In a day and age when batsmen constantly threaten the boundaries of unbelievable when it comes to scoring, it is quite natural to reminisce about the exploits of one Donald Bradman. Almost 85 years ago , when pitches were still uncovered and batsmen still had thin bats and minimal protection, in a cold November afternoon in 1931, on a field with long boundaries, Don Bradman administered a whipping that were to become a folklore. By November 1931, Don Bradman had registered 5 double centuries including a triple – 309 of which were hammered in a single day. So, even though it was just a minor fixture, a feat like this caused quite a few heads to turn ; not in sheer disbelief but in amazement of the extraordinary talent at display.
When I visited the Bradman Museum in Bowral last year, I had had the privilege of seeing the bat that Bradman used during THAT innings. Naturally, I was fascinated and wanted to know more. This 30 page book, “Bradman at Blackheath” was my best bet to get a credible account of that innings but laying my hands on one of these was difficult since only 200 copies were ever published. The search has come to fruition after more than an year as I finally have this book in my hands and it is everything that I hoped it would be. And more.
As evident from the title, this book is a memory of that game at Blackheath when The Don made 100 off just 22 deliveries and more than 250 in less than 2.5 hours.
The circumstances surrounding that innings were interesting to say the least. It was a new malthoid wicket which Bradman inaugurated the morning of the match. Bradman, a 23 year old and already a big crowd puller was also a regular at minor fixtures in and around NSW. The opposition, Lithgow Pottery XII had in their ranks, Bill Black who had bowled Bradman a few weeks earlier in a similar minor fixture and had not stopped gloating about it since. He was to go for 62 from his only 2 overs of the match. The other bowler to bear the brunt of that onslaught was Harold Baker who saw 40 runs scored from one of his over. With Wendell Bill scoring two from two during those 24 balls, Bradman had achieved the unbelievable. Afterwards, at the Civic Reception, he heard the Lithgow opener, Bob Nicholson sing and he promptly hired him to sing at his wedding a few months later.
There are quite a few anecdotes like this about the match and the innings itself. That this book is a result of the efforts of Irene McKilligan , whose father played in that match alongside Bradman , and Richard Cardwell’s close relationship with Wendell Bill, the non striker when Bradman made all those runs, anecdotes and pictures that go with them were expected.
Also instructive was an excerpt from the condition report prepared in 2007, when the bat made its way to the Bradman Museum. The width of the bat is measured to be 65mm. This measurement is 2 to 3 centimeters below the bats that modern batsmen use. To show the contrast (and possibly, the imbalance between the bat and the ball too) one of Dave Warner’s bat is displayed alongside Bradman’s bat in the Bradman Museum. While the former looks and acts like a potent weapon of destruction, the latter is quite deceptive in appearance but has done more damage than the former would have ever hoped to do. No doubt, the modern batsmen would touch new heights in the years to come ,but batsmanship is and should be more about the batsman and less about the bat.