get him out. According to Hammond, “Young [Don] Bradman looked as if he could stay forever. None of our bowlers could do any more than feed him runs.” Similar statements would be heard more and more for the next two decades from the Englishmen.

The 50 was brought up in 65 minutes, the 100 in 128. When bad light ended the match, he was on 132, having added an unbeaten 249 with skipper Kippax, another of their many, merry associations.

The match was saved, and the adjective Bradmanesque was already on its way to entering the cricketing lexicon. The performance was grand enough to put his name firmly in the selector’s list for the first Test.

It had taken just 17 days and two matches to become the next big thing in Australian cricket. Bradman had amassed 483 runs for twice out.

There was no ‘at a pinch’ about his Test credentials any more. He was not knocking at the doors of selection, he was breaking the doors down.

Hobbs at last

Three days after the end of the game, Bradman finally got to play against Hobbs. He had been drafted into an Australian XI side for their First-Class match against MCC at Sydney, the game that would finally determine the Test side. He watched the Surrey legend score a half-century in each innings as Australian XI lost by eight wickets.

Bradman’s own performance was not spectacular, but commendable enough to seal his place in the Test XI for the forthcoming Brisbane Test. Going in at 81 for 3 in difficult conditions, he progressed slowly as wickets fell around him. He could not break the shackles, but yet did not surrender his hand. He batted for 193 minutes, the deliveries of Jack White flighted into the wind keeping him quiet for long stretches. When the Australian innings ended at 231, Bradman walked back with an unbeaten 58, with four fours and a five.

In the second innings, his run of high scores came to an end, when Tate trapped him leg-before for 18.

But, by then his place in the Australian side for the first Test was secure.

Brief scores:

New South Wales vs Queensland, Brisbane

Queensland 324 (Leo O’Connor 72, Francis Gough 67, Roy Higgins 58; Hal Hooker 6 for 46) and 322 (Francis Thomson 158*; Hal Hooker 4 for 72) lost to New South Wales 248 (Archie Jackson 50, Don Bradman 131, Alan Kippax 47; Pud Thurlow 6 for 59) and 401 for 4 (Archie Jackson 71, Roy Loder 49, Don Bradman 133*, Alan Kippax 96) by 6 wickets.

New South Wales vs MCC, Sydney

MCC 734 for 7 declared (Herbert Sutcliffe 67, Douglas Jardine 140, Wally Hammond 225, Patsy Hendren 167, Maurice Leyland 47*) drew with New South Wales 349 (Alan Kippax 64, Don Bradman 87, Charles Kelleway 93*; Eric Freeman 5 for 136, Maurice Tate 3 for 98) and 364 for 3 (Archie Jackson 40, Alan Kippax 136 not out, Don Bradman 132*).

An Australian XI vs MCC, Sydney

An Australian XI 231 (Don Bradman 58*) and 243 (Gordon Harris 56, Archie Jackson 61) lost to MCC 357 (Jack Hobbs 58, Herbert Sutcliffe 42, Charlie Mead 58, Ernest Tyldesley 69, Maurice Tate 59) and 118 for 2 (Jack Hobbs 67*) by 8 wickets.

(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://twitter.com/senantix)