When Donald Bradman ended his maiden Test series - the Ashes at home in the 1928/29 season - with a tally of 468 runs, averaging 66.9 including two hundreds, the word some cricket experts circulated suggested that Bradman would struggle in England with his technique.
The obsession of cricket pundits with batsmen’s ability to score runs in England can still be seen. Michael Holding in 2017 said he won’t consider Virat Kohli a great batsman until he scores runs in England. In Bradman’s case, however, the questions put up against him seemed more valid given the lesser number of international cricket teams then which were only four - Australia, England, South Africa and West Indies.
Incumbent England cricketer and journalist, Percy Fender infamously claimed, “Bradman would not get a run in England”, calling him a reckless young batsman.
Only 21 and touring England for the first time, his second international assignment, Bradman proved Fender wrong in the first Test itself when he scored a masterful 131 at Trent Bridge, albeit in vain as Australia lost by 93 runs.
In the subsequent Test, at Lord’s, the right-hander inflicted further blows to Fender’s words scoring a flawless 254 helping his team to a series-levelling win. Bradman, years later christened it as the best innings of his career. In terms of runs, though, his best was yet to come in the third Test at Headingley.
There was a gap of 10 days between the Lord’s and Headingley Tests. No tour match was scheduled in the meantime. Bradman had no real match practice but he showed little sign of rustiness when he walked in to bat at the score of 2 for one, only after 11 balls in the match on day 1. Batting with skipper, Bill Woodfull, he revived the Australian innings with a 192-run stand. The fact that Woodfull contributed only 50 runs to the partnership gave a palpable sense of the great man’s domination.
By the end of the session, he had accumulated 105 runs, becoming only the third man to complete a hundred by lunch on day 1 of a Test match. He joined the elite club which had his former statemates - Victor Trumper and Charlie Macartney. England also did their part well by maintaining a good over-rate, bowling 46 overs in the two-hour long session.
His batting display was another retort at Fender’s comment who had termed him reckless. During the course of the first session, it is said that the then 21-year old did not play a single shot in the air which actually makes his feat more praiseworthy.
Marching on, the right-hander added another 115 runs to his score before tea. This time, he did present England with a couple of opportunities, although, there was no-one to catch the skied ball at mid-on on both occasions. Sir Don was batting on 141 and 202 when those two opportunities were presented.
A more realistic chance appeared when he was on 273. George Duckworth, however, failed to convert a half-chance into something substantial. The dropped catch cost England 36 more runs in the day as the Australian batsman was unbeaten on 309 at stumps.
It was only the second triple hundred in Test cricket history and the first one by an Australian after Andy Sandham’s 325 three months ago. In the modern era, where batsmen are blessed with boastful bats and covered pitches, Sir Don’s 90-year old feat still remains to be the only occasion of a batsman scoring in excess of 300 runs in a day’s play. Astonishingly, there were no sixes but 42 boundaries on the day constituting 54 percent of his runs. A proponent of hitting the ball along the carpet, he struck only six sixes in his entire career, yet scored at a faster pace than anybody else.
Australia put up 458 for the loss of three wickets by stumps. They went on to make 566 before being bundled out the next day. Bradman’s innings culminated at 334, the highest individual score in Test cricket at the point. It was overhauled by Wally Hammond three years later against New Zealand, the same man who broke the second wicket stand between Woodfull and Bradman.
During England’s innings, a telegram was sent on the field for Bradman from Arthur Hurwood, an England-based Australian businessman. The telegram, handed to Woodfull on its way to Bradman, contained a congratulatory message for the most recent entrant of the 300-club along with an offer to accept £1,000 for his performance. Bradman put the telegram in his pocket, later conveying a thank you message to Hurwood for his generosity. The prize money from Hurwood was £400 more than any other Australian player made on the tour.
The match ended in a rain-affected draw. Bradman had one more big innings left in his bag scoring 232 in the fifth Test at the Oval. He amassed 974 runs in the series at an average of 139.1 - a record for a single series aggregate which stands till date. At 21, he announced himself handsomely ending the series with a career average of 103 and a hundred, double hundred and triple hundred in his kitty.
Australia regained the Ashes 2-1. Alarmed by Bradman’s run tally, Fender, keeping a close eye on the youngster to find chinks in his armory, observed that the right-hander was a little reluctant against short-pitched deliveries. He shared the assessment with Douglas Jardine, England’s captain in the subsequent Ashes in 1932 which led to the origination of the infamous Bodyline strategy.