After all these years we’re yet to find another Bradman
As Australia’s cricketers started their colossal – and ultimately futile –chase of 546 runs for an Ashes victory at The Oval, it was accepted that the team’s only hope was for someone to play a ‘Bradmanesque’ innings.
Given that it’s more than 60 years since Sir Donald Bradman played his final Test on that same strip of dirt in south London, why is it that his name remains the benchmark against which all cricketers are still measured?
It’s because for more than a century, Test match cricket has seen Don Bradman – born 101 years ago today – separated by a colossal gap from everyone else in the game.
That’s despite the advances in player fitness and psychology, and allowing for the game’s shift to professionalism.
And notwithstanding the improvement in equipment, amenities and technology, no batsman has come even close to equaling his Test average of 99.94.
Indeed, the next-best record of any regular Test batsmen reveals a career average of just above 60 - still brilliant, but virtually 40 runs per innings less than Sir Donald’s.
Experts around the world were incredulous this month when Jamaica’s Usain Bolt took 0.11 seconds off his 100 metres world record.
That was unthinkable. He ran more than one per cent quicker than anyone had managed before.
But Bradman remains almost 40 per cent better than the next-best batsman cricket has so far produced.
Transpose that superiority to the 100 metres, and it means a margin of nearly four seconds between first and second.
That level of disparity between numbers one and two in other sports equates to a difference of almost 50 minutes over the course of a marathon, or staggeringly almost two and half metres in height over the pole vault bar.
But Don Bradman’s enduring legacy is not just about statistics, or the memory of a greatness in sport that will not be surpassed.
There was something ordinary as well as extraordinary about Don Bradman, which was part of his appeal to all Australians regardless of circumstance or background.
He was there to remind us of the greatness that might just gleam in every Aussie kid if they tried hard enough, however humble their family home, however obscure their path to the batting crease.
Bradman was Australian radio’s first hero, and a shining light in the Depression years for those whose destinies were dimming.
He was proof that an attitude of dogged valour, stoic tenacity, of playing every ball on its merits, would see them through to better times.
His errors were so few that a simple headline “HE’S OUT!” would tell an anguished England their torment had been temporarily relieved.
His achievements also showed a young nation, whose spirit had been so recently tested on the battlefield at ANZAC Cove and at Flanders Field, that it could stand on its feet in any arena.
Another World War took from us those eight years of Bradman’s peak that might have seen an even greater mastery.
But despite the toll of illness and age, he returned as an “Invincible”.
It is part of his legend that The Don’s final match, at The Oval, took from him the Test batting average of 100 that seemed his birthright.
Don Bradman’s life bore family setbacks, and he was doggedly inaccessible to those who would probe or try to exploit him.
He turned his back on easy millions and lived simply, playing golf with friends, enjoying Chopin, steeping the pain of his life in a privacy many resented, keeping his counsel.
He was the most famous Australian ever, a national talisman, the taciturn symbol of an unpretentious country that is also sometimes lucky and good at games.
In essence, the story of Don Bradman reflects the power of simplicity.
It’s about the strength of will to keep going against all the odds, to stay true to your word and to your calling.
It is about grace and resilience under pressure.
Most of all, it is about shared values.
No one dared ask him to throw a match.
No-one ever doubted Don Bradman’s patriotism, or that he was there to win for his team, his country, his sport, and not for profit.
So, on his 101st birthday, and in a week of mourning and recrimination for Australian cricket, let’s toast the memory of one hero the Poms can never beat or diminish – our Don Bradman.
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