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.
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. 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.
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 not out and 29 not out 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.
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.
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 wicket. 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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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. 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 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 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.
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 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". 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 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.
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.
As early as 1939, Bradman had a Royal Navy ship named after him. Built as a fishing trawler in 1936, the HMS Bradman was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939, but was sunk by German aircraft the following year.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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".
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Li Ning both Greenhill and Goodwood Roads to pay their respects as his funeral motorcade passed by.
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.
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. More than 50 years after his retirement as a Test player, in 2001, 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 into the ICC 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.
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, and in the Test matches in particular, 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 2012, 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.
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.
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%).