It all started with grainy pictures. Photo Courtesy: Canberra Times, Daily Examiner, Daily Mercury, Daily Standard, SA Recorder, Sydney Evening News, The Sydney Morning Herald, Tweed Daily.
It all started with grainy pictures. Photo Courtesy: Canberra Times, Daily Examiner, Daily Mercury, Daily Standard, SA Recorder, Sydney Evening News, The Sydney Morning Herald, Tweed Daily.

January 2, 1929. In his second Test, Don Bradman notched up the first of his 29 Test hundreds. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta lists several of the firsts of Bradman’s career.

A thing or two about expert opinions

18 and 1. It was claimed that the selectors who dropped Don Bradman for the second Test at Sydney after those two innings on his debut later contemplated changing their names by deed poll. The most famous among them, Warren Bardsley, categorically denied having any share in the decision to his last day.

However, could they really be faulted? After the disappointing first Test, it was but a natural decision. No one knew then that Bradman would stride the cricket world like a veritable Colossus.

Yet, as the 20-year-old performed his role as the 12th man for the only time in his career, the press was up in arms against the four wise men who had picked the team. It was not so much a protest against dropping Bradman. After all, he was just a promising batsman with very little experience. The complaint was that Bardsley and his colleagues had yet again shown their disinclination towards youth. The youngest men in the Australian line up were Bill Ponsford and Otto Nothling, both aged 28; the other nine were over 30. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 1: Don Bradman plays for the Shield side for the first time — in his civilian shoes

Bradman, though, had his hands full in the second Test. Apart from carrying drinks, he patrolled the outfield as long as England batted. Ponsford had his little finger broken by Harold Larwood’s express delivery in the first Australian innings and took no further part in the match. The Don fielded through the 636 run-England innings, watching and retrieving balls as Wally Hammond stroked his way to a majestic 251. Having played for New South Wales against the MCC a few days earlier, this was the second Hammond double-hundred that Bradman had fielded through.

England were required to score just 15 in the second innings, and Chapman sent in George Geary and Maurice Tate to liven things up. And after swinging away merrily at five balls, Tate hit the sixth, from Stork Hendry, down the throat of Bradman at mid-off. That would remain the only catch as a substitute in his career. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 2: Don Bradman’s First-Class debut

With the second successive loss in the series, the selectors decided to infuse young blood into the mix. Bradman was recalled for the third Test at MCG, and along with him was included the 21-year-old Ted a’Beckett of Melbourne University.

Former Test captain, the ‘Big Ship’ Warwick Armstrong, was then writing as a cricket critic for the local papers. He was vehement in voicing his displeasure at the decision to recall Bradman. The day before the Test saw Armstrong’s verdict in print, in what Bradman’s biographer Irving Rosenwater calls ‘one of the less distinguished pronouncements of cricket history’: “For his batting I should have preferred [Gordon] Harris to Bradman, who will probably be a good player later but, I think, is not a Test player at present.”

Well, by the end of the Melbourne Test Bradman was being compared with Clem Hill and Victor Trumper; it was being said that in him Australia possessed the keystone around whom the team of the coming generation would be built. He finished his career some two decades later with 6,996 runs from 52 Tests at 99.94. His First-Class numbers at the end of his career stood at 28,067 runs from 234 matches at 95.14 with 117 hundreds. Gordon Harris enjoyed a slightly less successful First-Class career, with 2,294 runs from 37 matches at 34.75 with four hundreds. He did not play a Test. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 3: Don Bradman run up to the first Test

Expert opinions! They continue to flow even today.

The cautious start

Bradman had to wait for his turn at the wicket. Australian captain Jack Ryder and Bradman’s own state skipper Alan Kippax added 161 for the fourth wicket before the youngster ventured to the crease 46 minutes from the end of the first day’s play with the score on 218 for 4. By the time stumps were drawn he was 26.

The following morning saw him proceeding slowly, playing the ball on its merit, moving to his first ever half century, and going into lunch with his personal score on 60. He lost his wicket to his eternal rival Hammond when the latter yorked him at 79. The wicket was placid, but Bradman, no matter what Armstrong might have thought, gave enough indication of being a Test player and a darned good one. He faced 233 balls and hit nine boundaries. ALSO READ: Don Bradman Firsts Part 4: His disappointing Test debut

But after the Australian innings came to an end at 397, it was once again Bradman’s turn to watch the face of the bat of Wally Hammond. He did so for six-and-hours as Hammond notched up the third double-hundred that Bradman had fielded to in less than two months. Bradman would later portray the image of the ruthless batsman who never relented in his pursuit for huge scores. One wonders whether his great rival might have had a role to play in moulding his mentality.

Prime Minister’s memories

England piled up 417, to lead by 20. Bradman walked in to bat with the score on 143 for 4 in the second innings, the clock showing 12.36 PM. In the stands sat Billy Hughes, Australian Prime Minister from 1915 to 1923. He had been a decent batsman in his own time, and went down as the only Australian Prime Minister, apart from the cricket-mad Robert Menzies, who penned his cricketing reminiscences with considerably more delight than his political ones.

According to his article The Best Test Match I Ever Saw, published in 1932:

“As he came out the crowd gave him a tremendous reception. Little more than a boy, his name was in all men’s mouths. The crowd had come there to see him bat. They were not to be disappointed. He had made 79 in the first innings, but he was to do still better in his second. He as a delight to watch. His footwork was wonderful, his timing superb, he was master of every stroke. The experts around me that day compared him with Trumper, some holding he was not in the same class, others strongly contending that he was Trumper’s equal. But none denied that he was a wonderful batsman. Indeed, that could not be denied in the face of that flick of the wrist with which he sent the ball travelling like a cannon shot to the boundary, reminding one of (KS) Ranjitsinhji….In Melbourne  in that 1929 Test match Bradman played a glorious innings of 112, and the great crowd cheered him again and again.” ALSO READ: Don Bradman: 15 lesser-known facts about the 99.94 dude

Perhaps a bit coloured by his own delight at the doings of the young batsman, nevertheless the passage penned by the Prime Minister shows that Bradman’s game excited all and sundry at that stage of his career.

The progress was actually slightly less ethereal than Hughes would lead us to believe. Bradman was very cautious at the beginning, and by the time he had proceeded to 9 at lunch he had already had a lucky escape when Jack White’s ball had missed his stumps by a hair’s breadth.

After the break, he proceeded slowly, struggling a bit against White, preferring to play back to him. He took 143 minutes for his second fifty of the match, and was 60 when he went in for tea. He had lost opener Bill Woodfull after the latter’s patient 107, Bert Oldfield and Edward a’Beckett.

Flowering of his flair

During the last session the bowlers tired, and Bradman jumped out to drive White with élan. With magnificent footwork, he played more in front of the wicket than was customary in those days. His second fifty took just 83 minutes. Having nursed the 37-year-old Ron Oxenham through their fighting partnership, The Don was stuck nervously on 96 for a considerable while. Finally there was a back-foot drive off White that sped past mid-on, and the batsmen scampered back and forth for an all-run four. The tumult of cheering lasted a three full minutes.

The great England opener Jack Hobbs later wrote in his diary, “In fact there was such a demonstration that we all sat down in the field while Oxenham walked down the pitch and shook Bradman’s hand.”

Neither were the celebrations restricted to the ground. Certain newspaper offices of Sydney had erected a large scoreboard to record the ball-by-ball progress of the Test match at Melbourne. The street was crowded with a large number of people watching the score of their lad progress through the 90s. When the 100 was reached, there was pandemonium:

“Thousands of hats were joyously tossed into the air. Women waved handkerchiefs and umbrellas. Motor-cars opened their throttles with mighty honks. People on passing trams cheered and clapped their hands, and tram bells clanged.”

The Bradman legend was born. At 20 years and 129 days he was the youngest man to score a century in Test cricket. He would hold the record for only a month and a day. On February 4, Archie Jackson would score his famous 164 at the age of 19.

It was Geary who finally got him, caught at the wicket for 112, eighth out at 345 after a 247-minute vigil against Larwood, Tate, Geary and White. The first of the 29 hundred-plus innings came to an end. He walked back — a force in international cricket.

Australia finished on 351, and it required some splendid batting on a sticky wicket by Herbert Sutcliffe, ably aided by Hobbs, Hammond, Jardine and Patsy Hendren, to chase down the 332-run target with 3 wickets to spare. Bradman’s splendid efforts could not prevent him from finishing on the losing side.

Yet the youngster’s temperament and range of strokes had fascinated one and all. The inimitable Captain EW Ballantine commented, “His strokes radiated beautifully round the wicket like the spokes of a cart wheel.”

Brief Scores:

Australia 397 (Alan Kippax 100, Jack Ryder 112, Don Bradman 79, Ted a’Beckett 41) and 351 (Bill Woodfull 107, Alan Kippax 41, Don Bradman 112; Jack White 5 for 107) lost to England 417 (Herbert Sutcliffe 58, Douglas Jardine 62; Don Blackie 6 for 94) and 332 for 7 (Jack Hobbs 49, Herbert Sutcliffe 135, Patsy Hendren 45) by 3 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)