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.

1 comment:

padmini said...

He was not just a batsman appearing in a lifetime but once in the life of a game.It is really true.Kudos to you in writting an wonderful article.