- Bradman by Charles Williams
Little, Brown, 336 pp, £20.00, August 1996, ISBN 0 316 88097 3
Don Bradman did poorly by me in my youth: all I saw of him was his parting Oval duck in 1948, the most untimely nought in the history of cricket. It came on the first day of the fifth and last Test, with Australia three-nothing up, so whether our own side won or lost made small difference and we could watch the game as dilettantes instead of partisans, hoping that Bradman would bat, as he nearly always had, lavishly, or even brutally. England batted first and barely made it through to lunchtime: they scored 52 in all, the fewest runs ever in a home Test (46 from the bat; the splendid Ray Lindwall 6 for 20). The Australian openers were past this shameful mark inside the hour. Don Bradman wasn’t needed until after tea, when he came emotively in at his usual first wicket down. Because he had said that this would be his last Test Match here, he got three cheers from the assembled England, which was a nice extravagance on their part. The bowler was Eric Hollies, a down-market leg-spinner. Bradman stopped Hollies’s first ball to him and played on to the second, which was a googly, and a historic party-pooper. We had come to see the unique Bradman bat, not an ephemeral trundler like Hollies bowl. He had no business getting out in so elementary a fashion. His duck was an awful statistical lapse, because when he came in, he needed to hit only four runs, or a single boundary, to end up with a Test Match batting average of 100. This was and remains, run-scoring on a transcendent scale: just how transcendent you can see by looking at one of the tables in Charles Williams’s book, which shows Bradman, with his lifetime Test average of 99.94, almost forty runs an innings ahead of any other player, the run-rich Lara included.
Vol. 18 No. 18 · 19 September 1996
I too was in the Oval crowd when Donald Bradman was dismissed for a duck in his final test innings. Unlike John Sturrock (LRB, 22 August) – though I stand to be corrected, and Mr Sturrock is backed up by John Arlott’s famous commentary on Bradman’s two-ball innings – I seem to remember that Bradman did not ordinarily ‘stop’ the first ball Eric Hollies sent down. He was beaten by it, appearing not to have the faintest idea what it was doing; and an awed intake of breath travelled round the Oval terraces. With Hollies’s second delivery he was out in the way Mr Sturrock describes. But am I wrong or right about the first? Was anyone else there who can testify?
Vol. 18 No. 20 · 17 October 1996
In response to Alan Brownjohn’s enquiry about Don Bradman’s last innings at the Oval (Letters, 19 September), I can only reply: ‘I was there, but I cannot testify.’ I was only eight at the time and my grandfather, having detected early signs of cricket mania in his grandson, felt it appropriate that I should witness the last innings of this batting phenomenon – so off we tubed to the Oval, a mammoth journey in those days from suburban Wimbledon.
When it came to the Don’s turn to bat, the euphoria that greeted the all-too-infrequent fall of an Australian wicket was replaced by an apprehensive whispering around the ground. Had the Don dropped himself a place in the order? However, the Pavilion door opened and down the steps came this diffident and diminutive figure, hardly taller than the gate opening onto the field of play. By this time the thousands of spectators were on their feet, yelling their appreciation. I could not understand why a batsman should get an ovation before he had scored a run. My memory is of a man who looked as if he had never held a bat in his hand before. I was all the more mystified therefore when the poor man was cheered once again all the way back to the pavilion. After all, he had got a duck!