Sir Donald George Bradman, AC (27th August 1908 – 25th February 2001), nicknamed “The Don”, was an Australian international cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest batsman of all time. Bradman’s career Test batting average of 99.94 has been cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport, over 60% better than any other player alive or dead to ever have played Test cricket. No other player has averaged even 62 and only 6 other players, including the current Australian captain, have a Test average of better than 60. No man has ever dominated a single sport so absolutely, and the great names of the post Second World War and 21st century eras have in general come nowhere near to emulating his achievements albeit some of them can also be considered among the greatest talents in the game of cricket.
Of the true legends of cricket, W.G. Grace will always be an iconic figure, and many of the greatest players can be argued over, every major cricket playing nation has some. I could list at least 20 names of players who have excelled to an incredible extent, and obviously in recent decades it’s easy to remember the likes of Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ian Botham and undoubtedly current Australian Test captain Steve Smith, a man the rest of the world simply can’t get out and currently third on the all time list of Test batting averages with 61.80 at the time of writing. Bradman, by comparison, is streets ahead of him. Perhaps his legend is enhanced by his failure, by 0.06, to average exactly 100 in all of his innings across 52 Test matches for Australia, getting bowled by Eric Hollies for a duck in his final Test at The Oval in August 1948 when needing just 4 more runs!
In that Grace, with his flowing beard and ample girth, cuts a truly iconic figure of late Victorian excess, so Bradman is at least as iconic in so many respects. He was a man who wore “the baggy green” cap of Australia and took it to an unequalled level. He so dominated so many great bowlers who came up against him. To this day his name is synonymous with success in Australian sport. He is a truly iconic figure in both the sport of cricket and Australian national history, such that it’s hard to name a more famous Aussie. Perhaps the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Greg Norman, Rod Laver or Kylie Minogue might feature if you asked 1,000 people to name the most famous Australian to have ever lived, but for sure a large number would answer Sir Don Bradman.
The story that the young Bradman practised alone with a cricket stump and a golf ball is part of Australian folklore and is told in the attached must watch BBC programme on the infamous 1932-33 “Bodyline” tour that you’ll enjoy whether or not you know anything about cricket, released in 1983 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the controversy, with so many who took part, now old men, giving delightful contributions on what actually happened. It’s incredibly enjoyable!
Bradman’s meteoric rise from bush cricket to the Australian Test team took just over two years. Growing up in Bowral, New South Wales, a small rural town southwest of Sydney, in his early years he was often referred to as “The Bowral Boy”. But he was soon “Our Don”, the most celebrated Australian to have ever lived and arguably some 90 years later still the most famous Australian ever to have lived. Before his 22nd birthday, he had set many records with his batting, some of which still stand, and became Australia’s sporting idol at the height of the Great Depression.
Although many of the details of his career have already been covered on the Home page of this site, it’s fair to say that during a 20-year playing career, Bradman consistently scored at a level that made him, in the words of former Australia captain Bill Woodfull, “worth three batsmen to Australia”. He had massacred a top grade English bowling attack in their triumphant 1930 tour to win The Ashes, averaging nearly 140 and smashing all kinds of records. For the return series in Australia in 1932-33, to try to re-gain The Ashes, a controversial set of tactics, known as Bodyline, was specially devised by the England team to curb his scoring. Upon his retirement he was knighted in King George VI’s 1949 New Year’s Honours and remains the only Australian cricketer ever to have been bestowed with this honour.
As a player, as Australian captain and in later life for some decades a leading administrator of Australian cricket, Bradman was committed to attacking, entertaining cricket; as a player he drew spectators in record numbers which you can see on the footage in the documentaries below. However, modest and studious, he hated the constant adulation of his superstar status, and it affected how he dealt with others. The focus of attention on his individual performances strained relationships with some teammates, administrators and journalists, who thought him aloof and wary. Following an enforced six year hiatus due to the Second World War, he made a dramatic comeback, captaining an Australian team known as “The Invincibles” on a record-breaking unbeaten tour of England in 1948 before his retirement and immediate knighthood.
A complex, highly driven man, not given to close personal relationships, Bradman retained a pre-eminent position in the game by acting as an administrator, selector and writer for three decades following his retirement. Even after he became reclusive in his declining years, his opinion was highly sought, and his status as a national icon was still recognised. Almost 50 years after his retirement as a Test player, in 1997, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia called him the “greatest living Australian”. Bradman’s image has appeared on postage stamps and coins, and a museum dedicated to his life was opened while he was still living. On the centenary of his birth, 27th August 2008, the Royal Australian Mint issued a $5 commemorative gold coin with Bradman’s image.
Bradman broke so many records during his career that it’s almost impossible to list them. Inevitably many have been surpassed in the intervening 90 years, however it’s remarkable just how many still remain and their significance. Bradman still holds the following significant records for Test match cricket, the extent of which is testament to his continued relevance as an all time great in both cricket and sport in general:
- Highest career batting average (minimum 20 innings): 99.94
- Highest series batting average (minimum 4-Test series): 201.50 (1931-32); also second-highest: 178.75 (1947-48)
- Highest Test batting rating: 961.
- Highest ratio of centuries per innings played: 36.25% (29 centuries from 80 innings)
- Highest ratio of double centuries per innings played: 15.0% (12 double centuries from 80 innings)
- Highest 5th wicket partnership: 405 (with Sid Barnes, 1946-47)
- Highest score by a number 7 batsman: 270 (1936-37)
- Most runs against one opponent: 5,028 (v England)
- Most runs in one series: 974 (1930)
- Most times of scoring a century in a single session of play: 6 (1 pre lunch, 2 lunch-tea, 3 tea-stumps)
- Most runs in one day’s play: 309 (1930)
- Most double centuries: 12
- Most double centuries in a series: 3 (1930)
- Most triple centuries: 2 (equal with Chris Gayle, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag)
- Most consecutive matches in which he made a century: 6 (the last three Tests in 1936-37, and the first three Tests in 1938)
- Fewest matches required to reach 1000 (7 matches), 2000 (15 matches), 3000 (23 matches), 4000 (31 matches), 5000 (36 matches) and 6000 (45 matches) Test runs.
- Fewest innings required to reach 2000 (22 innings), 3000 (33 innings), 4000 (48 innings), 5000 (56 innings) and 6000 (68 innings) Test runs.
- First batsman in Test history to score 2 triple centuries.
- First and only batsman to have remained unbeaten on 299 in a Test innings.
- First batsman to score a Test triple century (304) at number 5 position; this remains the second highest Test score for any number 5 batsman.
The following documentary from 1983 is a joy to behold, I can watch it time and time again and highly recommend it. It does reveal a significant amount about The Don, but it’s only a part of his career, and certainly not one of the more glorious parts. Nonetheless, the story told by Bob Wyatt and Bill Bowes of his first ball “golden duck” dismissal in the Second Test at the MCG is marvellous, his first golden duck in Test cricket, but I would argue his true character is shown by his unbeaten century in the second innings. His relatively disappointing (by his incredible standards at least) series average, despite Australia’s defeat, of 56.57 would still place him, as a career average, 15th on the all time list of Test match batting averages – only 43 players, past or current, of thousands of men to have played Test cricket, have achieved an average of over 50, of whom impressively 5 are current Test players. ENJOY!!!
It would be easy for me to write paragraph after paragraph documenting Bradman’s achievements, but perhaps I’ll follow the Bodyline documentary with a couple of documentaries on the great man himself, as told by both Bradman, his contemporaries, and more recent exponents and experts in the world of cricket. His Wikipedia page is so comprehensive and yet it still probably understates the man’s achievements, listing 20 records he STILL holds rather than the hundreds(?) of records he broke, and all of that on uncovered wickets which played significantly less predictably than modern wickets that are covered when not in use and therefore easier and more predictable to bat on – the concept of “a sticky wicket” where for example in the First Test of November 1928 Australia were shot out for 66, England having already amassed more than 800 runs on the same strip, does not exist today (at least because of the condition of the wicket), and there is far less deterioration in the surface of a wicket when protected from the elements, as they are in the modern game outside of playing hours.
A different view of Bradman’s life, and equally enjoyable, made in 1990. Excellent!! Some absolutely wonderful footage and interviews with former players. Just superb to watch.
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