The Other Side of Don Bradman — Lean and Mean

Sharm de Alwis, in the Island, 12 September 2012

Arunabha Sengupta has opened a can, and I join the feast. Don Bradman has been universally acclaimed as the best batsman who ever lived. Jack Fingleton always added the caveat, “on good wickets.” There had been more enterprising batsmen in the golden era; Ranjit Sinhji and Victor Trumper, come to mind. Of Ranji it was said that the bat was an eastern wand in his hands. Of Trumper, “the very blades of grass bowed in obeisance when he arrived at the crease.” Of Bradman, the celebrated broadcaster Ray Robinson said, “then came Bradman. A single here, a single there, like a millionaire practicing thrift.” Although he grudgingly acknowledged Bradman’s virtuosity, Jack Fingleton always added the caveat “…on good wickets.”

Bradman was an accumulator. Not content with a century, he would sit in a remote corner and plot a double or a triple, whilst his team-mates would have a double scotch. Teetotalers have been known to buy a round of drinks. Even a skin flint like Len Hutton admitted: “I have bought a drink, but not often.”

But Bradman was parsimony personified. He would rather read a book than breast the bar. When Arthur Whitelaw presented Bradman with BP 1,000, For his 334 at Leeds in 1930 (today’s exchange rate is over 200), he didn’t buy his mates a single drink.

Apart from stinginess, Bradman’s problems with team-mates also arose from sectarian issues. As a Mason, he was with Bill Ponsford, Bert Oldfield and a few others, whilst the Catholics, included Jack Fingleton, Bill O’Reilly, Stan McCabe, Leo O’Brien and Fleetwood-Smith. Even though the Don and ‘Tiger’ patted themselves warmly calling each other the best in their respective trade,
O’Reilly said, “Bradman was a chap who never made the slightest effort to be a real hundred percent team man.”

Rancour was fuelled. It is well known that Bradman’s vindictiveness resulted in the premature end of ‘Tiger’s career.

When Bradman was bowled for 0 by Eric Hollies, O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton in the press box were hysterical with laughter, but O’Reilly kept his murkiest feelings about Bradman out of the limelight with, “you don’t piss on statues.”

When Bradman got to know that Fingleton’s bat had been sprinkled with holy water by a Catholic priest and he fell cheaply, Bradman, whilst crossing him to the crease said, “let’s see what a dry bat can do out there.” Their rift was one of the longest conflicts in the history of the game and they never spoke to each other till the end of their lives. Fingleton also maintained that it was Bradman who kept him out of the Test side of the England tour of 1934.

When the Bodyline issue exploded, Australian captain Woodfull’s comment, “there are two teams out there. One is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so,” was leaked to the press. Fingleton, the journalist and Bradman were suspected of the leak. Each rubbished the suspicion and blamed the other as the culprit. Having read between the lines of much of what both have written over the years, I go with Fingleton as the gent above reproach.

As an act of vindictiveness for Hammond having allowed his team to pile 903 for seven at the Oval, Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ of 1948, who raced to 721 runs in a single day against lowly county Essex, Keith Miller walked in with the score at 364 for two wickets. Never the man to grind an opponent to dust, he deliberately allowed himself to be bowled first ball. Bradman, at the non-striker’s end muttered, “he’ll learn.”

During the Lord’s game, when England took strike, Miller was not fit to bowl due to a back problem. Regardless, Bradman threw the ball to him. Miller refused to bowl and lobbed the ball back. This incident generated headlines and insubordination was cited. Bradman’s cronie, Ian Johnson, re-visited the scene in 1953, stating that Miller forestalled Bradman.

Wounds were re-visited. In a State match Victoria was playing South Australia when Miller was taking his first strides in the game. Bradman played to the covers where Miller scooped the ball and threw down the wicket. Bradman was run out for 76. A superb runner between wickets, it was the first of his four run outs in 338 first class dismissals.

In another Shield match in 1939, Miller edged Clarrie Grimmett. Bradman had the ball in his hand and was enthusiastic with his high pitched, “well bowled Clarrie.” Miller, who has been a paragon through his career, stood his ground. Without replays, umpires conferred. Miller was given out. You decide if Bradman did not cheat.

In the 1946-47 Adelaide Test, Miller was relaxing in the dressing room. Bill James, the team manager and secretary of the Australian Board of Cricket, asked Miller to hurry a taxi to the team hotel. Miller wouldn’t budge and the incident was reported to Bradman, who summoned him to his broking office before play would begin next morning. No charges were pressed, but Bradman asserted his authority even in a disgusting manner. Miller remembered the bumped catch off Grimmett.

When Miller was bowling his heart out in tandem with Ray Lindwall during the 1948 tour of England, Bradman would relieve him after he had snared three or even four quick wickets, and toss the ball to his acolytes, Bill Johnston or Ian Johnson.

After returning to Australia, Miller played against Bradman in a testimonial match for Alan Kippax and Bert Oldfield and proceeded to bowl three consecutive bouncers at the legend. Bradman hooked the first two, but was caught off the third at mid-on. One week later, the squad for South Africa was announced by the selectors, of whom Bradman was one. Miller was not included. Bradman maintained that he had voted for Miller. So did the other two selectors, Jack Ryder and ‘Chappie’ Dwyer.

Unlike Bradman, Miller played not only to satisfy spectators, but to excite them. Bradman played for records. He was miffed when his NSW skipper Alan Kippax declared when he was 452 not out. He had wanted to go on to 600 and shut out any other contestant.

Even with Walter Hammond, Bradman had bad blood. On the English tour of Australia after WWII, Bradman was trying to scrape through the rust that prevailed in his batsmanship. A failure would have spelt Kaput. When he was batting in the first Test, Bill Voce made him edge a delivery to Jack Ikin in the slips. Bradman was on 28 and refused to walk. The umpires were not sure and allowed him to continue. Hammond, as he crossed the batsman after the over, said, “that’s a fine f….. way to start a Test series.”

Hammond never spoke to Bradman again during the entire tour, except at the toss.

Leo O’Brien, Bradman’s team-mate in the early years said just before he died, “he had an inferiority complex, except when he had a bat in his hand. It was the small man syndrome that made him to excel.”

That lovely writer of lyrical prose, Arthur Mailey had spent chapters in an array of books, analyzing why exactly Victor Trumper was actually a much better batsman than Bradman could ever be.

He too stuck to the glue pot inability for Bradman to flourish.

Bradman’s vice captain of 1938, Stan McCabe was a far more facile scorer. His 232 in four hours with the last 72 coming in 28 minutes made Bradman tell him: “I wish I could have played an innings like that.” Victor Trumper was a stylist and versatile. Of all the great batsmen, he was considered the best by general consent. He challenged comparisons with Ranjitsinji for batting under all conditions, unlike Bradman.

Bradman scored 6,996 runs in 80 innings at an average of 99.94. But who were the bowlers he faced? The same crop of Bill Voce, Alec Bedser, Ken Farnes and Ken Serpanchy, (in honour of Chandrishan Perera who had Piyasena in the formidable third row of the British Lions).

Eighty innings. It is like a 60 metre race. How would he have fared in the 100, 200, 400 or even the marathon like Tendulkar, with an array of bowlers like Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Murali with field settings that would be mind boggling to sort out?

The hosannas paid to him by a public that cannot think beyond 22 yards makes me unleash a tackle on the old man even as he was singing his National Anthem and I am sure that on the strength of that salvo, a multitude of others would join me for Bradman to receive more attention than Marilyn Munroe or Liz Taylor.

After leaving the crease, he kept his tentacles on the game, crippling it, issue by issue. As an administrator, he was a banyan tree, shutting out light and thought. It was his inherent meanness with money. “No, son, we couldn’t do that,” that led cricketers to opt for the financial security offered by Kerry Packer.

When Ian Meckiff was called for throwing during the Ashes series in 1963, it was conjectured that Meckiff was a fall guy. Bradman had had his doubts about Meckiff’s action, but he was one of the selectors who chose him. At a dinner hosted by Bradman, a film was run of bowlers with suspect actions, with Meckiff amongst them. Umpire Col Egar, who had called Meckiff during the Brisbane Test, had traveled with Bradman from Adelaide and it looked much like a plot to show Australia’s eagerness to play fair. Meckiff would be the sacrificial lamb. Many, including Keith Miller and cricketer turned journalist Dick Whittington wanted Bradman to resign. But the brook would go on bubbling and blundering.

Right through his life, he kept rubbing people wrong. Even Ian Chappell, the grandson of the legendary Vic Richardson was asked about his success. Bradman said: “I managed to do it all without getting my hair permed or getting a divorce” Chappell, who had been through both thought, “bugger you, mate. It’s personal now.” And he revealed how he had known an interaction between his grandfather and Bradman many years previously:

Arthur Gilligan, the former England captain and a close friend of Richardson, had just been made the MCC president. Bradman was graciously congratulating Richardson on his friend’s success when the latter remarked, “good thing they don’t work on the Australian system.” “Why is that Vic?” Bradman asked. Richardson’s biting reply was, “in England, the president is picked by his friends. If they had the system in Australia, you’d never have get a vote, you c…”


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