Perhaps the most spine-chilling sight for a bowler: Don Bradman in action © Getty Images
Perhaps the most spine-chilling sight for a bowler: Don Bradman in action © Getty Images

November 2, 1931, saw Don Bradman implode at Blackheath, racing to a hundred in 3 overs and 18 minutes. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when the Lithgow bowlers were torn to shreds by a rampant giant.

When Blackheath (60 miles from Sydney) hosted a match against Lithgow, they invited two locals to play for them. One of them, Wendell Bill, had a decent stint with New South Wales, scoring 1,931 from 35 matches at 37.86. The other was slightly more famous, and went by the name of Don Bradman. Bradman, having conquered England the previous year, was already a big name, and a huge crowd gathered to see the wannabe legend in action. Little did they know they were about to witness history.

The malthoid pitch of Blackheath was the first of its kind in the district. Bradman recollected: “The Lithgow experiment was new to me in that I had never seen a pitch with a malthoid top. I’m still not sure if it was laid on a bitumen base or on concrete but it was perfectly flat and very smooth…The pitch proved ideal for batting in that the ball came off it at a gentle pace and with a particularly uniform and predictable bounce.” It had its drawbacks too: “The batsmen had to wear rubber-soled boots or shoes” to avoid holes being created on malthoid.

Blackheath batted first, and Bradman walked out amidst tumultuous applause. The match involved eight-ball overs, and Bradman went after the bowling from the word go, scoring 38 off the first over he faced. The hundred took no time, and Bradman did not look like he would get out anytime soon.

At this stage a bowler called Bill Black was brought on. Black had dismissed Bradman earlier and had apparently made a big show of it (he had the ball mounted), though the great man had little recollection of the bowler. When Bradman asked Lithgow wicketkeeper Leo Waters about Black, he was reminded of the incident. Bradman walked up to Bill, who was at the other end, with the words “I think I’ll have a go.”

Those 18 minutes

Have a go he did at Black, and how! Unfortunately, Horrie Baker, the man bowling at the other end, received serious flak as well, despite not doing anything as heinous as celebrating a Bradman wicket. Bradman took 33 off Black’s first over and 40 more off Baker’s. Two balls were “wasted” in Black’s next over by Bill (who took two singles to give the strike back to The Don). Below is exactly what happened.

Over

Bowler

Ball

Don Bradman

Wendell Bill

Score

Balls faced

Runs scored

4s

6s

Score

Balls faced

Runs scored

1

Bill Black

1

6

1

6

9

10

2

6

2

12

9

10

3

4

3

16

9

10

4

2

4

18

9

10

5

4

5

22

9

10

6

4

6

26

9

10

7

6

7

32

9

10

8

1

8

33

9

10

2

Horrie Baker

9

6

9

39

9

10

10

4

10

43

9

10

11

4

11

47

9

10

12

6

12

53

9

10

13

6

13

59

9

10

14

4

14

63

9

10

15

6

15

69

9

10

16

4

16

73

9

10

3

Bill Black

17

16

73

9

10

1

1

1

18

6

17

79

9

10

1

1

19

6

18

85

9

10

1

1

20

1

19

86

9

10

1

1

21

19

86

9

10

1

2

2

22

4

20

90

9

10

2

2

23

4

21

94

9

10

2

2

24

6

22

100

9

10

2

2

Baker went for 22 in his next over and asked to be taken away after figures of 2-0-62-0. By the time Bradman fell for 256 he had hit 14 sixes and 29 fours (which accounted for exactly 200 of his runs). Bill scored 66 as well, but the remaining nine Blackheath batsmen (plus extras) scored a mere 33 between them; they were bowled out for 357, Lithgow for 228, and that was that.

Writing for ESPNCricinfo, Martin Williamson mentioned a curious incident. In 2008, a certain Syd Edgar recalled his experiences of the match: “When word got around that Bradman was coming to Blackheath, I think nearly everyone attended. I was yelling at him ‘hit it over here, hit it over here’ and he hit one past my head out of the ground.”

What followed?

– Bill and Bradman both played Queensland four days later at The Gabba, and were dismissed in the same over by Eddie Gilbert for ducks.

– Bradman later wrote of the innings: “It is important I think to emphasise that the thing was not planned. It happened purely by accident and everyone was surprised at the outcome, none more so than I.”

– Peter Sutton, Mayor of Blackheath, asked Bradman for the bat, to which the latter responded “when I’m finished with it”. It did not last the season, and Bradman kept his promise.

– Bradman and Bill remained very close friends.

Brief scores:

Blackheath 357 (Don Bradman 256, Wendell Bill 66) beat Lithgow 228 by 129 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)