Let no one ever accuse Don Bradman of allowing the pressures of captaincy to affect his batting. In his tenure as our Test skipper from 1936 until 1948 he won all four contested series, against England (thrice) and India, tallying 3,147 runs at an average of 89.91, including 10 Test centuries and four Test double centuries.
Nor were his torrent of runs against donkey bowlers, but genuine champions such as Allen, Voce, Bowers, Armanath, Mankad, Laker, Bedser and Yardley.
His so-called “Invincibles” of 1948 were undefeated through their eight-month tour of England. He also skippered South Australia to Sheffield Shield wins in 1935-36 and 1938-39 and second place in ‘36-‘37, ‘37-‘38 and ‘39-‘40, and scored his usual avalanche of runs.
He had been peeling off centuries for his country since his Test debut in 1928 and inspired the nation through the Great Depression, but he came into his own in his later years when what’s been called the No.1 job in Australia, Test skipper, became his.
When in 2000 the Australian Cricket Board named our team of the 20th Century, The Don was named its captain and first drop batsman. Likewise, Wisden recently named Bradman the captain of its all-time Test XI.
Summing up his philosophy of captaincy, Bradman said, “A good captain must be a fighter; confident but not arrogant, firm but not obstinate; able to take criticism without letting it unduly disturb him, for he is sure to get it…”
And Bradman did have his critics. He was often accused by critics and teammates of being selfish, autocratic, intimidating. He was a ruthless competitor who enjoyed grinding opponents into the turf, thinking nothing of appealing for LBW from gully or cover point.
He played cricket politics to perfection. Perhaps it was these very “faults”, some of which were shared by the likes of Douglas Jardine, Ian Chappell, Clive Lloyd, Allan Border and Steve Waugh, that made him so successful a captain.
Bradman was also a fiercely private man, once saying, “If people will leave me alone I will be quite happy.” Yet because of his genius that was never a chance. He was far and away the most popular person in Australia, routinely mobbed wherever he went in both his homeland and England. A bat or program signed by Bradman was cherished. He made guest appearances on Minties packets, cigarette cards and in the Ginger Meggs comic strip.
Jack O’Hagan’s hit song, “Our Don Bradman” asked:
Who is it that all Australia raves about?
Who has won our very highest praise?
Now is it Amy Johnson or little Mickey Mouse?
No, it’s just a country lad who’s bringing down the house…
Theories abound about why he was the greatest cricketer who has ever lived. Oft-cited is his remarkable hand-eye co-ordination, honed hurling a golf ball against a corrugated iron water tank in the yard of his childhood home in Bowral, NSW.
The great English batsman Colin Cowdrey lauded Bradman’s “astonishing fleetness of foot, sharpness of eye and timing… but it was his ability to concentrate that powered his greatness.” Richie Benaud, another fine skipper, said Bradman’s was “the most acute cricketing brain I’ve ever known.”
Bradman’s last Test was, fittingly, against England in 1948. Aussies and Poms alike wept when he made a duck. He would simply have to make do with a career Test average of 99.94.
Shortly before he died, aged 92, in 2001, PM John Howard called Sir Donald Bradman “the greatest living Australian.”
No. 1 Don Bradman
No. 2: John Bertrand
No. 3: Harry Hopman
No. 4: Ian Chappell
No. 5: John Eales
No. 6: Norm Provan
No. 7: Syd Coventry
No. 8: Anne Sargeant
No. 9: Darren Lockyer
No. 10: Johnny Warren
No. 11: Lauren Jackson
No. 12: Michael Voss