Don Bradman in the Ashes

Thin Bats. Huge Boundaries. Destructive Bowlers. Uncovered Pitches. The game tossed challenges after challenges but the Don, Don Bradman, absolutely owned the game in his time. In a career that extended 52 Test Matches, he had 6996 runs under his belt and yes, the most remarkable statistic of all, his batting average- 99.94. Don Bradman in the Ashes was simply phenomenal.

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A timeless legend who will remain one of the greatest players ever to grace the game and this time, we will be talking about his performance in what is inarguably the most iconic cricket bilateral series- the Ashes. He absolutely dominated the Ashes. Most Runs? Highest Average? Most triple centuries? Most hundreds? Most 50+ scores? Most runs in a single series? Most runs in a single day? Don Bradman.

1928-29 Ashes Series

Don arrived to the international arena in the 1928-29 Ashes Series but his first match was quite forgetful.

The first match was played in the Exhibition Ground, Brisbane and England had put up a massive total of 521 runs in the first inning. Australia lost its first wicket without having any runs on board and when Don Bradman came in to bat, the score was 71/5. He faced 40 balls in his first international innings and could only score 18 runs before he was LBW’ed off a ball of Maurice Tate. Larwood’s 6 wicket haul and Maurice’s 3 wicket haul choked the Aussies and the team was all out at a paltry score of 122. England made 342 runs in the second innings which left the Aussies with a practically unattainable target of 742 runs.

Don Bradman came in at number 6 and could score only 1 run off 5 balls and Australia was humiliated and was all out at nearly half the score they had in the first innings- just 66 runs and England won in a grand fashion by a margin of 675 runs which remains the biggest margin of victory in Ashes by runs.

To say the least, Don had quite a forgettable start to his career and being a part of the match where his team gets beaten by 675 runs was the last thing he would’ve wanted and to add to the woes, he was dropped for the 2nd Test but he made his return for the 3rd match of the series.

The 3rd match was played in the incredible MCG. Australia batted first and Don Bradman was the number 6 batsman. This time, he stood strong and faced 220 balls and scored his first half-century and before being bowled by Wally Hammond, he had scored a decent 79 runs.

Australia finished with 397 runs and in reply, England scored 417 thus attaining a lead of 20 runs. Well, if the first inning was special for Bradman considering he scored his first half-century, then the second inning was even more special as he brought up the first century of his test career. He faced 281 balls and scored a great 112 runs. England won that match by 3 wickets but Don Bradman had arrived.

In the next match, he scored 40 in the first innings and fast forward, Australia needed 349 runs to win their first match of the series. Woodfull and Jackson gave a proper start as they put up 65 runs on the board and when Don arrived, the score was 211/4 and 138 more runs were needed with 6 wickets left, doable?

Well, it certainly looked doable with Don on crease, who scored a half-century, but when the score was 320/7 and he was on 58 runs, he was run out. This remained the one and only run out of his entire Test career. Australia succumbed at 336 and lost the match by 12 runs.

In the next and final match of the series, things turned for Australia with Don playing a crucial part of it. It was played in the MCG and England had put up 519 runs on board. Don Bradman came in at number 5 this time and had yet another century with 123 runs off 247 balls which was the highest from his side. Australia was all out for 491 runs.

Thanks to a 5 wicket haul from Thomas Wall, England was all out at 257 runs which meant that Australia needed 286 runs to win. Don Bradman remained unbeaten at 37*(89) and Australia comfortably chased down the total and recorded the first win in this series.

Though Australia couldn’t taste Ashes glory this time, they did witness how valuable Don could be to the team

1930 Ashes Series

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In the first test played at Trent Bridge, Bradman played at number 4 and number 3 and scored 64 and 131 respectively but they lost the match by 93 runs.

The next match played at the Mecca of Cricket was a special one for Don. England had scored 425 runs in the first inning. Don Bradman came in at number 3 and played like a champion. The ball was going where the Don wanted it to go. 0 then 50 then 100 then 150 and then…200! Don Bradman scored the first double century of his career and finished his innings with a spectacular knock of 254(376). This double century was just one of the 12 which were about to come in his career. Australia won that match by 7 wickets and the series was levelled 1-1.

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Well, Don’s double century wasn’t to be the biggest highlight of the series. The next match was played at Headingley and the score was 2/1 when he came in. He was here to stay. 0 then 50 then 100 then 150 then 200 then 250 and then…300! Sensational stuff from Don who brought up the first triple century of his career. He remains the only player to date to cross 300 in a single day’s play. The match was drawn and later Arthur Whitelaw gave Bradman a check of £1,000 as a token of appreciation.

The next match was drawn too and the deciding match was played at The Oval. England scored 405 in the first innings. It was a difficult time for Bradman to bat in with rain affecting the pitch. During his inning, he was hit on the body but he carried on and went on to score yet another double century. He scored 232 runs and Australia had put up an impressive score of 695 runs on board and gained a lead of 290 runs.

In reply, Percival Hornibrook’s 7 wicket haul made sure that England had no chances and England succumbed at 251 runs and Australia won the match…and the Ashes series!

This was an extraordinary series for Bradman. He scored a whopping 974 runs at a magnificent average of 139.14 which remains till date the most runs scored by a player in a single Ashes series. The record-breaking had just started.

Now ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts in what remains probably the most controversial Ashes series of all time.

1932-33 Ashes Series

Don may have had a sensational record-breaking series in 1930 but England took attention of another thing- his discomfort in playing short balls.

England’s the then captain, Douglas Jardine instructed his bowlers particularly Larwood and Bill Voce to use the infamous ‘Bodyline’ tactic. The tactic’s main aim was to bowl short and rising deliveries aimed at the body of the batsman which would force them to defend and then the bowling side would’ve multiple fielders on the leg side so that they could take the catch. The whole team employed one tactic to tame one single batsman- Don Bradman, that was how good Don was.

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Don missed the first match of the series but Jardine employed the tactic nevertheless and won the match. Many people now knew that if this Bodyline tactic continued, then tensions would arise. Everyone wanted the Don to play the next match and Don did the same amidst a roaring crowd at MCG which had nearly 64,000 spectators.

He wanted to play the hook shot on his first ball anticipating that the first ball would be a bouncer but it wasn’t and he ended up being bowled and his first ball duck left the massive crowd stunned. Despite Bradman’s failure, Australia managed to take a lead and in the second innings, Don gave the crowd what they wanted to see. With a strike rate of 70.55, Don remained unbeaten at 103 runs and England had 251 runs as the target. Bill and Bert combined took 9 wickets and Australia won that match by 111 runs.

The 3rd match played at Adelaide was to be the most controversial one of the series. England batted first and was all out at 341 runs. In the final ball of the third over of Australia’s first inning, Larwood’s ball hit Woodfull on the chest and Woodfull had to drop his bat and bent over in pain. The crowd started to protest and Jardine saying to Larwood, “Well bowled, Harold!” made it worse.

The crowd started to get louder and louder as it witnessed Jardine assigning fielders at bodyline positions. Woodfull was hit a few more times. Pelham Warner, one of England’s managers visited the Australian dressing room trying to offer sympathy, but Woodfull replied “I don’t want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not.”

The exchange between Warner and Woodfull was leaked to the press and it was always a matter of discussion as to who between Fingleton and Bradman was involved in leaking the conversation.

Australia had to chase down 532 runs to win but Australia was all out at 193 with Bradman scoring 66. The crowd was violent seeing the bodyline tactics being employed and the atmosphere gave the impression that even a riot could happen. It was intense.

The situation escalated and it looked like the series was under threat. The fourth match still happened but the bodyline tactic continued to be in use.

Bradman scored 76 and 24 in the next match and Australia lost the match by 6 wickets. Bradman experimented with his technique in an attempt to counter the bodyline tactic. In the last test, played at SCG, Bradman scored 48 and 71 and finished the infamous series with 396 runs at a batting average of ‘only’ 56.57.

1934 Ashes Series

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Bradman had quite a silent start to the 1934 Ashes Series as he scored 29, 25, 36, 13 and 30 in the first three matches. Australia had won the first match by 238 runs but England had bounced back and won the next match by an innings and 38 runs and the next match was drawn.

The fourth match was played at Headingley. Bradman scored the second triple century of his career and had a knock of 304 off 473 balls which helped his team gain a huge lead of 384 runs but the match was drawn.

The deciding match was played at The Oval. Australia batted first and Don who came in at number 3, scored yet another double century and scored 244 off 271 balls and thanks to another double century from his teammate, Ponsford, Australia had scored a stunning 701 runs. England could only manage 321 runs in reply.

Australia scored 327 runs in the second innings with Bradman scoring the highest from his side with 77 runs and England was left with a target of 708. A fifer from Grimmett helped England get all out at 145 runs and Australia won the match by 562 runs! Australia won the Ashes!

1936-37 Ashes Series

Australia had a torrid start to the series as the team was humiliated in the first two matches. The team lost the first match by a 300+ run margin and lost the next one by an innings margin with Bradman not doing anything noteworthy.

In the next match played at the MCG, Bradman declared when his side had scored 200 runs so that they could take advantage of the rain-affected pitch. England was at 76/9 when they declared to let the Aussies bat in this sort of pitch and conceded a lead of 124 runs. Bradman was shrewd and he reversed the batting order and asked his bowlers to go first so that the main batsmen could bat at improved conditions. When Bradman arrived at number 7, the score was 97/5. He ended up with a majestic knock of 270(375) in a pressure situation which propelled Australia’s score to 564 runs and Australia ended up winning the match comfortably by a margin of 365 runs. Bradman’s inning of 270 was rated as the best Test Innings of all time by Wisden. The series was 2-1.

The next match saw Bradman hit yet another double century and Australia won that match by 148 runs. After being 2-0 down in the series, Australia had made it 2-2 with Bradman contributing hugely in both the wins.

The deciding match was played at the MCG. Australia batted first and Don added yet another century to his long list and high-scored from his team with 169 runs and Australia scored 604 runs. England was all-out at 239 runs and the team was forced to follow on and credits to an amazing team bowling effort, England could score only 165 and Australia won the match by an innings and 200 runs and… Australia won the Ashes!

Australia won a Test series after losing the first two matches with major credits to the Don and this feat has never been repeated again in cricket.

1938 Ashes Series

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The first match was played at the Trent Bridge. England scored a mammoth 658 runs and in reply, Australia could manage 411 runs with credits to McCabe’s double ton and Bradman scoring 51 of the total and the host nation was forced to follow on. In the second innings, Bradman scored the highest from his team with 144 runs which was the slowest Test hundred of his career and the match was drawn.

The next match played at Lord’s was drawn too, with Bradman scoring 102 not out in the second innings. Rain washed out the next match.

The next match was played at Headingley. Amidst poor lighting conditions, Bradman scored 103 runs and Australia had scored 242 in reply to England’s 223 and at the end, Australia was left to chase 105 which Australia did and won the match and retained the Ashes.

The final match was played at The Oval and it was an utter humiliation for the Aussies as the visitors lost the match by an innings and 579 runs with L Hutton scoring 364 in the first innings which remains the highest Ashes Inning score till date. Bradman couldn’t play in either of the innings as he fractured his ankle while bowling.

After that, it was a sad period in the world as World War 2 happened from 1939 to 1945 which meant that no cricket tours happened in that period. The next Ashes Series took place straight in 1946

1946-47 Ashes Series

The first Ashes Series after the World War commenced in Brisbane. Australia batted first. Bradman repeated what was probably bread and butter for him now- scoring centuries. He top-scored from his team having an amazing knock of 187 runs, though he was involved in a controversy. When Bradman was at 28, he hit the ball and Jack caught it but the appeal for a catch was denied and later Wally Hammond criticized Bradman for not walking back.

In reply to Australia’s 645, England could only manage 141 thanks to a 7 wicket haul from KL Miller. England was forced to follow on and Australia completed a grand victory by an innings and 332 runs.

The next match saw Bradman hit a double century and Australia won by an innings and 33 runs. He performed consistently in that series having knocks of 79 and 49 at the MCG, 0 and 56* at Adelaide and 12 and 63 at Sydney. He had a batting average of 97.14 in the series and Australia comfortably won the Ashes 3-0. This series was seen as a crucial contribution to lifting the spirits of the viewers after the World War.

Bradman’s Final Test Series- 1948 Ashes Series

This was the final Test Series Bradman played. The first match was played at Trent Bridge. In reply to England’s 165 runs, Australia scored 509 with valuable 138 runs from Bradman side. Fast forward, Australia needed 98 runs to win which the Aussies chased down comfortably and won the match.

Australia won the second match at Lord’s by a margin of 409 runs with Bradman scoring 38 and 89. The next match was drawn.

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The fourth match was played at the Headingley. England batted first and put up 496 runs on board. In reply, Australia scored 458 with Bradman contributing 33. Credits to five 40+ scores, England scored 365 runs which meant that Australia needed a massive 404 runs to win. Thanks to a brilliant piece of performance from AR Morris and Don Bradman who both scored centuries, Australia comfortably chased down the score, losing only 3 wickets in the process. AR Morris scored 182 and Bradman contributed 173 and they propelled the score from 57/1 to 358/2 and completed an astonishing victory.

The Final Test

Before his final test, his batting average was at an unbelievable 101.39. When he came to bat in The Oval, he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Everyone wanted to be a part of this match, where they would get to witness Bradman playing one last time.

In the second ball he faced, he got bowled by a googly from the wrist spinner Eric Hollies and to everyone’s dismay, Bradman had to go back to the pavilion with 0(2) in what was his final test inning.

In the second innings, England’s batting unit collapsed which meant that Bradman didn’t get the chance to play again which meant that he finished his career with a batting average of 99.94. Had he scored 4 more runs, he would’ve touched the magical number of 100.

Nevertheless, he dominated the Ashes like none other and remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, cricket player to ever grace the game.

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