Sport

Impaled on a Bradman Hook

I have been reading The Incomparable Game by the wonderful England cricketer Colin Cowdrey, and in it he tells an amusing story about Don Bradman, commencing with observations made when the then 15-year-old Cowdrey was watching Bradman’s last innings, in 1948, at Lord’s:

As fast as any Englishman in that period of no fast bowlers was, I suppose, Bill Edrich. Sitting at Lord’s watching him on the occasion of Bradman’s last innings on the ground, I was filled with that sense of awe that comes to every schoolboy when he sees a bowler he considers fast enough to be fearsome. Edrich, aggressive, fit, terribly busy in his run up, made me think then that it would be impossible for me to play in his class of cricket. He would have been too fast for me and I would never have seen the ball. He frightened me to death just to watch him run up.

This respect was transferred fairly quickly once Bradman got to the wicket and began to compile what everyone said was a typical hundred. The sight of him that sticks in my memory is of his counter to an Edrich bouncer. I don’t know whether he picked up a message from the bowler’s run up, but he took two little skipping steps away from the stumps and with a horizontal bat lathered the ball down the wicket so that it pitched almost at Edrich’s feet on his follow through and caused him to shuffle out of the way like a dan­cer. Then the ball took off past the umpire like a Bobby Locke low wedge shot and bounced back off the sightscreen at the Nursery End.

That stroke has remained in my memory like a photograph. It tells me everything I want to know about Bradman.

I have only once seen a batsman in First Class cricket playing the “straight pull” — flat-batting a bouncer back at the bowler and endangering his and the umpire’s health. That was the great South African Barry Richards, then playing for South Australia against WA in the Sheffield Shield. Facing bowlers of the caliber and pace of Graham McKenzie and Dennis Lillee, Richards had four options with the short ball coming at his head, and he used them all. He could step away and cut it, flat bat it back past the bowler, pull it through mid-wicket or square leg, or hook it over fine leg. I had never seen such cool mastery.

See also: Reflections on Bradman’s career and character

But back to The Don. I never saw Bradman bat, but my impression from the cricket literature is that he was more an accumulator of runs than a master blaster.  He would effortlessly keep the scoreboard ticking over with ones, twos and threes. Until I read Colin Cowdrey’s book I had not realised that he was also a magnificent hooker when the occasion arose. Cowdrey goes on:

I know that when they say he murdered even the best fast bowlers with his hook that it was true. I know also that it must be true when they claim that he was the greatest hooker the game has known.

There is a story of Bradman’s hooking which is now listed in the history of Kent as another example of man’s inhumanity to man. The victim was Fred Ridgway, the county’s fast bowler who had never seen The Don bat.

So, at Canterbury in 1948, as Bradman [then aged 40] walked out to take guard, Godfrey Evans and Les Ames, two men whose combined knowledge of Bradman went back nearly twenty years, decided to give Fred some tactical advice.

“He’s got a reputation as a hooker,” said Evans, “but when you get to forty it’s a different business.” Turning to Ames he said: “You used to hook a bit, Les, didn’t you, but you had to give it away.” Ames nodded agreement.

“Give him a couple of good-length ones around the off-stump,” advised Evans, “and then give him the bouncer third ball. You’ll get him caught at short-leg.”

Ridgway gave the third ball everything. So did Bradman. It pitched among the hydrangeas in front of the Mayor’s enclosure, scattering the official party, skimmed past two waiters and bounced off the back wall of the tent.

I would have liked to have seen that.

I am reminded of a story my father once told me from his days as an international agricultural scientist. He was in his 30s at the time, at a meeting in India somewhere, and it was during the Bradman era.  A cricket match was arranged, as so often happened in India, no excuse being needed. My father was no batsman, but on the strength of his being an Australian, and therefore Bradman-like, he was selected, and not just to play, but to open the innings.

The opening bowler was “a huge bearded and turbaned Sikh” and his first ball was a searing bouncer that threatened to decapitate my father. He threw up his hands in self-protection, somehow the ball struck and glanced off the bat and then flew for a six over fine leg. There was rapturous applause from the outer. The second ball, my father said, he didn’t see at all, and it bowled him, “to his immense relief”.

I would have liked to see that as well.

Reference: Cowdrey, Colin (1970): The Incomparable Game. Hodder and Stoughton, London

 

11 comments
  • BalancedObservation

    Thanks for this article. I was also not fortunate enough to watch the great Bradman bat. My father was and he was, like everyone, in awe of Bradman’s prowess with the bat. There’ll almost certainly never be another Bradman.

    This article also illustrates that there’s something very special about cricket which still hasn’t been lost even after all the variations to the game. Something which intrigues and pleases me.

    There’s an almost mystical shared history and respect for the game itself. Respect for skill and achievements. A respect which transcends rivalry. I’ve encountered a number of examples of this but two stand out in my mind.

    One was at South Hampton when the highly successful touring Australian Ashes team was playing Hampshire. The genuine respect shown towards Terry Alderman by the English crowd really impressed me, even though, actually probably because, Terry Alderman was cleaning the English side up with his swing bowling. People next to me at the ground wanted to tell me how great they thought Alderman was. It really impressed me. In a sense Alderman was beating them at their own game. It brought me closer to the other spectators there.

    The other example was at a small cafe in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia where a group of office workers shared a table with us. They had an almost encyclopedic memory of Australian cricket statistics, far exceeding mine. They had such a respect for the game of cricket itself. It certainly impressed me and it made our brief contact with these people far more friendly and close than it would otherwise have been.

    I suppose other sports have this too but it seems stronger and more prevalent with cricket.

  • pgang

    Cricket lovers should read P G Wodehouse’s early school yard novels, especially Mike. A treasure trove.

  • pgang

    BalancedObservation there is certainly something about the game, at least at first class level. Perhaps it’s the understated nature of it, so out of step with today’s tawdry pro sport environment. Summer test cricket almost makes up for the absence of Aussie Rules footy.
    Anyway I enjoy few things more than the spectacle of a tight field placement for a slow bowler.

  • BalancedObservation

    pgang

    Agree totally with you.

    I do watch it at times but I’m not nearly as much a fan of the pyjamas outfit version of the game.

    It’s lacks so much compared with test cricket, particularly an Ashes Series.

  • BalancedObservation

    pgang

    I must check out “Mike” . Thanks for the tip. As a kid I loved school yard novels.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    “Pyjamas outfit”–I like that! I’ll have to share that with my sister. We call 20-20 cricket “kanga cricket” (the set-up for kids too young to play in actual competitions, at least in the Bunbury area in the ’90s) or “stump cricket with the juniors”–a quote from Wodehouse’s A Prefect’s Uncle.
    It would be nice, though, if the present Ashes series actually featured some competition!

  • Rebekah Meredith

    There is indeed something truly special about cricket. I think part of it is that its setup draws people together. With various iterations of football, someone in Brisbane might support an Adelaide team. But with cricket, almost all Australian fans support the Australian team; almost all West Aussie fans support WA in the Sheffield Shield.
    Of course, that does not apply so much with the city-based franchises in the the “pyjamas outfit” version. Players from various states also get all mixed up; the patriotic loyalty is lacking.
    It seems to me that the T-20 format has mixed up the basic form of cricket with the worst of the glitz and glamour of baseball, then added even more. Anyway, basesball is at least a legitimate sport that has been somewhat corrupted; T-20 is a hybrid created to please people who did not like cricket.
    That is my opinion, but I know that some true cricket lovers enjoy it. They have a right to be wrong!

  • BalancedObservation

    Rebekah Meredith

    I’ll have to get into Wodehouse I can see.

    The series has been decided with Australia’s three resounding victories.

    However the whole series isn’t over yet. We might finish up with a lot more competition than we expected. That can be the nature of cricket.

    Although I hasten to add I won’t be betting on any England victories in the remaining matches.

  • BalancedObservation

    Rebekah Meredith

    There is so much more to true cricket. I agree.

    You do have a right to be right too.

  • BalancedObservation

    The P G Wodehouse novel Mike is available free online as an ebook at Gutenberg.

    Here’s the link:

    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7423

  • norsaint

    Rebekah is quite right. The pyjama game is the bastard child of television and money. Completely meaningless and the Woke Cricket Australia outfit has managed to ruin the season by paying obeisance to it.
    Think it fair to say Bradman must have had all the shots although McCabe’s hooking during the bodyline series is the only Australian batsman’s that ever gets mentioned. However Bradman must have been partial to the stroke as in the early 1970s he advised Ian Chappell to resume the stroke. The latter had given it away on the advice of Bob Simpson but it became his signature shot during the second half of his career.

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