Sir Donald George Bradman, AC (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), nicknamed “The Don”, was an Australian international cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest batsman of all time. Bradman’s career Test batting average of 99.94 has been cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.
The story that the young Bradman practised alone with a cricket stump and a golf ball is part of Australian folklore. Bradman’s meteoric rise from bush cricket to the Australian Test team took just over two years. Before his 22nd birthday, he had set many records for top scoring, some of which still stand, and became Australia’s sporting idol at the height of the Great Depression.
During a 20-year playing career, Bradman consistently scored at a level that made him, in the words of former Australia captain Bill Woodfull, “worth three batsmen to Australia”. A controversial set of tactics, known as Bodyline, was specially devised by the England team to curb his scoring. As a captain and administrator, Bradman was committed to attacking, entertaining cricket; he drew spectators in record numbers. He hated the constant adulation, however, and it affected how he dealt with others. The focus of attention on his individual performances strained relationships with some teammates, administrators and journalists, who thought him aloof and wary. Following an enforced hiatus due to the Second World War, he made a dramatic comeback, captaining an Australian team known as “The Invincibles” on a record-breaking unbeaten tour of England.
A complex, highly driven man, not given to close personal relationships, Bradman retained a pre-eminent position in the game by acting as an administrator, selector and writer for three decades following his retirement. Even after he became reclusive in his declining years, his opinion was highly sought, and his status as a national icon was still recognised. Almost 50 years after his retirement as a Test player, in 1997, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia called him the “greatest living Australian”. Bradman’s image has appeared on postage stamps and coins, and a museum dedicated to his life was opened while he was still living. On the centenary of his birth, 27 August 2008, the Royal Australian Mint issued a $5 commemorative gold coin with Bradman’s image. In 2009, he was inducted posthumously into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
Donald George Bradman was the youngest son of George and Emily (née Whatman) Bradman, and was born on 27 August 1908 at Cootamundra, New South Wales (NSW). He had a brother, Victor, and three sisters—Islet, Lilian and Elizabeth May. Bradman was of English heritage on both sides of his family. His grandfather Charles Andrew Bradman left Withersfield, England for Australia. When Bradman played at Cambridge in 1930 as a 21 year old on his first tour of England, he took the opportunity to trace his forebears in the region. Also, one of his great-grandfathers was one of the first Italians to migrate to Australia in 1826. Bradman’s parents lived in the hamlet of Yeo Yeo, near Stockinbingal. His mother, Emily, gave birth to him at the Cootamundra home of Granny Scholz, a midwife. That house is now the Bradman Birthplace Museum. Emily had hailed from Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands, and in 1911, when Don Bradman was about two-and-a-half years old, his parents decided to relocate to Bowral, close to Mittagong, to be closer to Emily’s family and friends, as life at Yeo Yeo was proving difficult.
Bradman practised batting incessantly during his youth. He invented his own solo cricket game, using a cricket stump for a bat, and a golf ball. A water tank, mounted on a curved brick stand, stood on a paved area behind the family home. When hit into the curved brick facing of the stand, the ball rebounded at high speed and varying angles—and Bradman would attempt to hit it again. This form of practice developed his timing and reactions to a high degree. In more formal cricket, he hit his first century at the age of 12, with an undefeated 115 playing for Bowral Public School against Mittagong High School.
During the 1920–21 season, Bradman acted as scorer for the local Bowral team, captained by his uncle George Whatman. In October 1920, he filled in when the team was one man short, scoring 37* and 29* on debut. During the season, Bradman’s father took him to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to watch the fifth Ashes Test match. On that day, Bradman formed an ambition. “I shall never be satisfied”, he told his father, “until I play on this ground”. Bradman left school in 1922 and went to work for a local real estate agent who encouraged his sporting pursuits by giving him time off when necessary. He gave up cricket in favour of tennis for two years, but resumed playing cricket in 1925–26.
Bradman became a regular selection for the Bowral team; several outstanding performances earned him the attention of the Sydney daily press. Competing on matting-over-concrete pitches, Bowral played other rural towns in the Berrima District competition. Against Wingello, a team that included the future Test bowler Bill O’Reilly, Bradman made 234. In the competition final against Moss Vale, which extended over five consecutive Saturdays, Bradman scored 320 not out. During the following Australian winter (1926), an ageing Australian team lost The Ashes in England, and a number of Test players retired. The New South Wales Cricket Association began a hunt for new talent. Mindful of Bradman’s big scores for Bowral, the association wrote to him, requesting his attendance at a practice session in Sydney. He was subsequently chosen for the “Country Week” tournaments at both cricket and tennis, to be played during separate weeks. His boss presented him with an ultimatum: he could have only one week away from work, and therefore had to choose between the two sports. He chose cricket. Bradman’s performances during Country Week resulted in an invitation to play grade cricket in Sydney for St George in the 1926–27 season. He scored 110 on his debut, making his first century on a turf pitch. On 1 January 1927, he turned out for the NSW second team. For the remainder of the season, Bradman travelled the 130 kilometres (81 mi) from Bowral to Sydney every Saturday to play for St George.
The next season continued the rapid rise of the “Boy from Bowral”. Selected to replace the unfit Archie Jackson in the NSW team, Bradman made his first-class debut at the Adelaide Oval, aged 19. He secured the achievement of a hundred on debut, with an innings of 118 featuring what soon became his trademarks—fast footwork, calm confidence and rapid scoring. In the final match of the season, he made his first century at the SCG, against the Sheffield Shield champions Victoria. Despite his potential, Bradman was not chosen for the Australian second team to tour New Zealand.
Bradman decided that his chances for Test selection would be improved by moving to Sydney for the 1928–29 season, when England were to tour in defence of the Ashes. Initially, he continued working in real estate, but later took a promotions job with the sporting goods retailer Mick Simmons Ltd. In the first match of the Sheffield Shield season, he scored a century in each innings against Queensland. He followed this with scores of 87 and 132 not out against the England touring team, and was rewarded with selection for the first Test, to be played at Brisbane.
Playing in only his tenth first-class match, Bradman, nicknamed “Braddles” by his teammates, found his initial Test a harsh learning experience. Caught on a sticky wicket, Australia were all out for 66 in the second innings and lost by 675 runs (still a Test record). Following scores of 18 and 1, the selectors dropped Bradman to twelfth man for the Second Test. An injury to Bill Ponsford early in the match required Bradman to field as substitute while England amassed 636, following their 863 runs in the First Test. RS “Dick” Whitington wrote, “… he had scored only nineteen himself and these experiences appear to have provided him with food for thought”. Recalled for the Third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Bradman scored 79 and 112 to become the youngest player to make a Test century, although the match was still lost. Another loss followed in the Fourth Test. Bradman reached 58 in the second innings and appeared set to guide the team to victory when he was run out. It was to be the only run out of his Test career. The losing margin was just 12 runs.
The improving Australians did manage to win the Fifth and final Test. Bradman top-scored with 123 in the first innings, and was at the wicket in the second innings when his captain Jack Ryder hit the winning runs. Bradman completed the season with 1,690 first-class runs, averaging 93.88, and his first multiple century in a Sheffield Shield match, 340 not out against Victoria, set a new ground record for the SCG. Bradman averaged 113.28 in 1929–30. In a trial match to select the team that would tour England, he was last man out in the first innings for 124. As his team followed on, the skipper Bill Woodfull asked Bradman to keep the pads on and open the second innings. By the end of play, he was 205 not out, on his way to 225. Against Queensland at the SCG, Bradman set a then world record for first-class cricket by scoring 452 not out; he made his runs in only 415 minutes. Not long after the feat, he recalled:
On 434…I had a curious intuition…I seemed to sense that the ball would be a short-pitched one on the leg-stump, and I could almost feel myself getting ready to make my shot before the ball was delivered. Sure enough, it pitched exactly where I had anticipated, and, hooking it to the square-leg boundary, I established the only record upon which I had set my heart.
Although he was an obvious selection to tour England, Bradman’s unorthodox style raised doubts that he could succeed on the slower English pitches. Percy Fender wrote:
…he will always be in the category of the brilliant, if unsound, ones. Promise there is in Bradman in plenty, though watching him does not inspire one with any confidence that he desires to take the only course which will lead him to a fulfilment of that promise. He makes a mistake, then makes it again and again; he does not correct it, or look as if he were trying to do so. He seems to live for the exuberance of the moment.
The encomiums were not confined to his batting gifts; nor did the criticism extend to his character. “Australia has unearthed a champion”, said former Australian Test great Clem Hill, “self-taught, with natural ability. But most important of all, with his heart in the right place.” Selector Dick Jones weighed in with the observation that it was “good to watch him talking to an old player, listening attentively to everything that is said and then replying with a modest ‘thank you’.”
1930 tour of England
England were favourites to win the 1930 Ashes series, and if the Australians were to exceed expectations, their young batsmen, Bradman and Jackson, needed to prosper. With his elegant batting technique, Jackson appeared the brighter prospect of the pair. However, Bradman began the tour with 236 at Worcester and went on to score 1,000 first-class runs by the end of May, the fifth player (and first Australian) to achieve this rare feat. In his first Test appearance in England, Bradman hit 131 in the second innings but England won the match. His batting reached a new level in the Second Test at Lord’s where he scored 254 as Australia won and levelled the series. Later in life, Bradman rated this the best innings of his career as, “practically without exception every ball went where it was intended to go”. Wisden noted his fast footwork and how he hit the ball “all round the wicket with power and accuracy”, as well as faultless concentration in keeping the ball on the ground.
In terms of runs scored, this performance was soon surpassed. In the Third Test, at Headingley, Bradman scored a century before lunch on 11 July, the first day of the Test match to equal the performances of Victor Trumper and Charlie Macartney. In the afternoon, Bradman added another century between lunch and tea, before finishing the day on 309 not out. He remains the only Test player to pass 300 in one day’s play. His eventual score of 334 was a world-record, exceeding the previous mark of 325 by Andy Sandham. Bradman dominated the Australian innings; the second-highest tally was 77 by Alan Kippax. Businessman Arthur Whitelaw later presented Bradman with a cheque for £1,000 in appreciation of his achievement. The match ended in anti-climax as poor weather prevented a result, as it also did in the Fourth Test.
In the deciding Test at The Oval, England made 405. During an innings stretching over three days due to intermittent rain, Bradman made yet another multiple century, this time 232, which helped give Australia a big lead of 290 runs. In a crucial partnership with Archie Jackson, Bradman battled through a difficult session when England fast bowler Harold Larwood bowled short on a pitch enlivened by the rain. Wisden gave this period of play only a passing mention:
On the Wednesday morning the ball flew about a good deal, both batsmen frequently being hit on the body…on more than one occasion each player cocked the ball up dangerously but always, as it happened, just wide of the fieldsmen.
A number of English players and commentators noted Bradman’s discomfort in playing the short, rising delivery. The revelation came too late for this particular match, but was to have immense significance in the next Ashes series. Australia won the match by an innings and regained the Ashes. The victory made an impact in Australia. With the economy sliding toward depression and unemployment rapidly rising, the country found solace in sporting triumph. The story of a self-taught 22-year-old from the bush who set a series of records against the old rival made Bradman a national hero. The statistics Bradman achieved on the tour, especially in the Test matches, broke records for the day and some have stood the test of time. In all, Bradman scored 974 runs at an average of 139.14 during the Test series, with four centuries, including two double hundreds and a triple. As of 2018, no-one has matched or exceeded 974 runs or three double centuries in one Test series; the record of 974 runs exceeds the second-best performance by 69 runs and was achieved in two fewer innings. Bradman’s first-class tally, 2,960 runs (at an average of 98.66 with 10 centuries), was another enduring record: the most by any overseas batsman on a tour of England.
On the tour, the dynamic nature of Bradman’s batting contrasted sharply with his quiet, solitary off-field demeanour. He was described as aloof from his teammates and he did not offer to buy them a round of drinks, let alone share the money given to him by Whitelaw. Bradman spent a lot of his free time alone, writing, as he had sold the rights to a book. On his return to Australia, Bradman was surprised by the intensity of his reception; he became a “reluctant hero”. Mick Simmons wanted to cash in on their employee’s newly won fame. They asked Bradman to leave his teammates and attend official receptions they organised in Adelaide, Melbourne, Goulburn, his hometown Bowral and Sydney, where he received a brand new custom-built Chevrolet. At each stop, Bradman received a level of adulation that “embarrassed” him. This focus on individual accomplishment, in a team game, “… permanently damaged relationships with his contemporaries”. Commenting on Australia’s victory, the team’s vice-captain Vic Richardson said, “… we could have played any team without Bradman, but we could not have played the blind school without Clarrie Grimmett”. A modest Bradman can be heard in a 1930 recording saying “I have always endeavoured to do my best for the side, and the few centuries that have come my way have been achieved in the hope of winning matches. My one idea when going into bat was to make runs for Australia.”
In 1930–31, against the first West Indian side to visit Australia, Bradman’s scoring was more sedate than in England—although he did make 223 in 297 minutes in the Third Test at Brisbane and 152 in 154 minutes in the following Test at Melbourne. However, he scored quickly in a very successful sequence of innings against the South Africans in the Australian summer of 1931–32. For NSW against the tourists, he made 30, 135 and 219. In the Test matches, he scored 226 (277 minutes), 112 (155 minutes), 2 and 167 (183 minutes); his 299 not out in the Fourth Test, at Adelaide, set a new record for the highest score in a Test in Australia. Australia won nine of the ten Tests played over the two series.
At this point, Bradman had played 15 Test matches since the beginning of 1930, scoring 2,227 runs at an average of 131. He had played 18 innings, scoring 10 centuries, six of which had extended beyond 200. His overall scoring rate was 42 runs per hour, with 856 (or 38.5% of his tally) scored in boundaries. Significantly, he had not hit a six, which typified Bradman’s attitude: if he hit the ball along the ground, then it could not be caught. During this phase of his career, his youth and natural fitness allowed him to adopt a “machine-like” approach to batting. The South African fast bowler Sandy Bell described bowling to him as, “heart-breaking … with his sort of cynical grin, which rather reminds one of the Sphinx … he never seems to perspire”.
Between these two seasons, Bradman seriously contemplated playing professional cricket in England with the Lancashire League club Accrington, a move that, according to the rules of the day, would have ended his Test career. A consortium of three Sydney businesses offered an alternative. They devised a two-year contract whereby Bradman wrote for Associated Newspapers, broadcast on Radio 2UE and promoted the menswear retailing chain FJ Palmer and Son. However, the contract increased Bradman’s dependence on his public profile, making it more difficult to maintain the privacy that he ardently desired.
Bradman’s chaotic wedding to Jessie Menzies in April 1932 epitomised these new and unwelcome intrusions into his private life. The church “was under siege all throughout the day … uninvited guests stood on chairs and pews to get a better view”; police erected barriers that were broken down and many of those invited could not get a seat. Just weeks later, Bradman joined a private team organised by Arthur Mailey to tour the United States and Canada. He travelled with his wife, and the couple treated the trip as a honeymoon. Playing 51 games in 75 days, Bradman scored 3,779 runs at 102.1, with 18 centuries. Although the standard of play was not high, the effects of the amount of cricket Bradman had played in the three previous years, together with the strains of his celebrity status, began to show on his return home.
Within the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which administered English cricket at the time, few voices were more influential than “Plum” Warner’s, who, when considering England’s response to Bradman, wrote that it “must evolve a new type of bowler and develop fresh ideas and strange tactics to curb his almost uncanny skill”. To that end, Warner orchestrated the appointment of Douglas Jardine as England captain in 1931, as a prelude to Jardine leading the 1932–33 tour to Australia, with Warner as team manager. Remembering that Bradman had struggled against bouncers during his 232 at The Oval in 1930, Jardine decided to combine traditional leg theory with short-pitched bowling to combat Bradman. He settled on the Nottinghamshire fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce as the spearheads for his tactics. In support, the England selectors chose another three pacemen for the squad. The unusually high number of fast bowlers caused a lot of comment in both countries and roused Bradman’s own suspicions.
Bradman had other problems to deal with at this time; among these were bouts of illness from an undiagnosed malaise which had begun during the tour of North America, and that the Australian Board of Control had initially refused permission for him to write a column for the Sydney Sun. Bradman, who had signed a two-year contract with the newspaper, threatened to withdraw from cricket to honour his contract when the board denied him permission to write; eventually, the paper released Bradman from the contract, in a victory for the board. In three first-class games against England before the Tests, Bradman averaged just 17.16 in 6 innings. Jardine decided to give the new tactics a trial in only one game, a fixture against an Australian XI at Melbourne. In this match, Bradman faced the leg theory and later warned local administrators that trouble was brewing if it continued. He withdrew from the First Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground amid rumours that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. Despite his absence, England employed what were already becoming known as the Bodyline tactics against the Australian batsmen and won an ill-tempered match.
The public clamoured for the return of Bradman to defeat Bodyline: “he was the batsman who could conquer this cankerous bowling … ‘Bradmania’, amounting almost to religious fervour, demanded his return”. Recovered from his indisposition, Bradman returned to the side in Alan Kippax’s position. A world record crowd of 63,993 at the MCG saw Bradman come to the crease on the first day of the Second Test with the score at 2/67. A standing ovation ensued that delayed play for several minutes. Bradman anticipated receiving a bouncer as his first ball and, as the bowler delivered, he moved across his stumps to play the hook shot. The ball failed to rise and Bradman dragged it onto his stumps; the first-ball duck was his first in a Test. The crowd fell into stunned silence as he walked off. However, Australia took a first innings lead in the match, and another record crowd on 2 January 1933 watched Bradman hit a counter-attacking second innings century. His unbeaten 103 (from 146 balls) in a team total of 191 helped set England a target of 251 to win. Bill O’Reilly and Bert Ironmonger bowled Australia to a series-levelling victory amid hopes that Bodyline was beaten.
The Third Test at the Adelaide Oval proved pivotal. There were angry crowd scenes after the Australian captain Bill Woodfull and wicket-keeper Bert Oldfield were hit by bouncers. An apologetic Plum Warner entered the Australian dressing room and was rebuked by Woodfull. Woodfull’s remarks (that “…there are two teams out there and only one of them is playing cricket”) were leaked to the press, and Warner and others attributed this to Australian opening batsman Jack Fingleton, however for many years (even after Fingleton’s death) a bitter war of accusation passed between Fingleton and Bradman as to who was the real source of the leak. In a cable to the MCC, the Australian Board of Control repeated the allegation of poor sportsmanship directed at Warner by Woodfull. With the support of the MCC, England continued with Bodyline despite Australian protests. The tourists won the last three Tests convincingly and regained the Ashes. Bradman caused controversy with his own tactics. Always seeking to score, and with the leg side packed with fielders, he often backed away and hit the ball into the vacant half of the outfield with unorthodox shots reminiscent of tennis or golf. This brought him 396 runs (at 56.57) for the series and plaudits for attempting to find a solution to Bodyline, although his series average was just 57% of his career mean. Jack Fingleton was in no doubt that Bradman’s game altered irrevocably as a consequence of Bodyline, writing:
Bodyline was specially prepared, nurtured for and expended on him and, in consequence, his technique underwent a change quicker than might have been the case with the passage of time. Bodyline plucked something vibrant from his art.
The constant glare of celebrity and the tribulations of the season forced Bradman to reappraise his life outside the game and to seek a career away from his cricketing fame. Harry Hodgetts, a South Australian delegate to the Board of Control, offered Bradman work as a stockbroker if he would relocate to Adelaide and captain South Australia (SA). Unknown to the public, the SA Cricket Association (SACA) instigated Hodgetts’ approach and subsidised Bradman’s wage. Although his wife was hesitant about moving, Bradman eventually agreed to the deal in February 1934.
Declining health and a brush with death
In his farewell season for NSW, Bradman averaged 132.44, his best yet. He was appointed vice-captain for the 1934 tour of England. However, “he was unwell for much of the [English] summer, and reports in newspapers hinted that he was suffering from heart trouble”. Although he again started with a double century at Worcester, his famed concentration soon deserted him. Wisden wrote:
…there were many occasions on which he was out to wild strokes. Indeed at one period he created the impression that, to some extent, he had lost control of himself and went in to bat with an almost complete disregard for anything in the shape of a defensive stroke.
At one stage, Bradman went 13 first-class innings without a century, the longest such spell of his career, prompting suggestions that Bodyline had eroded his confidence and altered his technique. After three Tests, the series was one–one and Bradman had scored 133 runs in five innings. The Australians travelled to Sheffield and played a warm up game before the Fourth Test. Bradman started slowly and then, “… the old Bradman [was] back with us, in the twinkling of an eye, almost”. He went on to make 140, with the last 90 runs coming in just 45 minutes. On the opening day of the Fourth Test at Headingley (Leeds), England were out for 200, but Australia slumped to 3/39, losing the third wicket from the last ball of the day. Listed to bat at number five, Bradman would start his innings the next day.
That evening, Bradman declined an invitation to dinner from Neville Cardus, telling the journalist that he wanted an early night because the team needed him to make a double century the next day. Cardus pointed out that his previous innings on the ground was 334, and the law of averages was against another such score. Bradman told Cardus, “I don’t believe in the law of averages”. In the event, Bradman batted all of the second day and into the third, putting on a then world record partnership of 388 with Bill Ponsford. When he was finally out for 304 (473 balls, 43 fours and 2 sixes), Australia had a lead of 350 runs, but rain prevented them from forcing a victory. The effort of the lengthy innings stretched Bradman’s reserves of energy, and he did not play again until the Fifth Test at The Oval, the match that would decide the Ashes.
In the first innings at The Oval, Bradman and Ponsford recorded an even more massive partnership, this time 451 runs. It had taken them less than a month to break the record they had set at Headingley; this new world record was to last 57 years. Bradman’s share of the stand was 244 from 271 balls, and the Australian total of 701 set up victory by 562 runs. For the fourth time in five series, the Ashes changed hands. England would not recover them again until after Bradman’s retirement.
Seemingly restored to full health, Bradman blazed two centuries in the last two games of the tour. However, when he returned to London to prepare for the trip home, he experienced severe abdominal pain. It took a doctor more than 24 hours to diagnose acute appendicitis and a surgeon operated immediately. Bradman lost a lot of blood during the four-hour procedure and peritonitis set in. Penicillin and sulphonamides were still experimental treatments at this time; peritonitis was usually a fatal condition. On 25 September, the hospital issued a statement that Bradman was struggling for his life and that blood donors were needed urgently.
“The effect of the announcement was little short of spectacular”. The hospital could not deal with the number of donors, and closed its switchboard in the face of the avalanche of telephone calls generated by the news. Journalists were asked by their editors to prepare obituaries. Teammate Bill O’Reilly took a call from King George V’s secretary asking that the King be kept informed of the situation. Jessie Bradman started the month-long journey to London as soon as she received the news. En route, she heard a rumour that her husband had died. A telephone call clarified the situation and by the time she reached London, Bradman had begun a slow recovery. He followed medical advice to convalesce, taking several months to return to Australia and missing the 1934–35 Australian season.
Internal politics and the Test captaincy
There was off-field intrigue in Australian cricket during the antipodean winter of 1935. Australia, scheduled to make a tour of South Africa at the end of the year, needed to replace the retired Bill Woodfull as captain. The Board of Control wanted Bradman to lead the team, yet, on 8 August, the board announced Bradman’s withdrawal from the team due to a lack of fitness. Surprisingly, in the light of this announcement, Bradman led the South Australian team in a full programme of matches that season.
The captaincy was given to Vic Richardson, Bradman’s predecessor as South Australian captain. Cricket author Chris Harte’s analysis of the situation is that a prior (unspecified) commercial agreement forced Bradman to remain in Australia. Harte attributed an ulterior motive to his relocation: the off-field behaviour of Richardson and other South Australian players had displeased the South Australia Cricket Association (SACA), which was looking for new leadership. To help improve discipline, Bradman became a committeeman of the SACA, and a selector of the South Australian and Australian teams. He took his adopted state to its first Sheffield Shield title for 10 years, Bradman weighing in with personal contributions of 233 against Queensland and 357 against Victoria. He finished the season with 369 (in 233 minutes), a South Australian record, made against Tasmania. The bowler who dismissed him, Reginald Townley, would later become leader of the Tasmanian Liberal Party.
Australia defeated South Africa 4–0 and senior players such as Bill O’Reilly were pointed in their comments about the enjoyment of playing under Richardson’s captaincy. A group of players who were openly hostile toward Bradman formed during the tour. For some, the prospect of playing under Bradman was daunting, as was the knowledge that he would additionally be sitting in judgement of their abilities in his role as a selector.
To start the new season, the Test side played a “Rest of Australia” team, captained by Bradman, at Sydney in early October 1936. The Test XI suffered a big defeat, due to Bradman’s 212 and a haul of 12 wickets taken by leg-spinner Frank Ward. Bradman let the members of the Test team know that despite their recent success, the team still required improvement. Shortly afterwards, Bradman’s first child was born on 28 October, but died the next day. He took time out of cricket for two weeks and on his return made 192 in three hours against Victoria in the last match before the beginning of the Ashes series.
The Test selectors made five changes to the team who had played in the previous Test match. Significantly, Australia’s most successful bowler Clarrie Grimmett was replaced by Ward, one of four players making their debut. Bradman’s role in Grimmett’s omission from the team was controversial and it became a theme that dogged Bradman as Grimmett continued to be prolific in domestic cricket while his successors were ineffective—he was regarded as having finished the veteran bowler’s Test career in a political purge.
Australia fell to successive defeats in the opening two Tests, Bradman making two ducks in his four innings, and it seemed that the captaincy was affecting his form. The selectors made another four changes to the team for the Third Test at Melbourne.
Bradman won the toss on New Year’s Day 1937, but again failed with the bat, scoring just 13. The Australians could not take advantage of a pitch that favoured batting, and finished the day at 6/181. On the second day, rain dramatically altered the course of the game. With the sun drying the pitch (in those days, covers could not be used during matches) Bradman declared to get England in to bat while the pitch was “sticky”; England also declared to get Australia back in, conceding a lead of 124. Bradman countered by reversing his batting order to protect his run-makers while conditions improved. The ploy worked and Bradman went in at number seven. In an innings spread over three days, he battled influenza while scoring 270 off 375 balls, sharing a record partnership of 346 with Jack Fingleton, and Australia went on to victory. In 2001, Wisden rated this performance as the best Test match innings of all time.
The next Test, at the Adelaide Oval, was fairly even until Bradman played another patient second innings, making 212 from 395 balls. Australia levelled the series when the erratic left-arm spinner “Chuck” Fleetwood-Smith bowled Australia to victory. In the series-deciding Fifth Test, Bradman returned to a more aggressive style in top-scoring with 169 (off 191 balls) in Australia’s 604 and Australia won by an innings. Australia’s achievement of winning a Test series after outright losses in the first two matches has never been repeated in Test cricket.
End of an era
During the 1938 tour of England, Bradman played the most consistent cricket of his career. He needed to score heavily as England had a strengthened batting line-up, while the Australian bowling was over-reliant on O’Reilly. Grimmett was overlooked, but Jack Fingleton made the team, so the clique of anti-Bradman players remained. Playing 26 innings on tour, Bradman recorded 13 centuries (a new Australian record) and again made 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May, becoming the only player to do so twice. In scoring 2,429 runs, Bradman achieved the highest average ever recorded in an English season: 115.66.
In the First Test, England amassed a big first innings score and looked likely to win, but Stan McCabe made 232 for Australia, a performance Bradman rated as the best he had ever seen. With Australia forced to follow-on, Bradman fought hard to ensure McCabe’s effort was not in vain, and he secured the draw with 144 not out. It was the slowest Test hundred of his career and he played a similar innings of 102 not out in the next Test as Australia struggled to another draw. Rain completely washed out the Third Test at Old Trafford.
Australia’s opportunity came at Headingley, a Test described by Bradman as the best he ever played in. England batted first and made 223. During the Australian innings, Bradman backed himself by opting to bat on in poor light conditions, reasoning that Australia could score more runs in bad light on a good pitch than on a rain affected pitch in good light, when he had the option to go off. He scored 103 out of a total of 242 and the gamble paid off, as it meant there was sufficient time to push for victory when an England collapse left them a target of only 107 to win. Australia slumped to 4/61, with Bradman out for 16. An approaching storm threatened to wash the game out, but the poor weather held off and Australia managed to secure the win, a victory that retained the Ashes. For the only time in his life, the tension of the occasion got to Bradman and he could not watch the closing stages of play, a reflection of the pressure that he felt all tour: he described the captaincy as “exhausting” and said he “found it difficult to keep going”.
The euphoria of securing the Ashes preceded Australia’s heaviest defeat. At The Oval, England amassed a world record of 7/903 and their opening batsman Len Hutton scored an individual world record, by making 364. In an attempt to relieve the burden on his bowlers, Bradman took a rare turn at bowling. During his third over, he fractured his ankle and teammates carried him from the ground. With Bradman injured and Fingleton unable to bat because of a leg muscle strain, Australia were thrashed by an innings and 579 runs, which remains the largest margin in Test cricket history. Unfit to complete the tour, Bradman left the team in the hands of vice-captain Stan McCabe. At this point, Bradman felt that the burden of captaincy would prevent him from touring England again, although he did not make his doubts public.
Despite the pressure of captaincy, Bradman’s batting form remained supreme. An experienced, mature player now commonly called “The Don” had replaced the blitzing style of his early days as the “Boy from Bowral”. In 1938–39, he led South Australia to the Sheffield Shield and made a century in six consecutive innings to equal CB Fry’s world record. Bradman totalled 21 first-class centuries in 34 innings, from the beginning of the 1938 tour of England (including preliminary games in Australia) until early 1939.
The next season, Bradman made an abortive bid to join the Victoria state side. The Melbourne Cricket Club advertised the position of club secretary and he was led to believe that if he applied, he would get the job. The position, which had been held by Hugh Trumble until his death in August 1938, was one of the most prestigious jobs in Australian cricket. The annual salary of £1,000 would make Bradman financially secure while allowing him to retain a connection with the game. On 18 January 1939, the club’s committee, on the casting vote of the chairman, chose former Test batsman Vernon Ransford over Bradman.
The 1939–40 season was Bradman’s most productive ever for SA: 1,448 runs at an average of 144.8. He made three double centuries, including 251 not out against NSW, the innings that he rated the best he ever played in the Sheffield Shield, as he tamed Bill O’Reilly at the height of his form. However, it was the end of an era. The outbreak of World War II led to the indefinite postponement of all cricket tours, and the suspension of the Sheffield Shield competition.
Troubled war years
Bradman joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 28 June 1940 and was passed fit for air crew duty. The RAAF had more recruits than it could equip and train and Bradman spent four months in Adelaide before the Governor-General of Australia, Lord Gowrie, persuaded Bradman to transfer to the army, a move that was criticised as a safer option for him. Given the rank of Lieutenant, he was posted to the Army School of Physical Training at Frankston, Victoria, to act as a divisional supervisor of physical training. The exertion of the job aggravated his chronic muscular problems, diagnosed as fibrositis. Surprisingly, in light of his batting prowess, a routine army test revealed that Bradman had poor eyesight.
Invalided out of service in June 1941, Bradman spent months recuperating, unable even to shave himself or comb his hair due to the extent of the muscular pain he suffered. He resumed stockbroking during 1942. In his biography of Bradman, Charles Williams expounded the theory that the physical problems were psychosomatic, induced by stress and possibly depression; Bradman read the book’s manuscript and did not disagree. Had any cricket been played at this time, he would not have been available. Although he found some relief in 1945 when referred to the Melbourne masseur Ern Saunders, Bradman permanently lost the feeling in the thumb and index finger of his (dominant) right hand.
In June 1945, Bradman faced a financial crisis when the firm of Harry Hodgetts collapsed due to fraud and embezzlement. Bradman moved quickly to set up his own business, utilising Hodgetts’ client list and his old office in Grenfell Street, Adelaide. The fallout led to a prison term for Hodgetts, and left a stigma attached to Bradman’s name in the city’s business community for many years.
However, the SA Cricket Association had no hesitation in appointing Bradman as their delegate to the Board of Control in place of Hodgetts. Now working alongside some of the men he had battled in the 1930s, Bradman quickly became a leading light in the administration of the game. With the resumption of international cricket, he was once more appointed a Test selector, and played a major role in planning for post-war cricket.
“The ghost of a once great cricketer”
In 1945–46, Bradman suffered regular bouts of fibrositis while coming to terms with increased administrative duties and the establishment of his business. He played for South Australia in two matches to help with the re-establishment of first-class cricket and later described his batting as “painstaking”. Batting against the Australian Services cricket team, Bradman scored 112 in less than two hours, yet Dick Whitington (playing for the Services) wrote, “I have seen today the ghost of a once great cricketer”. Bradman declined a tour of New Zealand and spent the winter of 1946 wondering whether he had played his last match. “With the English team due to arrive for the 1946–47 Ashes series, the media and the public were anxious to know if Bradman would lead Australia.” His doctor recommended against a return to the game. Encouraged by his wife, Bradman agreed to play in lead-up fixtures to the Test series. After hitting two centuries, Bradman made himself available for the First Test at The Gabba.
Controversy emerged on the first day of the First Test at Brisbane. After compiling an uneasy 28 runs, Bradman hit a ball to the gully fieldsman, Jack Ikin. “An appeal for a catch was denied in the umpire’s contentious ruling that it was a bump ball”. At the end of the over, England captain Wally Hammond spoke with Bradman and criticised him for not “walking”; “from then on the series was a cricketing war just when most people desired peace”, Whitington wrote. Bradman regained his finest pre-war form in making 187, followed by 234 during the Second Test at Sydney (Sid Barnes also scored 234 during the innings, many in a still standing 405 run 5th Wicket partnership with Bradman. Barnes later recalled that he purposely got out on 234 because “it wouldn’t be right for someone to make more runs than Bradman”). Australia won both matches by an innings. Jack Fingleton speculated that had the decision at Brisbane gone against him, Bradman would have retired, such were his fitness problems. In the remainder of the series, Bradman made three half-centuries in six innings, but was unable to make another century; nevertheless, his team won handsomely, 3–0. He was the leading batsman on either side, with an average of 97.14. Nearly 850,000 spectators watched the Tests, which helped lift public spirits after the war.
Century of centuries and “The Invincibles”
India made its first tour of Australia in the 1947–48 season. On 15 November, Bradman made 172 against them for an Australian XI at Sydney, his 100th first-class century. The first non-Englishman to achieve the milestone, Bradman remains the only Australian to have done so. In five Tests, he scored 715 runs (at 178.75 average). His last double century (201) came at Adelaide, and he scored a century in each innings of the Melbourne Test. On the eve of the Fifth Test, he announced that the match would be his last in Australia, although he would tour England as a farewell.
Australia had assembled one of the great teams of cricket history. Bradman made it known that he wanted to go through the tour unbeaten, a feat never before accomplished. English spectators were drawn to the matches knowing that it would be their last opportunity to see Bradman in action. RC Robertson-Glasgow observed of Bradman that:
Next to Mr. Winston Churchill, he was the most celebrated man in England during the summer of 1948. His appearances throughout the country were like one continuous farewell matinée. At last his batting showed human fallibility. Often, especially at the start of the innings, he played where the ball wasn’t, and spectators rubbed their eyes.
Despite his waning powers, Bradman compiled 11 centuries on the tour, amassing 2,428 runs (average 89.92). His highest score of the tour (187) came against Essex, when Australia compiled a world record of 721 runs in a day. In the Tests, he scored a century at Trent Bridge, but the performance most like his pre-war exploits came in the Fourth Test at Headingley. England declared on the last morning of the game, setting Australia a world record 404 runs to win in only 345 minutes on a heavily worn pitch. In partnership with Arthur Morris (182), Bradman reeled off 173 not out and the match was won with 15 minutes to spare. The journalist Ray Robinson called the victory “the ‘finest ever’ in its conquest of seemingly insuperable odds”.
In the final Test at The Oval, Bradman walked out to bat in Australia’s first innings. He received a standing ovation from the crowd and three cheers from the opposition. His Test batting average stood at 101.39. Facing the wrist-spin of Eric Hollies, Bradman pushed forward to the second ball that he faced, was deceived by a googly, and bowled between bat and pad for a duck. An England batting collapse resulted in an innings defeat, denying Bradman the opportunity to bat again and so his career average finished at 99.94; if he had scored just four runs in his last innings, it would have been 100. A story developed over the years that claimed Bradman missed the ball because of tears in his eyes, a claim Bradman denied for the rest of his life.
The Australian team won the Ashes 4–0, completed the tour unbeaten, and entered history as “The Invincibles”. Just as Bradman’s legend grew, rather than diminished, over the years, so too has the reputation of the 1948 team. For Bradman, it was the most personally fulfilling period of his playing days, as the divisiveness of the 1930s had passed. He wrote:
Knowing the personnel, I was confident that here at last was the great opportunity which I had longed for. A team of cricketers whose respect and loyalty were unquestioned, who would regard me in a fatherly sense and listen to my advice, follow my guidance and not question my handling of affairs…there are no longer any fears that they will query the wisdom of what you do. The result is a sense of freedom to give full reign to your own creative ability and personal judgment.
With Bradman now retired from professional cricket, RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote of the English reaction
“… a miracle has been removed from among us. So must ancient Italy have felt when she heard of the death of Hannibal”.
|All First Class||338||43||452*||28,067||95.14||117||34.6%|
|All Second Class||331||64||320*||22,664||84.80||94||28.4%|
|Statistics from Bradman Museum.|
Bradman still holds the following significant records for Test match cricket:
- Highest career batting average (minimum 20 innings): 99.94
- Highest series batting average (minimum 4-Test series): 201.50 (1931–32); also second-highest: 178.75 (1947–48)
- Highest Test batting rating: 961.
- Highest ratio of centuries per innings played: 36.25% (29 centuries from 80 innings)
- Highest ratio of double centuries per innings played: 15.0% (12 double centuries from 80 innings)
- Highest 5th wicket partnership: 405 (with Sid Barnes, 1946–47)
- Highest score by a number 7 batsman: 270 (1936–37)
- Most runs against one opponent: 5,028 (v England)
- Most runs in one series: 974 (1930)
- Most times of scoring a century in a single session of play: 6 (1 pre lunch, 2 lunch-tea, 3 tea-stumps)
- Most runs in one day’s play: 309 (1930)
- Most double centuries: 12
- Most double centuries in a series: 3 (1930)
- Most triple centuries: 2 (equal with Chris Gayle, Brian Lara and Virender Sehwag)
- Most consecutive matches in which he made a century: 6 (the last three Tests in 1936–37, and the first three Tests in 1938)
- Fewest matches required to reach 1000 (7 matches), 2000 (15 matches), 3000 (23 matches), 4000 (31 matches), 5000 (36 matches) and 6000 (45 matches) Test runs.
- Fewest innings required to reach 2000 (22 innings), 3000 (33 innings), 4000 (48 innings), 5000 (56 innings) and 6000 (68 innings) Test runs.
- First batsman in Test history to score 2 triple centuries.
- First and only batsman to have remained unbeaten on 299 in a Test innings.
- First batsman to score a Test triple century (304) at number 5 position; this remains the second highest Test score for any number 5 batsman.
Bradman’s Test batting average of 99.94 has become one of cricket’s most famous, iconic statistics. No other player who has played more than 20 Test match innings has finished their career with a Test average of more than 62. Bradman scored centuries at a rate better than one every three innings—in 80 Test innings, Bradman scored 29 centuries. Only 11 players have since surpassed his total, all at a much slower rate: the next fastest player to reach 29 centuries, Sachin Tendulkar, required nearly twice as long (148 innings) to do so.
In addition, Bradman converted 41% of his centuries into double centuries: his total of 12 Test double hundreds—comprising 15% of his innings—remains the most achieved by any Test batsman and was accumulated faster than any other total. For comparison, the next highest totals of Test double hundreds are Kumar Sangakkara’s 11 in 223 innings (4.9%), Brian Lara’s 9 in 232 innings (3.9%), and Wally Hammond’s 7 in 140 innings (5%); the next highest rate of scoring Test double centuries was achieved by Vinod Kambli, whose 21 innings included 2 double centuries (9.5%).
World sport context
Wisden hailed Bradman as, “the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games”. Statistician Charles Davis analysed the statistics for several prominent sportsmen by comparing the number of standard deviations that they stand above the mean for their sport. The top performers in his selected sports are:
|Pelé||Association football||Goals per game||3.7|
|Ty Cobb||Baseball||Batting average||3.6|
|Jack Nicklaus||Golf||Major titles||3.5|
|Michael Jordan||Basketball||Points per game||3.4|
The statistics show that “no other athlete dominates an international sport to the extent that Bradman does cricket”. In order to post a similarly dominant career statistic as Bradman, a baseball batter would need a career batting average of .392, while a basketball player would need to score an average of 43.0 points per game. The respective records are .366 and 30.1.
When Bradman died, Time allocated a space in its “Milestones” column for an obituary:
…Australian icon considered by many to be the pre-eminent sportsman of all time…One of Australia’s most beloved heroes, he was revered abroad as well. When Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, his first question to an Australian visitor was, “Is Sir Donald Bradman still alive?”
Bradman’s early development was shaped by the high bounce of the ball on matting-over-concrete pitches. He favoured “horizontal-bat” shots (such as the hook, pull and cut) to deal with the bounce and devised a unique grip on the bat handle that would accommodate these strokes without compromising his ability to defend. Employing a side-on stance at the wicket, Bradman kept perfectly still as the bowler ran in. His backswing had a “crooked” look that troubled his early critics, but he resisted entreaties to change. His backswing kept his hands in close to the body, leaving him perfectly balanced and able to change his stroke mid-swing, if need be. Another telling factor was the decisiveness of Bradman’s footwork. He “used the crease” by either coming metres down the pitch to drive, or playing so far back that his feet ended up level with the stumps when playing the cut, hook or pull.
Bradman’s game evolved with experience. He temporarily adapted his technique during the Bodyline series, deliberately moving around the crease in an attempt to score from the short-pitched deliveries. At his peak, in the mid-1930s, he had the ability to switch between a defensive and attacking approach as the occasion demanded. After the Second World War, he adjusted to bat within the limitations set by his age, becoming a steady “accumulator” of runs. However, Bradman never truly mastered batting on sticky wickets. Wisden commented, “[i]f there really is a blemish on his amazing record it is … the absence of a significant innings on one of those ‘sticky dogs’ of old”.
After his return to Australia, Bradman played in his own Testimonial match at Melbourne, scoring his 117th and last century, and receiving £9,342 in proceeds. In the 1949 New Year Honours, he was appointed Knight Bachelor for his services to the game, becoming the only Australian cricketer ever to be knighted. He commented that he “would have preferred to remain just Mister”. The following year he published a memoir, Farewell to Cricket. Bradman accepted offers from the Daily Mail to travel with, and write about, the 1953 and 1956 Australian teams in England. The Art of Cricket, his final book published in 1958, is an instructional manual.
Bradman retired from his stockbroking business in June 1954, depending on the “comfortable” income earned as a board member of 16 publicly listed companies. His highest profile affiliation was with Argo Investments Limited, where he was chairman for a number of years. Charles Williams commented that, “[b]usiness was excluded on medical grounds, [so] the only sensible alternative was a career in the administration of the game which he loved and to which he had given most of his active life”.
Bradman was honoured at a number of cricket grounds, notably when his portrait was hung in the Long Room at Lord’s; until Shane Warne’s portrait was added in 2005, Bradman was one of just three Australians to be honoured in this way. Bradman inaugurated a “Bradman Stand” at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 1974; the Adelaide Oval also opened a Bradman Stand in 1990, which housed new media and corporate facilities. The Oval’s Bradman Stand was demolished in 2013 as the stadium underwent an extensive re-development. Later in 1974, he attended a Lord’s Taverners function in London where he experienced heart problems, which forced him to limit his public appearances to select occasions only. With his wife, Bradman returned to Bowral in 1976, where the new cricket ground was named in his honour. He gave the keynote speech at the historic Centenary Test at Melbourne in 1977.
On 16 June 1979, the Australian government awarded Bradman the nation’s second-highest civilian honour at that time, Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), “in recognition of service to the sport of cricket and cricket administration”. In 1980, he resigned from the ACB, to lead a more secluded life.
In addition to acting as one of South Australia’s delegates to the Board of Control from 1945 to 1980, Bradman was a committee member of the SACA between 1935 and 1986. It is estimated that he attended 1,713 SACA meetings during this half century of service. Aside from two years in the early 1950s, he filled a selector’s berth for the Test team between 1936 and 1971.
Cricket saw an increase in defensive play during the 1950s. As a selector, Bradman favoured attacking, positive cricketers who entertained the paying public. He formed an alliance with Australian captain Richie Benaud, seeking more attractive play, with some success. He served two high-profile periods as chairman of the board of Control, in 1960–63 and 1969–72. During the first, he dealt with the growing prevalence of illegal bowling actions in the game, a problem that he adjudged “the most complex I have known in cricket, because it is not a matter of fact but of opinion”. The major controversy of his second stint was a proposed tour of Australia by South Africa in 1971–72. On Bradman’s recommendation, the series was cancelled. Cricket journalist Michael Coward said of Bradman as an administrator:
Bradman was more than a cricket player nonpareil. He was…an astute and progressive administrator; an expansive thinker, philosopher and writer on the game. Indeed, in some respects, he was as powerful, persuasive and influential a figure off the ground as he was on it.
In the late 1970s, Bradman played an important role during the World Series Cricket schism as a member of a special Australian Cricket Board committee formed to handle the crisis. He was criticised for not airing an opinion, but he dealt with World Series Cricket far more pragmatically than other administrators. Richie Benaud described Bradman as “a brilliant administrator and businessman”, warning that he was not to be underestimated. As Australian captain, Ian Chappell fought with Bradman over the issue of player remuneration in the early 1970s and has suggested that Bradman was parsimonious:
I…thought to myself, ‘Ian, did you just ask Bradman to fill your wallet with money?’ Bradman’s harangue confirmed my suspicions that the players were going to have a hard time extracting more money from the ACB.
Later years and death
After his wife’s death in 1997, Bradman suffered “a discernible and not unexpected wilting of spirit”. The next year, on his 90th birthday, he hosted a meeting with his two favourite modern players, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar, but he was not seen in his familiar place at the Adelaide Oval again. Hospitalised with pneumonia in December 2000, he returned home in the New Year and died there on 25 February 2001, aged 92.
A memorial service to mark Bradman’s life was held on 25 March 2001 at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Adelaide. The service was attended by a host of former and current Test cricketers, as well as Australia’s then prime minister, John Howard, leader of the opposition Kim Beazley and former prime minister Bob Hawke. Eulogies were given by Richie Benaud and Governor-General Sir William Deane. The service was broadcast live on ABC Television to a viewing audience of 1.45 million. A private service for family and friends was earlier held at the Centennial Park Cemetery in the suburb of Pasadena, with many people lining both Greenhill and Goodwood Roads to pay their respects as his funeral motorcade passed by.
Cricket writer David Frith summed up the paradox of the continuing fascination with Bradman:
As the years passed, with no lessening of his reclusiveness, so his public stature continued to grow, until the sense of reverence and unquestioning worship left many of his contemporaries scratching their heads in wondering admiration.
As early as 1939, Bradman had a Royal Navy ship named after him. Built as a fishing trawler in 1936, HMS Bradman was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939, but was sunk by German aircraft the following year.
In the 1963 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Bradman was selected by Neville Cardus as one the Six Giants of the Wisden Century. This was a special commemorative selection requested by Wisden for its 100th edition. The other five players chosen were: Sydney Barnes, W. G. Grace, Jack Hobbs, Tom Richardson and Victor Trumper.
On 10 December 1985, Bradman was the first of 120 inaugural inductees into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. He spoke of his philosophy for considering the stature of athletes:
When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill. They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness.
Although modest about his own abilities and generous in his praise of other cricketers, Bradman was fully aware of the talents he possessed as a player; there is some evidence that he sought to influence his legacy. During the 1980s and 1990s, Bradman carefully selected the people to whom he gave interviews, assisting Michael Page, Roland Perry and Charles Williams, who all produced biographical works about him. Bradman also agreed to an extensive interview for ABC radio, broadcast as Bradman: The Don Declares in eight 55-minute episodes during 1988.
The most significant of these legacy projects was the Bradman Museum, opened in 1989 at the Bradman Oval in Bowral. This organisation was reformed in 1993 as a non-profit charitable Trust, called the Bradman Foundation. In 2010, it was expanded and rebranded as the International Cricket Hall of Fame.
When the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame was created in Melbourne in 1996, Bradman was made one of its 10 inaugural members. In 2000, Bradman was selected by cricket experts as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. Each of the 100 members of the panel were able to select five cricketers: all 100 voted for Bradman. The ICC Cricket Hall of Fame inducted him on 19 November 2009.
Bradman’s life and achievements were recognised in Australia with two notable issues. Three years before he died, he became the first living Australian to be featured on an Australian postage stamp. After his death, the Australian Government produced a 20-cent coin to commemorate his life. On 27 August 2018, to celebrate 110 years since his birth, Bradman was commemorated with a Google Doodle. To mark 150 years of the Cricketers’ Almanack, Wisden named him as captain of an all-time Test World XI.
In 1999, Bradman was named in the six man shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Century. Asteroid 2472 Bradman discovered by Luboš Kohoutek is named in his honour.
Bradman first met Jessie Martha Menzies in 1920 when she boarded with the Bradman family, to be closer to school in Bowral. The couple married at St Paul’s Anglican Church at Burwood, Sydney on 30 April 1932. The two had an impeccable marriage and were both devoted to each other. During their 65-year marriage, Jessie was “shrewd, reliable, selfless, and above all, uncomplicated…she was the perfect foil to his concentrated, and occasionally mercurial character”. Bradman paid tribute to his wife numerous times, once saying succinctly, “I would never have achieved what I achieved without Jessie”.
The Bradmans lived in the same modest, suburban house in Holden Street, Kensington Park in Adelaide for all but the first three years of their married life. They experienced personal tragedy in raising their children: their first-born son died as an infant in 1936, their second son, John (born in 1939) contracted polio, and their daughter, Shirley, born in 1941, had cerebral palsy from birth. His family name proved a burden for John Bradman; he legally changed his last name to Bradsen in 1972. Although claims were made that he became estranged from his father, it was more a matter of “the pair inhabit[ing] different worlds”, and the two remained in contact through the years. After the cricketer’s death, a collection of personal letters written by Bradman to his close friend Rohan Rivett between 1953 and 1977 was released and gave researchers new insights into Bradman’s family life, including the strain between father and son.
Bradman’s reclusiveness in later life is partly attributable to the ongoing health problems of his wife, particularly following the open-heart surgery Jessie underwent in her 60s. Lady Bradman died in 1997, aged 88, from cancer. This had a dispiriting effect on Bradman, but the relationship with his son improved, to the extent that John resolved to change his name back to Bradman. Since his father’s death, John Bradman has become the spokesperson for the family and has been involved in defending the Bradman legacy in a number of disputes. The relationship between Bradman and his wider family is less clear, although nine months after Bradman’s death, his nephew Paul Bradman criticised him as a “snob” and a “loner” who forgot his connections in Bowral and who failed to attend the funerals of Paul’s mother and father.
In popular culture
Bradman’s name has become an archetypal name for outstanding excellence, both within cricket and in the wider world. The term Bradmanesque has been coined and is used both within and outside cricketing circles. Steve Waugh described Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan as “the Don Bradman of bowling”.
Bradman has been the subject of more biographies than any other Australian, apart from the bushranger Ned Kelly. Bradman himself wrote four books: Don Bradman’s Book–The Story of My Cricketing Life with Hints on Batting, Bowling and Fielding (1930), My Cricketing Life (1938), Farewell to Cricket (1950) and The Art of Cricket (1958). The story of the Bodyline series was retold in a 1984 television mini-series, with Gary Sweet portraying Bradman.
Bradman is immortalised in three popular songs from different eras, “Our Don Bradman” (1930s, by Jack O’Hagan), “Bradman” (1980s, by Paul Kelly), and “Sir Don”, (a tribute by John Williamson performed at Bradman’s memorial service). Bradman recorded several songs accompanying himself and others on piano in the early 1930s, including “Every Day Is A Rainbow Day For Me”, with Jack Lumsdaine. In 2000, the Australian Government made it illegal for the names of corporations to suggest a link to “Sir Donald Bradman”, if such a link does not in fact exist. Other entities with similar protection are the Australian and foreign governments, Saint Mary MacKillop, the Royal Family and the Returned and Services League of Australia.