TALES FROM THE TOY DEPARTMENT: In a year redolent with sporting anniversaries, PHILIP BARKER looks back to Don Bradman’s final Test match at The Oval 60 years ago this week
At The Oval, 60 years ago this week, Don Bradman walked out for his last Test innings.
There was no TV camera complete with steadicam matching him stride for stride to the middle. The 1948 Test series between England and Australia, the resumption of an old rivalry following the Second World War, was broadcast on radio, but moving pictures were restricted to the newsreels shown in the cinemas, and from the looks of the pictures that remain, the film camera used was at the back of the stands.
Bradman seemed a tiny dot as he was met by the England captain Norman Yardley, who called for three cheers.
Two balls later, Bradman was walking back to the Pavilion out for a duck, having been bowled by Warwickshireâ€™s Eric Hollies.
The moment was described live on BBC Radio by John Arlott, who had just taken over commentary from Rex Alston.
â€œWhat do you say in such circumstances? I wonder if you see a ball very clearly in your last Test in England on a ground where youâ€™ve played out some of the biggest cricket in your life, and where the opposing team have just stood around you and given you three cheers?
â€œI wonder if you really see the ball at all?â€
Since his first tour to England in 1930, The Don, pictured left, had plundered Englandâ€™s bowlers for runs without mercy. He had needed only four runs in this final innings to finish his Test career with an average of 100.
To demonstrate what an unprecedented feat this was, the nearest, best average of any international batsman, before or since Bradman (by a player who has had at least 40 Test innings), is the 68.38 by another Australian, Mike Hussey. Other all-time cricket greats could manage just over half of Bradman’s Test average: Garfield Sobers, the scorer of what was once a record Test innings, 365 not out, averaged 57.78; Jack Hobbs, England’s finest inter-wars batsman, ended his career on 56.94; Sachin Tendulkar, the little prince of Indian cricket, is on 54.41.
Bradman’s 6996 Test runs came off 80 innings in 52 Tests, with a best score of 334. His failure in his final Test left Bradman marooned in the frustrating no-man’s land of an average of 99.94.
“We didnâ€™t know he only needed four,â€ Alec Bedser, one of the England bowlers that August day 60 summers ago, has said.
â€œIf we had known, he could have had a four. Weâ€™d lost completely, it didnâ€™t matter two hoots! I know if Iâ€™d have been bowling and known he wanted four he could have had it.”
Sir Alecâ€™s revelation had come more than half a century later. A phone call I took at the Sky Sports News office paved the way for another insight. A relative of one of the England team members thought his dad had an interesting story to tell. So it was that John Dewes, a Cambridge University batsman, invited us in to his home to relive what was his Test debut.
Dewes told us that after Bradmanâ€™s dismissal, he had turned to Hollies and said: â€œMy goodness Eric, what have you done?â€
We repaid Dewes’s hospitality by forcing him to sit through another viewing of the England collapse in which he took part: all out in the first innings for 52.
â€œIt was terrible. I was the first out and from then on it was a procession,â€ he said. â€œLindwall and Miller got the ball up here,â€ he said, pointing to his just below his chin.
Such was the nature of the newsreel coverage all those years ago, we were unable to check the old film for confirmation. Most of the time the dismissals were not shown, just the batsmen’s long trudge back to the Pavilion.
In 1948, the Australians played all 17 counties, many more matches besides, and swept all before them. Against Essex at Southend they were bowled out in a day for 721. Trevor Bailey, still a SJA member, was playing for Essex in those days and remembered his encounters with the Don in typical style.
â€œI played against him on three occasions and he scored a hundred on each occasion,” Bailey said.
“I trapped him with a long hop on the last occasion when heâ€™d scored about 160. I was merely thankful that I bowled against him when he was past it.â€
We were able to film an interview with one of the survivors of the Australian team. Neil Harvey, a youngster in 1948, told us: “The damage was still about when we arrived in London. It was unbelievable to see and you could see the public needed a lift. I think this 1948 cricket team gave the English public so much morale.â€
England’s side included Len Hutton, Denis Compton and Alec Bedser, three of the greatest players ever. Yet they struggled against an Australian team in which everything clicked.
In the fourth Test at Leeds, Englandâ€™s batsmen thought they had it cracked. On the final day, they set Australia a victory target of 404. Bradman and opening batsman Arthur Morris went for it.
â€œOnce they got set, the runs came at a fairly brisk rate and it reached the stage where we sitting in the dressing room said to each other, ‘Hey listen, we could win this game’,â€ Harvey said.
Bradman made an unbeaten 173 and the winning run was hit by Harvey.
Sir Don was knighted for his services to cricket in 1949. In a rare interview, given to BBC radio, he recalled, â€œIn a war-torn, cricket-starved England, my outstanding memory of 1948 was the part I tried to play in reviving the game, particularly the fourth Test at Leeds.
“We were set 404 and got them with 15 minutes to spare and the wonderful crowd absorbed in the cricket at least temporarily forgot their worries.
“More nostalgic for me was being bowled for nought by Hollies at The Oval, but that was an anti-climax to the purpose of the tour and the memory of Leeds.â€
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