Monday, May 21, 2007

The Bradman Genius


Sir Donald George Bradman was dismissed for 92, not runs, but years. Not by the bowler, but by Nature. When he died in his sleep on February 25, 2001 the news hit the headline, much the same way when he was dismissed for a "duck". Bradman was doubtless the most devastating batsman the world has ever seen and a most extraordinarily talented one. Even after 50 years since he played his last game, the name of Bradman still thrills people in every walk of life. Such is the Bradman fame.

Bradman has been permanently placed on such a high pedestal simply because every requirement of batting as well as human qualities were there in him in abundance. He was gifted with perfect coordination of eye, brain and muscle and immaculate balance. His single-minded concentration, superior intelligence and self-confidence complemented perfectly with his agility and keenness of eye that lifted his performances to near super human levels. He had powerful sinewy legs and forearms and small feet (he was just about 5'7" and used size five in footwear) that allowed him to shuffle into position with lightning speed. His reflexes were sharp and true. But above all, he had a mind which reacted quicker than any other to size up where a ball would pitch, its speed, its movement and its worth. He was a shrewd captain and a master tactician.

The first thing Bradman did when he came to the crease was take a single, the first of many that soon followed, with stunning regularity. In 338 first class innings he has made only 16 'ducks'. He played the ball late and he timed his strokes to perfection. Once set, seldom have fielding sides seen his back. They were sent on a 'leather hunt'. Bradman could place the ball where he intended, with uncanny ease and manipulated the field like a puppeteer, much to the chagrin of the bowler. His shot-repertoire was unmatched. Ball selection, flawless. The cut and pull shots were his favourites, which fetched him hundreds of runs. He lacked the charm at the crease of an Alan Kippax or a Tom Graveney. He was not in that sense a stylist. But opposing captains seldom succeeded to subdue the seepage of runs from his bat.

To quote C.B.Fry (1934): "You can see it (mastery) in his face. Firm little mouth, winner's chin…. I like the little demon". Denis Compton wrote: "If any should doubt the crushing power of his strokes please, I beg you, take the word of one who has fielded on the boundary to him and watched a red round bullet repeatedly pass at unstoppable speed, and placed with such precision that I had no earthly chance of getting within reach".

One of Bradman's dictums "if you hit the ball on the ground there's less chance of getting out", sums up that he valued control over power. But his power came from well-timed shots and that typical flourish that only great players possess. In fact, he hit just 46 sixes in his entire first class career, most of these in his innings when the state of the game dictated that he could do so. He never played to the gallery. At the same time, he had high regard for the entertainment value of cricket.

In grinding out an innings Bradman saw no percentage. He was a natural stroke-maker. That he scored his runs at such a fantastic rate was the reason at times which led to "errors". His average time to score 100 runs was 2 hours 46 minutes and from 100 to 200 was 2hours 18 minutes. Throughout his career, he scored @ 42 runs per hour. His runs in Tests was 25.47 per cent of his side's total and while he was at the crease, his contribution to the partnership was 56 per cent. Such was Bradman's dominance of the bowling. He scored a hundred in a second-class game in three 8-ball overs, off 22 balls. The time was thought to be less than 18 minutes. Jack Fingleton once quipped, "You didn't bat with Bradman, you ran for him". But he was not selfish, mind you. And he never went after records. They happened.

Most of his records have been broken. But for someone to better his batting average of 99.94 in 52 Tests will take 'Bradmanesque' efforts, given the best of seasoned bats!

Don Bradman being at the crease was hot news. Ground attendances swelled. When he got out, it thinned. People came merely to see him bat. More often, they got their money's worth.

The efficiency of Bradman's technique was so consistent and seemed bereft of any shortcomings. For the bowlers to beat Bradman's bat, leave alone bowl him out, was a feat in itself. "How to dismiss Bradman?" was the chief plan of the opponents. That led to the so-called infamous "Bodyline". It was a sort of back-handed compliment to his genius that Douglas Jardine invented and employed to curtail Bradman more than winning the 'Ashes'. But the 'scheme' could only halve his output to 56.57, a failure by Bradman's own standards. Bradman countered it by unorthodox methods and he also used a tennis-style smash back over the bowler's head to good effect. He was an improviser par excellence.

To have performed those amazing feats against a background of personal turmoil debilitating illnesses, petty jealousies, irritating criticisms and the pressures caused by mass public adulation, make this phenomenon even more meritorious. No matter how much people attacked him, he rarely reacted. Critics found him as difficult to ruffle him as bowlers. He answered them with his bat.

During Bradman' s epic innings of 309 not out on the first day of the Leeds Test in 1930, P.F.Warner turned round to Lord Hawke and said: "This is like throwing stones at Gibraltar." He had come in at the fall of the first wicket in the first over of the match and England had bowled 134 overs by the end of the day, a fantastic rate. He was out at 334 the next day.

Sir Neville Cardus once asked Bradman what was his secret. 'Concentration. Every ball is for me the first ball, whether my score is 0 or 200.' And then he took his breath away by adding: 'And I never visualize the possibility of anybody getting me out.' This is the attitude which took him to such great heights.

If Bradman had not taken to cricket, he would have excelled in any ball game. For, he had that astonishing 'ball sense'. He was very good at Tennis, Golf, Billiards and Snooker. He was a Squash player of International standard and was ranked among the top players in Australia around 1939.

Music gave Bradman enormous pleasure. Apart from being an accomplished pianist, one of his compositions "Every Day is a Rainbow Day for Me" was recorded by Columbia Records.

Bradman was a man who was known for his scrupulous honesty and a wonderful sense of humour. His kindness to children and support for their charities is almost a legend in itself. Fraser White, a graphologist, interpreted his handwriting specimens and most of his great characteristics tallied.

Here is one of the most touching stories about his generosity during the 1934 England tour. Bradman saw a man looking through the gate, dejected. He was an unemployed Notts miner with no money or hope of seeing that Test Match at Nottingham. "Would you like to come in?" asked Bradman. In a jiffy, he was inside the ground. Bradman paid his way and found him a place in the grandstand and gave him a few shillings to go with. When it was discovered later that the miner, Herbert Elliot, had a wife and eight children, a subscription list was opened. Bradman headed it with a generous contribution.

Bradman was knighted in 1949. Sir Donald later revealed that had he thought his knighthood was purely a personal award he would have declined it. He had thought "it was intended as a compliment to the game of cricket and Australian cricket in particular". He always preferred to think of himself just as plain Don Bradman, the boy from Bowral. Later that year when he arrived at the SCG for a Testimonial match, the door-attendant "Smithy", who had known Sir Donald for years had always called him "Don". But this time there was a momentary hesitation. Before he could say anything, Sir Donald said: "It's still Don, Smithy." Such was his modesty.

Bradman answered his fan mails as much as he could, himself. He had received one from an Australian fan when Australia was touring England. The envelope had been addressed "D.G.Bradman, Somewhere Playing in England". The name and deeds of Bradman were known to almost everyone in the world. Even the New York Times saluted him in an editorial after he was knighted. To be a legend and to keep one's head at the same time is a challenge failed by many a hero. But Bradman excelled on that count as well.

Don Bradman speaking at a public farewell in Bowral before the 1930 England tour had said "My parents taught me to be a cricketer off the field as well as on. It was not 'did you win' but 'did you play the game?' that made the man."

A few years ago he said that he saw "many cricketers who had more ability than I had. Why they didn't make more runs than I did, I don't know". The ability to transform talent into runs more consistently than all others was the sacred secret. When asked what he would like best to be remembered for, he said "Integrity".

The world may neither see the likes of Sir Donald George Bradman, the maestro with a magic touch, nor the newspapers headlining someone for scoring nought. He was not just a batsman appearing in a lifetime but once in the life of a game.

One-day Cricket

Most teams pass through temporary lows and highs. When low, profane expletives are thrown. When high, the same tongues or pens use great adjectives! Too much one-day cricket breed 'short memories' in the public minds and judgements are passed on a team, based on that - which is very unwise. The players are not machines, but mortal humans playing a sport. No doubt, as paid professionals, they are expected to deliver the goods. But certain factors need to be considered before slapping abuses, just because they lost a couple of tournaments.The Indian Board in its greed to spin more money, prepares hectic schedules that indirectly reflect on results while putting key players at risk of injurires. That affects the combination which forces to experiment with replacements. In the present instance, the team played after a much needed break [remember, after successful sojourns] and it is often proved to be good to be 'slow starters'. Haven't they hit peak at the right time before? The team also needs to do a few 'dry runs' with new combinations and strategies and that was practically the right time to have a feel. Certain fringe players are also worried about their places in the team and so they tend to 'play for themselves'. Our team has to cope with special factors like zonal quotas and attractive surnames to add to the already complicated 'strategies' and still be expected to win each and every game!We also fail to take account of the various playing conditions, the fitness, form and strength of our own players as well as the opposition during a match/series. They are expected to adopt to all of them and if cricket was so very predictable, we would not have been talking about it! Why did Australia lose to England yesterday? One-day cricket is mainly for 'watch and forget' entertainment, not entirely worthy of serious discussions and post-mortems. It keeps the business part of the game rolling, but what should matter is the Test Matches. For, that is the real test for any team. If you ask the players, most will vouch for it. Result-oriented, fanatic-viewing dilutes whatever enjoyment we may derive from the contest. If there were no losers, esp. in sport, there would not have been any winners!
[This was published in Star of Mysore, 2006]

Joy of TV-viewing cricket

Watching a cricket match on TV is not just sitting back, with some junk food by the side, counting runs, overs and wickets. Cricket is for enjoyment of both the player and the beholder. But this element of enjoyment will be missed if we take sides while watching. It would not have been cricket if Tendulkar scored a century each time he walked out to bat, or India won each and every game! This is what the fanatics foolishly expect. Siding makes one tense esp., if the favoured team does badly. I know some friends who stay away from the TV when India is playing, just for that reason. Result-in-favour-of-India-oriented watching is no fun. It is here people miss the wonderful nuances of this great game. We must learn to recognize and appreciate the finer points of good cricket, be it from any team. That can be more pleasurable than mere statistics.Patriotism should not be taken too far while watching a cricket match. Cricket is a hard-fought game played between two teams and the winner is always the one who performs better than the other on that day. So involved are many, that they watch the game as if they are commanding the actions on far away grounds! One has to experience the enjoyment of watching cricket sans siding! After all, not for nothing, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.

Memories of M.Chinnaswamy

I had the good fortune of spending a few brief moments with the great man, who made Cricket Test Matches a reality at Bangalore, M. Chinnaswamy [MC], of much revered memory. 

Our family was there at the wedding reception of BS Chandrasekhar. Karnataka had just won the Ranji Trophy for the first time in 1975. Most of the players were present and MC came later. We young boys were trying to identify/match the players' faces to those we had seen in the newspapers, with autograph books in hand. Looking at cricketers in flesh and blood was quite something! My grandfather [a sportsman of much fame in his days] introduced him to me. In turn, MC introduced Sanjay Desai to me - they had come together! I offered the autograph book, to which he said "nanna autographella yaakappa?" before obliging - his signature was already a bit shaky. Sanjay too put his in the next page. I had heard about MC during the first ever Test Match there the previous year [India vs West Indies] to which I had the good fortune of witnessing all five days with an 80-rupee season ticket.  All the stands were temporarily erected using planks and poles and the folding seats were of plywood. It was a Herculean feat in itself.

In 1983, Mysore Zone had won the SA Srinivasan Memorial tournament [under-25] for the first time and a function had been arranged here in Mysore. MC was the chief guest. My turn came to receive a pullover [sponsored by 'Prince' Sri Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, who was also playing cricket in his college days] from MC. Someone next to him murmered something, probably about my recent prowess in that tournament.  Having heard it, he presented me a pullover saying: "Well done, put on some shoulders, young man" and then put his right hand on my left shoulder and then gave me an unforgettably warm hand shake. Perhaps it had an impression! How great the value of such names as SAS and MC became known to me as years passed by, having got a few opportunities to play at the stadium which was later aptly named after MC [though much against his wishes]. In fact, as it so happened, it was there that some of the best performances by me for The Mysore Gymkhana, both with bat and ball have happened.  On a personal note, I also have my best bowling figures here, in my career which is 8 wickets for 50 runs and one of my most memorable innings, 64 against the Ranji-stars-studded BUCC. The thrilling memories and those valuable autographs are much treasured and cherished.

Thrills of watching a Test Match, first time

Cricket has always topped the list of popular pastimes. In fact, for more than a century. One of my great grandfather's preserved testimonials, handwritten and signed by J.Cook, M.A, Principal, Central College Bangalore in 1888, praising my ancestor as an 'ardent cricketer' is ample proof. Even before 1888, in all probabilities, he would have played the game during his days in Maharaja's College and was talented enough to earn such a praise from the Principal.

Besides their own fun-cricket, Test Matches [not as many as now], provided cricket's joy mostly through newspapers, much later, the radio. But very few had the good fortune to watch a Test Match in person because they were only in the big cities. It took the yeoman efforts of a certain M.Chinnaswamy, the man who dreamt and actually brought such a wonderful privilege and status to Bangalore. Our joy soared skywards when the honey-sweet news broke out. West Indies who were to tour India in 1974-75, were to play the first Test of the series in Bangalore. It also meant that we Mysoreans were close to getting a fine opportunity to be part of it.
Excitement was building up as the day neared. My uncle wrote that he had booked one of the eighty-rupee-season tickets for me as well as for a few relatives. I was on cloud nine. I persuaded my grandfather and bought an eighty-rupee binocular. The dream of watching a Test Match and the players in flesh and blood was nearing fruition.
Collecting cricket pictures was a hobby and I used to buy the sports weekly magazine from the saved pocket-money, merely for the sake of cutting and pasting the pictures in albums. I do not remember having read even a single article! I used to imagine and imitate the styles from those action pictures. The binocular was to help me take a closer-look at the heroes.
Special buses had been arranged from Mysore for the thousands who thronged Bangalore for the historic occasion. We went in one of them, leaving behind my old grandfather, himself a great all-round sportsman, which was rather sadly ironic. But my fit and cricket-ignoramus grandmother was accompanying us in expectation of seeing her nephew, B.S.Chandrasekhar, in action. None of us had seen him play and we had longed for that occasion.
The day had arrived. The 80,000-capacity stadium (then, the MSCA) was a marvel of labour. Except for the players' pavilion, all of the 'stands' were erected entirely of wooden poles, planks and jute ropes with thatched shelters over some parts. The foldable plywood chairs had been serially numbered. The scene was set. That the precarious looking stands stood the 'test' for five days was a feat in itself!
Our 'gang', equipped with food and water for the day, reached the stadium and stood in the long queue. We had missed the toss by the time we entered. Pataudi, back at the helm, had asked Clive Lloyd to bat first. Our seats were somewhere in the 10th row, reasonably close to the boundary. A satisfaction in itself. Never before had I seen such a congregation. The noise created by the crowd was deafening and excitement was running haywire! I was to find that it was a reasonably sporting crowd, though at times a bit pranky, applauding the good cricket from either team.
I was making my debut as a test match spectator, RS Krishnaswamy was making his, behind the microphone alongside stalwarts Anant Setalwad and Tony Cozier. My uncle had his 'biggish' transistor radio to follow the commentary and to know who is who on the field. M.V. Nagendra and Jack Reuben were the umpires. For India, Hemant Kanitkar was making his debut while one Gordon Greenidge and a certain Viv Richards were making theirs for the West Indies. India had no Bedi due to some controversy but the rest of the famed spin-team were in. The oldest man in the match was 42-year old great West Indian off-spinner, Lance Gibbs.
After a few overs from Abid Ali and Solkar, the crowd noticed Chandra warming up and there was a big roar, a roar we had heard 'on the air' but now we were part of it. Greenidge (93) showed his power and southpaw Kallicharran (124), his grace and technique. Rain on the second morning tried to dampen the spirits but that was luckily short-lived. Wickets were not covered those days. Play continued after a brief stoppage and Kallicharran showed batsmanship of the highest class, playing the Indian spinners on a rain-affected wicket with masterly ease with 124. One late-cut off Prasanna stands out in my memory. Abid Ali, Solkar and Venkataraghavan displayed their close-in fielding skills. Chandra's 4-wicket haul gave us a glimpse of why he was feared by the batsmen. Richards had no clue whatsoever. Venkat's accuracy and Pras' guiles were mastered in this match.
India conceded a big lead and only Hemant Kanitkar cut his way to a top-score 65. We saw what Andy Roberts' hot pace was like and the effect of Vanburn Holder's deadly accuracy. The way Gibbs trapped Viswanath soon after he had hoisted a six was top class bowling. [There was no way I could have imagined then, that 14 years later, I was to bowl my best ever ball, a leg-cutter, to have this great man bowled off-stump for a duck in a league match.] Solkar was run out by a direct hit from long leg by Keith Boyce. It was customary that the Indian tail did not wag. Chandra getting bat on ball was duly applauded.
Greenidge again blazed with a hard hit 107. But it was Lloyd's 143-ball 163 that stunned Pataudi's Indians. The clonks were heard in spite of the crowd's noise. It was explosive power. He often swept the Indian spinners out of line. Poor, fat-tummied Kanitkar at deep square-leg was bamboozled by the accurate placement of the shots, which brought laughter to the crowd more than once. Those were days when only the slip fielders dived to make catches or saves. Lloyd's innings ended when Solkar, diving forward, made a skier at long-off look easy. They set India a big target.
Gavaskar and Engineer [of Brylcreem fame] opened again, but soon were back in the room, dismissed through breathtaking catches by Viv Richards at short-leg. Nobody who has seen these catches will ever forget for the sheer alacrity he made them. Both were 'hits' from the meat of the blade! Nearly everyone rose from their seats in utter awe! All the heroes succumbed to the pace of Roberts and Holder and the West Indies had won by 267 runs. The angry crowd broke the chairs and threw them onto the field. Luckily there was no fire. If there was one, it would have been calamitous. There were no presentation ceremonies after the match in those days and so all of us left the stadium making our way in a forest of people. What we had seen was to be the beginning of a most enthralling series that India won. The filmed highlights [no TVs in those days] were shown in theatres later on. Those were still the days when cricket was played mostly for its sake and money had not yet adulterated it.
The report on the match was read by people in the next day's paper while my attention was on the action pictures. That went on for five full days, of absolute thrill. It was exciting fun, being able to watch the heroes through my binocular and sometimes borrowing a fellow-spectator's more powerful ones to look at the faces of them, to compare with those in my cricket album. My hero was Andy Roberts, whose action I memorized and tried to imitate in my tennis-ball-cricket ventures. Venture I did, to good effect!
I returned home, proud and fully satisfied with the enjoyment of witnessing a Test Match. I was richer with the numerous brochures and sun-shades that were offered at the ground. Leave alone those wonderful memories to top them. But we envied our grandmother who was the luckiest among us all - she had the privilege of watching the second day's play from the pavilion using Chandra's pass with his sister and parents. Tall, well built, dark, bespectacled with huge lips - was how she described a West Indian whom she had seen at close range. She was referring Clive Lloyd!
The way Cricket is played, watched and followed these days has changed. Hasn't it?