Don Bradman out for Nought

Abhisek Mukherjee, courtesy of Cricket County where the title reads “Don Bradman and his ducks”

Volumes have been written about the 29 Tests hundreds; even the 117 First-Class hundreds have been chronicled in detail. The ducks (at least three of them), have been written about a lot as well. Bradman scoring a duck was no mere incident: the duck made it to the main headline on the front page, overshadowing almost all contemporary events.  For those twenty years almost no other news took precedence over Bradman’s ducks. Ask Arthur Morris.

Here, then, is the complete list, and a chronicle:

For Against Season At Format Balls Minutes How out
NSW Queensland 1927-28 SCG Sheffield Shield 1 2 b Francis Gough
Australia West Indies 1930-31 SCG Test 11 b Herman Griffith
NSW Queensland 1931-32 The Gabba Sheffield Shield c Leonard Waterman
b Eddie Gilbert
NSW South Australia 1931-32 SCG Sheffield Shield b Tim Wall
Australia England 1932-33 MCG Test (Ashes) 1 1 b Bill Bowes
Australians Cambridge 1934 Fenner’s Ground Tour match b Jack Davies
Australians Hampshire 1934 Southampton Tour match c Phil Mead
b Giles Baring
South Australia NSW 1935-36 SCG Sheffield Shield c Ray Little
b Bob Hynes
Australia England 1936-37 The Gabba Test (Ashes) 2 1 c Arthur Fagg
b Gubby Allen
Australia England 1936-37 MCG Test (Ashes) 1 1 c Gubby Allen
b Bill Voce
South Australia Queensland 1939–40 The Gabba Sheffield Shield c Les Dixon
b Jack Stackpoole
South Australia Victoria 1940-41 Adelaide Oval First-Class c Morris Sievers
b Walter Dudley
Bradman’s XI McCabe’s XI 1940-41 MCG First-Class c sub (Gordon Tamblyn)
b Jack Ellis
Australia England 1946-47 Adelaide Oval Test (Ashes) 9 10 b Alec Bedser
Australia England 1948 Trent Bridge Test (Ashes) 10 12 c Len Hutton
b Alec Bedser
Australia England 1948 The Oval Test (Ashes) 2 1 b Eric Hollies

1. Before the star was born

At 18 Bradman was considered talented, but hardly a prodigy. He batted at eight that day (and in the second innings) at SCG as New South Wales (NSW) hammered their way to 639 with Alan Kippax — the man David Frith considered the link between Victor Trumper and Archie Jackson — slamming 315 not out in characteristic fashion.

When Bradman came out to bat at 467 for 6 NSW were already in control. A desperate Leo O’Connor asked for the services of Francis Gough and his leg-breaks: the Boy from Bowral lasted was bowled first ball by Gough, who later finished with 3 for 100. He picked up only seven more wickets in his entire First-Class career.

2. Griffith fells the hero

West Indies were supposed to be a pushover when they, having been inducted into Test cricket the two years back, visited Australia in 1930-31. With Bradman having scored 974 in Australia’s regaining of The Ashes, nobody expected a contest; things went as expected till the teams reached SCG for the final Test.

The quartet of Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale, George Francis, and Herman Griffith had won the hearts of the tourists. Griffith, a genuine quick in his heydays, was 37 at the time of the Test. The wily Jackie Grant set Australia 251 on a wet pitch. Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford added 49 before Bradman walked out.

Constantine later wrote in Cricket and I that Bradman’s wicket “came after a skilful, teasing series of deliveries from (Herman) Griffith, and demoralised the Australians.” Australia lost by 30 runs.

3. The fastest ball he faced?

At 5’7” and 57 kg, nobody expected the little aborigine Eddie Gilbert to bowl express, let alone trouble Bradman. His rise was astronomical (both for his suspect action and his incredible pace), but his career did not last long enough: he could not make it to the biggest stage. That over from hell at The Gabba is not something historians are likely to forget.

After Gordon Amos skittled out Queensland for 109, Jack Fingleton saw off “Pud” Thurlow’s first over. Then Gough (remember the man?) summoned Gilbert. Wendell Bill could only protect his throat; as the ball brushed his gloves and went to the wicketkeeper. Bradman walked out. Could the new menace get the better of the champion?

Most would have been intimidated by the grandeur of the contest. Not Gilbert. He turned out to be express — quicker than Bradman’s estimates. Bradman was pushed back by pace, but being Bradman, he still managed to keep out the first ball he faced. The second bounced, but was outside leg-stump and Bradman let it go. The next beat Bradman’s bat and thudded into the big gloves behind him.

The fourth was a snorter: it hit Bradman on the underbelly and left him gasping for breath; his bat was knocked out as an impact. He reeled in agony, and it took him time to resume batting. The spectators got to the edges of their seats as Gilbert steamed in again. Had Bradman recovered?

Gilbert produced another brute, similar to the previous ball; Bradman, how desperate to protect both ego and the wicket, tried to counterattack, but the resultant top-edge landed in the wicketkeeper’s gloves. Bradman later acknowledged: “The keeper (Leonard Waterman) took the ball over his head, and I reckon it was halfway to the boundary.”

He also admitted that those five balls were “were unhesitatingly faster than anything seen from Larwood or anyone else.” The dismissal, combined with his performance in the Bodyline series the following season, gave Bradman’s critics fodder about his weakness against genuine pace.

Eddie Gilbert removes Bradman for a 5-ball duck. Do note the direction Bradman is looking at. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Eddie Gilbert removes Bradman for a 5-ball duck. Do note the direction Bradman is looking at. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

4. Coming up against Wall

The Sheffield Shield contest of 1935-36 between NSW and South Australia at SCG was a clash between two captains who served cricket and became legends in their respective fields: Bradman and Alan McGilvray. Incessant rain meant that they could start play only late on Day Two.

Bradman walked out after Ronald Parker was dismissed by Ted White. Bradman walked out, and a few minutes into the innings, holed to Ray Little off the left-arm fast-medium bowling of Bob Hynes. South Australia were bowled out for 94 (Ted White took 8 for 31) but time ran out for NSW.

5. What Bodyline?

Douglas Jardine’s men had come with the sole purpose of taking the urn back. Bradman had missed the first Test of the Bodyline series at SCG due to contract issues, but was back for the second. Woodfull had decided to bat at MCG, and Australia lost Fingleton and Leo O’Brien with 67 on the board. Bradman had been pushed back to four.

He walked out amidst tumultuous applause. Bradman took a long, semicircular route to the crease. This served two purposes: he could wait for the applause to subside and could get accustomed to the light. Bill Bowes, the bespectacled man who looked anything but intimidating, ran in.

What did Bowes do before he started his run-up? He later recollected in Express Deliveries: “It was deafening. I had to stop in the middle of my run-up and wait for the noise to subside.  To fill in time, I asked my mid-on to move up to silly mid-on. Once again I began my run. Once again came the terrific roar.  Once again I had to stop. This time I moved my fine-leg fieldsman on the boundary edge.  I saw Don (Bradman) eyeing these changed field positions with a look of determination. Then the thought flashed through my mind, ‘He expects a bouncer — can I fool him?”

Bradman fell for it. He did expect the bouncer to come: he played a premeditated pull, only to realise that the ball was pitched on a length. He tried to make a last-moment adjustment, but could only get an edge; the ball hit timber; and MCG turned into a graveyard.

Bowes later recalled: “The crowd was stupefied. Bradman walked off the field amid a silence that would have been a theatrical producer’s triumph. The spell was broken by a solitary woman’s clapping. The feeble sound rippled above the hushed throng, and then an excited chatter broke out from all parts of the ground. And it was then that I noticed Jardine. Jardine, the sphinx, had forgotten himself for the one and only time in his cricketing life. In his sheer delight at this unexpected stroke of luck, he had clasped both his hands above his head and was jigging around like an Indian doing a war dance.”

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