On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Bradman at Lord’s

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Ricky Ponting, a veteran of 135 Tests, saying that his 136th game at the Oval today is going to be the most important of his career is quite a statement. In a column in the Daily Telegraph Ponting for the first time said something so clearly about the pain of defeat in 2005, “The only motivation I need this week is the memory of having to search out Michael Vaughan, congratulate him and shake hands at the end of the Ashes series of four years ago,” he wrote. “We were off the field when we lost the match due to bad light and the fact that we never had a chance to have a crack at chasing down our target left a bitter taste in the mouth.”

The lingering thoughts, the great highs and the dreadful lows are part of the beauty of Test cricket. “Glorious uncertainty sometimes entails profound disappointment; but without disappointment, excellence becomes prosaic, banal. Why is it that we are so anxious to guarantee Test cricket as an entertainment package? After all, this is a game, not a pop concert. It can only be because we live an age where a game crossed with a pop concert—Twenty20 cricket—is imposing its standards on everything else,” Gideon Haigh said after the end of Australia’s last Test tour to India. I’ve quoted him before in a piece I wrote for the need to preserve Test cricket that can be accessed in the PDF files folder.

Good Test series’ give spectators and cricket lovers enough to remember for a year, sometimes even a lifetime. Haigh wrote about the series in India, “This has been a good series. Tight, tough, intriguing, rich in variety of skill, full of stuff to write about—for which every journalist can be grateful. In fact, the wrangling of the moment is a kind of tribute to the game’s long form. What Twenty20 game could rattle so many bones of contention?”

The concern about the future of Test cricket in the age of T20 has now been sparking debates all over the world. And the Indian Express’ front page story yesterday was a treat for all those who are concerned about the health of Test cricket.

Tendulkar gave a simple and effective answer sitting in the audience that one stand at every venue should be kept free for the weekends to bring school children into the ground. He gave his own example of seeing a Test match between India and West Indies as a 10-year-old and having that experience etched in his mind.

The best account of the kind Tendulkar spoke about that I have read is about an innings of Sir Don Bradman in a tour game at Lord’s in 1934. John Liverman wrote the account 60 years later as if he had seen it yesterday. This is a mildly-edited account of Liverman’s essay.

“In 1934, Bradman scored a century at Lord’s. There was nothing unusual about that. It was not even in a Test Match, but against Middlesex who were to finish tenth in the County Championship. But that century, on 26th May 1934, still lives in the memory of all who were privileged to witness it. Whether he was the greatest batsman the world has ever seen will continue to be debated. But those gathered at Lord’s on that memorable day in May 1934 will find it difficult to believe that there was ever a greater batsman.

Saturday, May 26th was a fine spring day and Lord’s was nearly full when Middlesex won the toss and began their innings. After the loss of two early wickets, applause greeted the crowd’s favourite, Patsy Hendren, now over 45 but sprightly as ever. Eager to reach the crease, quick to take guard, scampering an immediate short single to leg to get him off the mark, he did not let us down. There was never a dull moment in his stand of 142 with RWV Robins. The Middlesex innings closed with a respectable total of 258, and the Australians were left just over an hour and a quarter to bat before Saturday’s close of play.

We had already enjoyed a good day’s cricket entertainment. What was to follow was high drama. Jim Smith, playing his first season for Middlesex wrought destruction as a bowler. With no score on the board, Woodfull played back to a fast good-length ball that came back sharply from the off, and was lbw.

At quarter past five, with Australia 0 for 1, the pavilion already in shadow, Bradman walked slowly to the crease. The small, neat figure, the measured approach (calculated to allow the eyes to become adjusted to the light), the air of total absorption, drew the crowd’s attention like a magnet. Almost at once there was a gasp as Bradman appeared to play at a ball from Smith outside the off stump and to miss. In fact, he drew back his bat at the last moment. If it was a near thing, it was the only semblance of fallibility that we were to see that evening.

Jim Smith struck again when Australia had nine runs on the board, all scored by Bradman. Ponsford played back as Woodfull had done and was out in precisely the same way. The left-handed Darling replaced him with Australia 9 for 2. It was now that Bradman took charge with complete mastery, and unleashed the most devastating attack on the Middlesex bowling. In the next hour we were treated to a dazzling array of brilliant stroke-play. The speed of Smith and Judge, the medium-paced accuracy of Enthoven, the spin of Robins and Peebles, all served only to illustrate a display of consummate artistry and technique.

The cut, the hook, the forcing stroke off the back foot, each was demonstrated to perfection. His footwork when he came down the pitch to the slow bowlers was too swift for the eyes to follow. The power of his hitting was immense, and his timing perfect. Unless a fielder was in the direct line of fire, he could barely move a yard before the ball sped over the boundary behind him.

As the shadows lengthened and the hands of the clock moved towards half past six, we realised that Bradman might reach his century before stumps were drawn. For a time the prospect receded as he lost the strike. Unselfishly Darling refused to run a single at the end of an over. Bradman faced the bowling. With watchful defence he played out the over until the last ball when he completed his hundred and turned to the pavilion as the crowd rose. Close of play, Australia 135 for 2, Bradman not out 100, including nineteen boundaries.

On Monday, Bradman raised his score to 160 and was then caught by Joe Hulme in front of the pavilion rails. By then I was back at my school desk, but the innings I had seen on the Saturday was with me still and the memory has remained with me vividly for over sixty years.”

Written by Deepan Joshi

August 20, 2009 at 4:18 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Nice to see my father’s essay getting another airing on the web- it’s a pity he never wrote more on cricket. He died this January, aged 88- and a connection to that glorious May evening in 1934 is now gone.

    Dave Liverman

    September 18, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    • Yeah Dave it is indeed sad that he did not write more often on cricket. But the connection to that glorious May evening in 1934 has not gone, it now lives through you and through all of us who are almost transported to that day by your father’s immortal piece.

      Deepan Joshi

      September 19, 2009 at 11:45 am

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