Bradman: bowling over the long-held myth
Forget the disappointing tour of India, the Ashes (beginning November 25) is the Test series that creates Australian heroes.
Of course, there can be dangers putting cricketers on a pedestal, but there is one idol who has always been seen as above reproach, Don Bradman.
Indeed, Bradman’s aura as a sporting icon became so great that respected cricket writer R.C Robertson-Glasgow wrote: “There are no funny stories about the Don. No one ever laughed about Bradman. He was no laughing matter’‘.
As the legendary leg-spinner Bill O’Reilly so pithily put it: “You don’t piss on monuments’‘.
But since Bradman’s death in 2001, there have been cracks appearing in the facade.
After all, the Don’s mythology was built in the Bodyline series almost 80 years ago.
He was the shining knight the spirit of Australia against the blackest of villains, English captain Douglas Jardine, who commentator Alan McGilvary once famously compared to Jack the Ripper.
Times have changed and Twenty20 generation does not follow their heroes so blindly. Just ask Andrew Symonds or Shane Warne, who paid a high price for off-field indiscretions.
And today Bradman is being laughed at, to some extent.
Wil Anderson, from ABC’s top-rating Gruen Transfer, says one of his favourite moments on the show was a spoof commercial which “takes the p—- out of the Don”.
The ad featured on “the Pitch’‘, a segment on the show where advertising companies were challenged to “sell the unsellable’‘. The joke product it was endorsing was “Bradman Bitter’‘, a bottle of beer which was empty when purchased. The advertising company spokesperson said the idea was to make the Don look unAustralian because he never shouted his teammates a drink.
It was just good fun, of course, but the “no shout’’ idea was based on fact. Bradman received a gift of 1000 pounds as a token of his appreciation of his record-breaking innings of 334.
Not only did Bradman not share his good fortune with his teammates, as was the accepted practice, he didn’t even buy them a beer as thanks for their part in his success.
More scathing was The Chaser’s controversial Eulogy Song, sung by Andrew Hansen, which savaged deceased Australian celebrities. The Don copped both barrels:
“Don Bradman was a total farce, a grumpy, greedy tired-a—-, who couldn’t even score one run last time he played.’‘
In many ways this is more hurtful to the Bradman legend than the stories The Australian published on November 2001, less than nine months after this death.
While the obit were understandably glowing tributes, the two stories by reporter David Nason, which ran under the headlines “Bradman Snubbed His Family” and “The Don We Never Knew”, were anything but.
The first detailed Bradman’s failure to attend the funerals of his mother, father, brother and three sisters. The second was about his involvement in a stockbroking collapse.
Bradman supporters claimed Nason was “playing the man not the ball’’ and, though the details of the stories were never refuted, no serious damage was really done to the Don’s reputation or marketabilty in the lucrative merchandising business.
However the same couldn’t be said about belated attacks made by his former teammates.
Despite his earlier remarks about not p———on monuments, O’Reilly let fly in an interview for the Australian National Library, which he gave on the condition that it would not be made public until after he and Bradman were dead. (O’Reilly died in 1992, aged 86, Bradman in 2001, aged 92).
Apart from saying Bradman was unpopular with the players; he described him aloof, treated the Catholics in the team unfairly and lacked strategy as a captain.
“He never made the slightest effort to be a real 100 per cent team man. He wasn’t a man’s man in any shape or form, never was.’‘
That said, it would be churlish to deny he was great player, although former teammates such as opening batsman Jack Fingleton, spin great Clarrie Grimmett, and much-loved cricket writer Neville Cardus favoured ``golden era’’ batsman Victor Trumper.
“As all the world knows, Don Bradman was a great attacking batsman, but he couldn’t play quality leg-spin,’’ Grimmett said in the Ashley Mallett penned book Scarlet.
“It was a flaw in his batting. When the wicket was a bit soft or dusty, ideal for spin bowlers, he struggled.’‘
Fingleton was even more critical, saying Bradman struggled on wet wickets and extreme pace.
“Bradman’s refused to take wet wickets seriously,’’ Fingleton wrote in Cricket Crisis.
Ironically, the Bodyline series, one of his poorest statistically, only added to Bradman’s aura.
Jardine, who called Bradman “the little yellow bastard’’ because he believed he “flinched’’ at fast bowling, was branded a cheat and his tactics, where the bowling was aimed directly at the batsmen, were condemned as “unsportsmanlike’‘.
Bradman and his Australian team, though beaten 4-1, were seen to have had a moral victory because they did not stoop to the same level of their opposition.
All of which makes an interview the great Australian all-rounder Keith Miller gave to Peter FitzSimons in 1996 perhaps the most damaging to the Bradman legend.
Talking about his first Test against England, he was shocked by Bradman’s win-at-all-costs attitude as captain.
The Australians had batted first, scoring almost 600 runs before a tropical storm had hit, making the “sticky wicket’’ all but unplayable for the English when they took to the crease.
“All the England players were war boys,’’ Miller said, “and they were my best mates. (At one point) I’m bowling and there was little Billy Edrich (facing). And I’m bowling ... and I keep hitting him ... bang ... bang ... and I thought, “Ooh, that’s (my mate) Billy”, and so I started to ease up.
“And when Don says, `Oh Nugget, bowl faster, it’s hard to play that type of stuff on this pitch’ ... I just thought, `We just finished one war and it’s like walking into another war’.”
Bradman’s mentality here seems to be closer to that of Jardine than his Bodyline captain Bill Woodfull, who coined the famous phrase, “There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not’‘.
But perhaps it is unfair to put Bradman on such a lofty perch.
As Michael McGirr wrote when Bradman died: “The uncomfortable truth is no one individual can embody the elusive Australian spirit’‘.
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@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
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