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Birth of The Don: An unparallelled genius whose legacy lives on

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Last updated on 27 Aug 2023 | 08:49 AM
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Birth of The Don: An unparallelled genius whose legacy lives on

On this day in 1908, one of the all-time greats Sir Donald George Bradman was born in Cootamundra, New South Wales

The closest thing to God that humans have come across is the art of perfection. Whether it be Michael Jordan, Vincent Van Gogh, Luciano Pavarotti or Pele, all of them have shown a dexterity in their trade that can’t be demystified. Another such personality was Australian cricketer Don Bradman.

Interestingly, what made Bradman a phenomenal cricketer had less to do with his batting skills and more to do with his unparalleled concentration. Born on August 27, 1908, in Cootamundra, New South Wales, a young Don used to practice hitting a golf ball with a single stump against a tank stand from a two-yard distance, which, by his own words, sharpened his skills.

The uneven ground didn’t respond fairly, thus forcing Don not to react until the very end before striking the ball. “The small bat made this no easy matter, as the ball came back at great speed and, of course, at widely different angles,” Don had later explained.

“I found I had to be pretty quick on my feet and keep my wits about me, and in this way, I developed, unconsciously, perhaps, a sense of distance and pace,” he added.

While his focus and reflexes sharpened with age, his intense love for the game gave him early opportunities. After scoring at an impressive average of 101.3 during the 1925 school season, Don was called up to Sydney, where he would get a crack at first-class cricket. A 19-year-old Don found it easy as he scored 118 runs on his debut and would later on to tally the highest first-class score of 452 runs that lasted 30 years.

An international debut was next on the cards, but Brisbane’s difficult track saw the young prodigy score 19 runs across two innings as Australia lost by a record 675 runs against England in the 1928 Ashes. Don was dropped for the next game but returned to score his maiden international century in the third Test. The visitors had taken the series 4-1, but it kickstarted a relationship between Bradman and England that would rewrite history.

Australia were scheduled to tour England in two months, and the British media was all over Bradman's “faulty” bottom-hand technique, who had scored two centuries and two fifties against England on his debut series. Don would answer them all with four outstanding innings - 131 in Nottingham, 254 at the Lord’s, 334 at Leeds, and 232 at the Oval. 

Don had batted better than any English batsman in their conditions, averaging 139.14 and tallying a record 974 runs over five matches as Australia had won the series 2-1. Losing a series in their backyard was a tight slap for the Englishmen, and with the next series coming two years later, Australia enjoyed their bragging rights for long.

Don had become a hero back home as he utterly dominated teams like West Indies and South Africa during 1931 and 1932, where he scored two centuries and three double centuries, thus becoming a household name in international cricket. But things were to change soon.

Come the 1932-33 Ashes, England came prepared with a tactic to keep Bradman at the shore. As it turned out, Bradman’s 232-run knock at the Oval had revealed a chink in his seemingly impeccable armour, and ECB’s Plum Warner had decided to keep the ball on body length for Bradman and the Australians.

The trick, albeit devilish, worked for England as they won the series 4-1 at the back of extreme controversy with the series named the Bodyline series. It was clearly not played in the spirit of the game and resulted in straining political relations between the two countries before MCC disbanded the tactics in 1935. There were still questions on its efficacy to stop Bradman, though, as the opener would end with one century and 396 runs, averaging 56.57 during this series.

Don Bradman would return to England in 1934 with a famous triple century at Leeds, batting for three days straight. During this Test, he also declined an invitation from English journalist Neville Cardus, stating that his team needed him to score a double century the next day.

When Cardus had reportedly reminded him that no batsman had scored consecutive triple centuries at the same venue prior to it, referring to his last outing in Leeds when Don had ended up scoring 334, Bradman had famously replied, “I don’t believe in the law of averages”. Needless to say, he scored a triple century in that game, and Australia would regain the Ashes 2-1 in 1934. 

Surprisingly, despite all his heroics, not many in the Australian team were happy when Bradman was handed the captaincy. Bradman wasn’t included in the South Africa tour soon after when Vic Richardson led the side to a 4-0 win, and a perception was created that Bradman wasn’t pivotal to Australia’s success. The debate was finally settled when Don captained the Rest of Australia XI side against the main Australia team and won.

Don would also prove his captaincy skill in the 1937 Ashes when he pulled off a stroke of genius after trailing 2-0 with the series at stake. The third Test saw Don declaring the innings at 181/6 on a difficult track and getting into the second innings with a lead. Intermittent rain had kept the pitch wet, and Bradman would bat with his lower order first to dry out the track at MCG before coming out to score 270 and win the match. He would then score 212 and 169 in Adelaide and Sydney, respectively, to win the series 3-2.    

Then came the World War, and staying away from cricket affected Don mentally as well as financially. He also suffered from fibrositis during this period and declined a tour of New Zealand after cricket resumed. However, upon his wife’s insistence, he returned to play Ashes and helped Australia win it 3-0 quite convincingly. 

He had suddenly regained his mojo, and after thrashing India on home soil, where he scored 715 runs, Bradman would announce that Australia could remain unbeaten in England - something that hadn’t happened before. But Don being Don, he matched his words with Australia winning the series 4-0, which included his famous unbeaten 173-run knock at Headingley to chase 404. 

Unfortunately, Bradman was dismissed for a duck in the fifth and his final Test match’s first innings at the Oval, where his Test average was 101.39, and he was just four runs away from 7000 Test runs. Not only that, those four crucial runs would have cemented his Test average at 100 forever. But, as destiny would have it, Bradman ended his career with an average of 99.94 as England lost by an innings.

Bradman passed away on February 25, 2001, and he is compared with the best batsmen in the world even today. An unorthodox batsman with very few chinks in his armour, many still believe he was the best cricketer to wield his willow in the 22 yards.

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