Most of us are suckers for books and infotainment on how the great & the good made it to the top. Unfortunately, when it comes to cricket, the greatest cricketer of all time finished playing 70 years ago. Hence it is impossible for us to truly understand why & how Aussie legend Don Bradman scored 29 hundreds in, by today’s terms, a relatively short test career at an average of 99.99 on uncovered wickets! In this piece, Ian Chappell, a former Australian captain and one of the finest minds to have commented on the game, explains what made Bradman special.
Chappell says that he found the answer whilst watching previously unseen footage of a test match played 80 years ago: “I was watching a programme on the history of Australian cricket produced by Jack Egan and it featured never-before-seen footage of the 1938 Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.”
Aussie batsman Stan McCabe scored a remarkable 232 off 277 balls. Inspite of this Australia was forced to follow-on. Chappell says that that is when Bradman, the Aussie captain at the point, showed what made him so special: “At that point Egan featured shots of Bradman’s match-saving second-innings century, accompanied by the animated comment: “Look at that footwork.”
“I am,” I said to no one in particular. It was Bradman like I’d never seen him before, apart from footage of the Bodyline series. Where he normally carved up attacks with the confidence of an international facing schoolboy bowlers, suddenly here was a mortal batsman, shuffling sideways in the crease and defending as though his life depended on survival.
It struck me that Bradman was batting with the pressure of the scoreboard and the weight of saving a match that he desperately didn’t want to lose. It was Bradman feeling all the pressures that other batsmen endure every time they walk to the crease. In that innings Bradman accumulated 144 not out off 379 balls for an uncharacteristically slow scoring rate of 37.99. He saved the match…”
Chappell says that that 1938 innings showed that in normal circumstances Bradman could do what few others can – play with an uncluttered mind: “This innings showed that Bradman mostly – apart from his chastening Bodyline experience – was able to bat in a match with the serenity of a man involved in a casual net session. I’ve seen plenty of players flay net bowling when they weren’t concerned with fear of dismissal, losing the match, or being harassed by a demanding crowd. However, it was a different case out in the middle when they encountered all those outside pressures.
On most occasions his immense mental strength allowed him to cocoon himself from the outside pressures that bedevil other batsmen…
In addition to his immense mental strength, there’s no doubt Bradman also had a ruthless streak that drove him to crush opponents. It was this burning desire to outscore everyone else that probably caused a lot of old-timers to anoint the elegantly fluent Victor Trumper a better batsman than Bradman. Those comments annoyed Bradman and even caused him to present a pretty convincing statistical case to validate his superiority.
Finally, I had what I deemed to be a satisfactory answer to the beguiling question: “Why was Bradman so much better than any other batsman?” It was his superior mental strength rather than any special physical attributes.”
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