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Sir Donald George (Don) Bradman (1908–2001)

by John Howard

This article was published online in 2022

Sir Donald George Bradman (1908–2001), cricketer, stockbroker, and cricket administrator, was born on 27 August 1908 at Cootamundra, New South Wales, youngest of five children of George Bradman, farmer, and his wife Emily, née Whatman, both New South Wales born. In adulthood Don’s fame would reach such heights that on 14 March 1944 the signal initiating the next assault on Monte Cassino in Italy by British, New Zealand, and Indian forces was ‘Bradman is batting tomorrow.’ While this cricketing reference was incomprehensible to the defending Germans, the Bradman name was near universally recognised among the peoples of cricket-playing nations. Acclaimed as the greatest batsman the game had seen, Bradman was also the most famed Australian of his time. When he led the Australian team on the first postwar Ashes tour Wisden declared that ‘next to Mr Winston Churchill,’ Bradman ‘was the most celebrated man in England during the summer of 1948’ (Robertson-Glasgow 1949, 80).

Two years after Bradman’s birth his family moved to Bowral in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. George, a keen local cricketer, became a carpenter for the builder Alf Stephens, president of the Bowral cricket club and a mentor to young Don. Bradman grew up in houses on Shepherd Street and Glebe Street, and attended Bowral Public and Intermediate High schools. He received an early introduction to cricket from his maternal uncles, Richard and George, both captains of local cricket clubs. Bradman’s mother also helped kindle his interest by bowling to him after school. The Bradmans were additionally a musical family. His sister Lillian taught him the piano, with another sister remarking that ‘Lily didn’t give him much teaching either. He was as good at that as he was at cricket’ (Rosenwater 1978, 21). Throughout his life Bradman would derive enormous pleasure from the piano, a skill appreciated by team-mates when on tour.

At Shepherd Street, Bradman began his practice of hitting a golf ball against the brick base of a water tank using a shortened cricket stump, helping to develop his splendid timing. In his first competitive match, aged eleven, he scored 55 not out for his primary school. His initial century came playing for his high school the following season against Mittagong, making 115 out of the team’s 156. This was the first of 211 centuries he would score in all forms of cricket. In February 1921 his father took him to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to see the fifth Test match between Australia and England. He was enthralled by the experience, the only first-class cricket he witnessed before playing it himself. Throughout his career the SCG remained his favourite ground.

Although a good student, especially of mathematics, and successful in the Intermediate certificate examination, Bradman followed a path common in his era by leaving school at fourteen. He became a clerk in a Bowral real estate office. His employer, Percy Westbrook, allowed him time off to pursue his sporting interests. Bradman loved most sports, with tennis even briefly challenging his commitment to cricket. He grew to stand five feet six and three-quarter inches (170 cm) tall, with a trim and strong physique. The English batting great Len Hutton considered that Bradman ‘was the ideal height for a batsman as his head was in line with the ball, and he was in the right position to make his shot without adjustment’ (1984, 18). In 1925–26 Bradman became a regular member of Bowral’s town team. Playing against nearby Wingello on 9 January 1926, he faced the future champion Test spin bowler W. J. (Bill) O’Reilly. Neither would forget the encounter. By the end of the day’s play Bradman had made 234, but when play resumed the following week O’Reilly dismissed him first ball. In the same season he also achieved scores of 105, 120, and 300, with an average of 101.38. Inevitably, such performances attracted wider attention. He accepted an invitation to play in Sydney with the St George District Cricket Club, initially travelling by train for games, before moving there in September 1928 and working during the week at Westbrook’s Sydney office. In December 1927 he scored 118 against South Australia in his first Sheffield Shield innings, and was also noted for his speed in the field and accurate throwing.

After only nine first-class matches, Bradman was chosen the following season for the first Test against Percy Chapman’s touring Englishmen in Brisbane. He failed with the bat in both innings, and Australia was heavily defeated. Aspersions by English bowlers that his seemingly cross-batted style made him an easy target reached Bradman’s ears. He was twelfth man for the second Test but during the next, in Melbourne, made scores of 79 and 112. In the final Test, also in Melbourne, he produced an innings of 123, despite which England won the series four Tests to one. He soon became renowned for his colossal scores in the Sheffield Shield competition, beginning with 340 not out against Victoria in January 1929. The following month he commenced employment with Mick Simmons Ltd, a Sydney sports equipment retailer. In January 1930 he scored 452 not out against Queensland in only 415 minutes, a world first-class record which stood until 1959. English and some Australian commentators casually predicted that he would fare poorly on England’s softer wickets. He would confound such doubters.

Australia’s Ashes tour of England in 1930 was led by the Victorian batsman Bill Woodfull. His captain’s ‘exemplary, teetotal style of living’ (Bradman 1990, 560) suited Bradman. By sheer volume of runs—974 at an average of 139.14—it was his greatest Test series and signalled beyond question his arrival as an exceptional player. He scored 1,000 first-class runs by the end of May, and made 2,960 tour runs. Later, he recalled his 254 in the second Test at Lords as ‘technically, the best innings of my life’ (Bradman 1950, 36). The English cricket correspondent Neville Cardus wrote that ‘until to-day I had looked at Bradman’s batting as a thing of promise; I have now seen signs of a glorious fulfilment’ (Rosenwater 1978, 107). Bradman’s performance in the third Test at Headingley, Leeds, won him more fame. His 334 in his only innings was a Test record, and included 105 before lunch on the first day, followed by 115 between lunch and tea. He remains the only batsman to score a triple century in one day of a Test match. Public adulation greeted his return to Australia: the mobs of well-wishers and autograph hunters at railway stations, hotels, and airports were to him both embarrassing and daunting. His batting dominance continued at home against the West Indies (1930–31) and South Africa (1931–32), with a personal best Test series average in the latter series of 201.50. Such feats brought pleasure and diversion from the grimness that afflicted many Australians during the Depression.

Yet Bradman came close to retiring early from Test cricket. From a young age he was preoccupied with financial security. He played essentially as an amateur and, despite receiving match fees, was acutely conscious of his lack of a paying profession outside the game. During 1931 he considered an attractive offer to play professional cricket in the English Lancashire League, but the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket intimated that this would probably end his Test career. He was however in demand from Australian news outlets as a writer and commentator. In October 1931 he signed a two-year contract with a consortium comprising the Sydney Sun, managed by Robert Clyde Packer, radio station 2UE, and the menswear and sporting store F. J. Palmer & Son Ltd. The 2UE broadcasts were successful and Palmer proceeded to conduct a good trade in Bradman-endorsed items. However his writing for the Sun breached board policy prohibiting players from writing about a series unless journalism was already their sole occupation. At one point he threatened not to play. The situation was saved by the Sun offering to release him from its component of the deal. The greater financial security he achieved enabled Bradman to marry Jessie Martha Menzies on 30 April 1932 at St Paul’s Church of England, Burwood, Sydney. His fame was such that the church was besieged by hundreds of uninvited onlookers. The couple had known each other since early childhood, Jessie having boarded with the Bradmans when attending school in Bowral. That the marriage was close, loving, and mutually supportive was obvious to those who knew them; Bradman considered it ‘the best partnership of my life’ (Bradman 1950, 50).

Bradman’s performance in 1930 provoked the tactics employed by the austere and patrician Douglas Jardine when he captained England during the controversial 1932–33 series in Australia. Bradman’s apparent discomfort playing short-pitched deliveries from the fast bowler Harold Larwood during the fifth Test at the Oval in 1930 had caught the attention of some Englishmen. The resultant ‘bodyline’ bowling, based on short-pitched fast bowling at a batsman’s body so as to restrict scoring and force catchable leg-side shots, was dangerous. ‘My constant dread,’ said George Hele, who umpired all Tests in the series, ‘was that a batsman would be killed’ (Pollard 1995, 288). A devastating pace bowler of great accuracy, Larwood was willing to do his captain’s bidding, but Jardine’s tactics otherwise divided his own camp. G. O. ‘Gubby’ Allen refused to bowl to a bodyline field, and privately described Jardine as being ‘loathed … more than any German who ever fought in any war’ (Frith 2002, 116). The tour became increasingly bitter as Australian batsmen were regularly struck painful blows. Bradman struggled in early tour games against the visitors and missed the first Test due to illness, probably exacerbated by stress arising from his clash with the board, intense public attention, and the malice associated with the English tactics. During the second Test in Melbourne spectators were shocked into silence by his first ball duck. They soon recovered when their hero scored 103 not out in the second innings, and Australia won comfortably.

The atmosphere at the Test that followed in Adelaide was particularly bitter. (Sir) Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner, the English team manager and no friend of Jardine, was the recipient of Woodfull’s famous barb that ‘there are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket, and the other is not’ (Frith 2002, 185). This stinging rebuke was promptly relayed to the press, leading to inconclusive allegations as to the identity of the leaker. Many suspected the Australian opening batsman and professional journalist Jack Fingleton; Fingleton instead blamed Bradman, who steadfastly denied it then and later. The ethics and long-term viability of bodyline were highly doubtful, yet it succeeded in the immediate aim of curbing Bradman. His batting average for the series dipped to 56.57, still topping the Australian averages but modest by his standards. England reclaimed the Ashes four Tests to one.

Bradman had by this midpoint in his Test career an established reputation as a disciplined, self-contained person. His fierce determination to win unsettled even as seasoned an observer as Cardus. Such focus was reflected in a demeanour that left opposing players intimidated by his ‘cool, armoured surface’ (Yardley 1950, 187). Their captains, such as England’s Walter Hammond, risked ‘a Bradman-fixation’ that prevented them from ‘seeing farther than the little man from Bowral’ (Edrich 1959, 14). Bradman himself understood that he occupied a special place in the esteem of his fellow Australians. A courteous man, he used his habitual need for seclusion at the end of a day’s play to reply to the thousands of letters he received. Yet on the field he was seen as ‘a solitary man with a solitary aim,’ who was ‘bound to have admirers rather than friends’ (Robertson-Glasgow 1949, 80). This, and his efforts to protect his family’s privacy, bred resentment among some team-mates who felt he was not truly one of them. Fingleton, commenting on Bradman as a captain, thought that he rarely bestowed praise or discussed tactics, and so ‘his main resource as a leader was the example he set his men in concentration and the relentlessness of his attack’ (1981, 125). England’s Norman Yardley agreed that ‘off the field, Don was never a mixer,’ but added that as a touring captain he ‘could be charming, and a first-class after-dinner speaker’ (Yardley 1950, 188). Hele observed that Bradman was ‘perhaps the most astute cricketer I ever watched, or umpired for’ (Whitington and Hele 1974, 198).

The year 1934 was particularly momentous for Bradman. His desire for an income free from the vagaries of cricket was met by Harry Hodgetts, an Adelaide stockbroker and member of the board of control. Under a six-year contract, Bradman and his family would move to Adelaide for Hodgetts to induct him into stockbroking while allowing time off for cricket. Bradman’s tidy mind and focus on detail would serve him well in that profession. Meanwhile, he was named vice-captain to Woodfull in the team to play for the Ashes in England in 1934. Jardine renounced any interest in the captaincy, and opinion in England had turned decisively against bodyline. Bradman performed well below expectations in the first three Tests, then in the fourth his affinity for Headingley asserted itself. He and Bill Ponsford seized control of the match with a partnership of 388 for the fourth wicket. Bradman scored 304, but rain delivered England a draw. Australia needed to win the final Test at the Oval to reclaim the Ashes. Headingley had been no fleeting revival, as he and Ponsford again plundered the English attack in a 451-run partnership for the second wicket. Bradman scored 244, and Australia won by 562 runs. Throughout the series, there was talk of Bradman looking unwell. He was taken dangerously ill with acute appendicitis on the eve of departing England and was operated on immediately. Jessie secured a passage on the first available ship and arrived just after her husband’s discharge from hospital. They returned to Australia with medical advice for Bradman to rest. Following three months of his recuperation at Bowral, they finally made the move to Adelaide in April 1935. There, Bradman joined the Kensington club, and captained South Australia.

Although much improved, Bradman’s health precluded his joining the 1935–36 series in South Africa. Woodfull had retired, and so V. Y. (Vic) Richardson led the Australians. In November 1936 Bradman supplanted Richardson to take on the Englishmen at home. Gubby Allen now led the visitors. Bradman as an inexperienced leader was sorely tested. England won the first two matches convincingly, with the new Australian captain twice dismissed without scoring. There were reports of dissension within the team, and opinions appeared in the press that he was ill-suited to captaincy. The former Australian player Alan Fairfax told a London newspaper that Bradman seemed ‘too brilliantly individual’ (Rosenwater 1978, 254). In a startling turn-around Australia won the last three Tests, with Bradman contributing scores of 270, 212, and 169. It was the first time in Ashes history that a team had won a series from two-nil down. During the third Test he signalled his emergence as a consummate tactician when he boldly responded to having to bat on a wet pitch by switching Australia’s batting order so that its best batsmen were kept away from the crease until the wicket had dried.

Immediately after the third Test, four players—O’Reilly, Leslie Fleetwood-Smith, Stan McCabe, and Leo O’Brien—were called before the board of control to be told of allegations of players not fully supporting Bradman, insubordination, and lack of physical fitness. O’Reilly asked if they were the subject of these claims and, when he was assured they were not, the meeting broke up in confusion. Bradman denied any involvement, but the four thought otherwise and that he should have faced them at the meeting. Although Bradman and his vice-captain, McCabe, denied stories of a team rift, Bradman’s relationships with Fingleton and O’Reilly remained tense. O’Reilly attributed this to ‘the chemistry arising from our different backgrounds. Don Bradman was a teetotaller, ambitious, conservative and meticulous. I was outspoken and gregarious, an equally ambitious young man of Irish descent’ (O’Reilly 1985, 53–54). He later blamed Bradman for the omission of the spinner Clarrie Grimmett from the team that toured England in 1938, describing it as ‘the most biased, ill-considered piece of selection known to Australian cricket’ (Pollard 1995, 312). Sectarianism being rife in Bradman’s playing era, some commentators saw significance in all four players called before the board being Catholic, while Bradman was a Protestant and a Freemason. It remained the case, however, that Bradman and Fleetwood-Smith, despite being vastly different in personality, enjoyed each other’s company, helped by a shared love of piano-playing.

Amidst Bradman’s unmatched public status in Australia, there was travail in his personal life. His first child, Ross, was born in October 1936 but survived only two days. A second son, John, born in July 1939, was afflicted by polio at twelve, but fully recovered. He chose athletics over cricket, and held State and national junior hurdles records. A daughter, Shirley, born in April 1941, suffered from cerebral palsy. Bradman’s fame affected every aspect of his life; constantly being approached in public and seemingly never-ending requests to attend events were just the more obvious manifestations. The absence of a clear separate identity for his son as he reached adulthood eventually became overwhelming, despite the strong family bond. John, a lecturer in law at the University of Adelaide, changed his surname to Bradsen in 1972. This was painful for his parents. Bradman senior was clearly delighted when John reversed this decision towards the end of his father’s life.

Australia retained the Ashes on the 1938 tour, but the series was dominated by the innings and 579 run defeat that England inflicted during the final Test at the Oval, where Bradman was unable to bat after fracturing his ankle during a rare demonstration of his leg spin bowling. The match highlight was Len Hutton’s score of 364, a new Test record. Bradman’s first-class tour average of 115.66 was his highest of all his tours of England. That great English spinner, Hedley Verity, who took Bradman’s wicket in Tests eight times, more often than any other bowler, played his last Ashes Test in that match. Fighting with the British Army, Verity was killed in action in 1943. In November 1938 Bradman took up his first significant management position in the game when he became Kensington’s delegate to the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA). The following year his concern for financial security reasserted itself when he was persuaded by a Melbourne Cricket Club committee member to seek the club secretaryship. The position would very likely have ended his international career, and instead went to Vernon Ransford, a former Test player.

World War II brought a suspension of Test cricket. In early 1940 the combination of a Bradman appearance, and anticipation that all domestic first-class cricket would soon cease, attracted 75,765 spectators over four days to the SCG to watch New South Wales play South Australia, only for him to score just 39 and 40. He enrolled in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve in June 1940, and was assessed as suitable for aircrew and training as an observer. His enlistment did not eventuate, however, and in October he was appointed as a lieutenant in the Citizen Military Forces. The next month he attended a course at the Army School of Physical and Recreational Training at Frankston, Victoria. He began full-time duty as a PR&T officer in Adelaide in January 1941, and there were reports in the press of a plan for him to be posted as a supervisor of physical training with the Australian Imperial Force overseas. To the surprise of most, a check revealed defective eyesight and, worse still, he had apparently developed fibrositis. He underwent periods of hospitalisation and, to his lasting disappointment, was released from his duties and placed on the Retired List in April 1941. So acute was the condition that Jessie had to shave him and comb his hair.

Bradman resumed work as a stockbroker with Hodgetts, and in 1943 became a member of the Adelaide Stock Exchange. Two years later the firm collapsed, owing a large amount of money. Bradman had trusted Hodgetts, who was found to have resorted to fraud to prop up the business. Bradman responded calmly by starting his own stockbroking firm in the same building he had worked with Hodgetts, and targeted many of his former clients. Despite the investigating process finding nothing to taint Bradman, some members of the Adelaide business community believed that in a firm of just five staff he must have had prior knowledge of Hodgett’s malfeasance.

As the war approached its end, anticipation of the resumption of international cricket grew. Bradman did not play in the Victory Tests in England, five matches held over May and August 1945 between servicemen from England and Australia, the success of which confirmed the public hunger for the game. In August 1945 he was elected as one of South Australia’s representatives on the board of control. The public was more concerned, however, that his continuing health problems would prevent him from resuming playing. To conserve himself for the forthcoming Ashes series, he missed the 1946 tour of New Zealand.

The English team that toured Australia in 1946–47 was led by Hammond, now forty-three. Despite lingering doubts about Bradman’s fitness, he declared himself ready to play and enjoyed a triumphal return at the head of a much-changed team. The many new players included the opening batsman Arthur Morris; Don Tallon, whom Bradman rated as the best wicket-keeper he ever saw; and Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall, who together spearheaded Australia’s opening bowling. Critics insinuated that, because Bradman had not seen active service abroad, he was insensitive to the game’s supposed new spirit built on a shared experience of war. His refusal to ‘walk’ during the first Test in Brisbane when, the Englishmen claimed, he had clearly been caught in the slips drew intense criticism. He was then on 28, and the umpire quickly turned down the appeal. Bradman believed he had hit the ball into the ground, with a visibly angry Hammond remarking to him ‘a fine way to start a bloody series’ (Perry 2014, 474). This incident was cited for years to come as the epitome of Bradman’s determination to win. He went on to score 187, demoralising the Englishmen who rightly feared yet another Bradman-dominated series. The second Test in Sydney saw Bradman and Sid Barnes share a first-class record partnership of 405 for the fifth wicket, each scoring 234. Australia retained the Ashes three-nil.

Bradman had made a remarkable return. He declared himself available in 1947–48 for India’s first tour of Australia, without mentioning whether he would also lead Australia in England in 1948. For him the most significant event of the Indian tour was that in a match for an Australian XI against the tourists in Sydney he scored his century of centuries in first-class cricket, making 172 runs in 177 minutes. During the fourth Test against India, he announced his availability to tour England, but also that he would retire afterwards. Although reluctant to lead another demanding tour, he felt a continuing responsibility to his team and to Ashes cricket. The tour was welcomed in England as affirmation of a return to normality after six long years of war.

The Invincibles, as the 1948 Australians came to be known, occupy a special place in the game’s history. They fulfilled their captain’s intention of not losing a match on the entire tour, defeated England in the Tests four-nil, and provided a triumphant conclusion to Bradman’s international career. His contributions included 138 in the first Test at Nottingham and 173 not out in the fourth, during which—on a worn Headingley pitch—he and Morris put on 301 for the second wicket, while his team snared an unexpected win by scoring over 400 runs on the last day. Although the aggressive fast bowling of Lindwall and Miller was a major contribution to Australia’s success, Miller wanted greater latitude to perform as a batsman. His captain, however, reasoned that the team already had enough top-class batsmen, and so used him primarily as a bowler. Miller also disliked Bradman’s ‘incessant will-to-win’ even when playing hapless English county sides, particularly so closely following a war in which, he recollected, ‘a lot of Test cricketers, and future Test cricketers, had been killed’ (Butler 1979, 54).

Bradman’s most memorable innings on the 1948 tour was his short stay at the crease during the final Test at the Oval. Having received a tumultuous welcome from the crowd and three cheers from the English players, he was bowled second ball for a duck by Eric Hollies. He had needed only four runs to finish his career with a Test average of 100. For years afterwards Morris would cheekily point out that he was Bradman’s batting partner at the time and had gone on to score 196. After this game Bradman hit consecutive centuries in his last three first-class innings in England.

In January 1949 Bradman was knighted: thirty years later he would be appointed AC. A testimonial match was held for him in Melbourne in December 1948, and in February 1949 the Kippax-Oldfield testimonial match marked his final appearance at Sydney. In March he played his last first-class match, a Sheffield Shield game in Adelaide against Victoria. He scored 30 in his only innings, and his playing career concluded with his being helped off the field after spraining an ankle. In a game often buried in a plethora of statistics, one stands out as testifying to Bradman’s dominance: his final Test batting average of 99.94. At the time of his retirement, the next highest average by a player of twenty Tests or more was that of George Headley of the West Indies, 60.83. The twenty-nine centuries Bradman scored in fifty-two Tests include ten double centuries and two triple centuries. In all first-class games, over a third of his innings resulted in centuries.

Attempts to explain the source of such skill have not led to any consensus. They include his childhood practice against the tank stand; ability to learn; fierce concentration; keen eyesight; physical strength; calm temperament; ambition; strong defence; and even small feet that supposedly aided his footwork. England’s Denis Compton thought Bradman ‘had a marvellous gift of getting into position quicker than any batsman I have ever seen,’ with ‘brain and body … in perfect harmony’ (1980, 32). Fingleton also attributed much to Bradman’s ‘cool, calm and analytical’ mind, ‘as great a taskmaster of the body as man could possess’ (1949, 201).

After retiring as a player, Bradman continued to exercise a pervasive influence on Australian cricket as an administrator, Test selector, and cultural icon. He answered his critics in his 1950 memoir Farewell to Cricket, in which he also wrote of the mental strain Test cricket had imposed on him. When he retired from stockbroking on medical grounds in 1954, he accepted a number of company directorships, including of Kelvinator Australia Ltd and Uniroyal Holdings Ltd. With short breaks in 1953 and 1956–57, he remained a member of the board of control and its successor the Australian Cricket Board until 1980. Twice he served as chairman (1960–63 and 1969–72), the first former Test player to do so, and was also president of the SACA (1965–73). He was a national selector for more than thirty years in total (1934, 1936–52, and 1954–71). Long an advocate of attacking play, and fearing a repeat of the slow scoring of the 1958–59 tour by England, Bradman on the eve of the 1960–61 series against the West Indies encouraged Australia’s captain, Richie Benaud, to play attractively. The series opened with the exciting tied first Test in Brisbane.

During his second term as chairman, Bradman grappled with the vexed issue of sporting links with South Africa. By the early 1970s the South African government’s apartheid policy had led to the nation’s increasing international isolation. It was at the time the strongest Test playing nation, and had been invited to tour Australia in 1971–72. He rejected the racism that underlay apartheid, but supported the tour’s going ahead, cricket links between the two nations being strong. In July 1971 he witnessed in Sydney the disruption by demonstrators of the rugby first Test between Australia and South Africa, demonstrating the risks of staging a cricket match in the face of similar protests. Public opinion polls nonetheless indicated clear support for the tour, reflecting a view that politics should be kept out of sport.

Reluctantly, in September Bradman announced the board’s decision to cancel the tour, noting its awareness of ‘widespread disapproval of the South African government’s racial policy which restricted selection of South Africa’s team’ (Canberra Times 1971, 1). This recognised the practicalities involved, and the decision was widely praised as the right one ethically. To fill the void the board organised a successful tour by a Rest of the World side led by the West Indian (Sir) Garfield Sobers. His innings of 254 in the third international in Melbourne was rated by Bradman as ‘probably the best ever seen in Australia’ (Pollard 1995, 447). Fellow board members were impressed by his incisive approach to complex problems. One, the lord mayor of Brisbane, Clem Jones, was conscious of the gap between his own political views and Bradman’s more conservative values, but still thought him ‘the best chairman of any organisation I’ve had anything to do with’ (Haigh and Frith 2007, 154).

The Anglo-Australian cricket community, including Bradman, gathered in Melbourne in March 1977 for the Centenary Test that commemorated one hundred years of Test cricket. Two months after this historic match the advent of World Series Cricket split the cricket world. The underlying cause was that remuneration of international cricketers lagged far behind other sports stars, resulting in most Australian players having day jobs and many retiring from the game early. The gruelling length and conditions of the 1969–70 tour of India and South Africa had fuelled player perceptions of board indifference to their concerns. By the mid-1970s the board was facing unprecedentedly assertive players led by their captain Ian Chappell, grandson of Vic Richardson. Unresolved calls for comprehensive professionalisation created an opening for Kerry Packer, media proprietor and grandson of Robert Clyde Packer, to recruit many of the world’s best players for his rival competition.

Bradman supported significant improvements in pay and conditions but was now faced with demands to fundamentally alter the management-player balance. Although a traditionalist, he understood that the sporting world had changed since he played, later telling a biographer that in the modern era ‘cricketers must be professional’ (Perry 2014, 578). He refrained from commenting publicly but joined the negotiations which in 1979 reached a settlement with World Series Cricket that gave players payments reflective of their abilities. The board regained much of its control of the game, but Packer’s Nine Network secured exclusive television broadcast rights for international matches and another of his companies, PBL Sports Pty Ltd, became the board’s partner with exclusive promotional rights for ten years.

In 1986 Bradman’s formal association with cricket ended when he retired as a trustee of the SACA. His legend continued to grow, one cricket history concluding that ‘Bradman, the boy from Bowral, was a representative of the powerful bush myth which proclaimed rural Australia as the repository of authentic national virtues,’ and that ‘he stood for Australian spontaneity as compared to the stultifying textbook correctness of English players’ (Franks and Cashman 1996, 75). Private conversations with Bradman invariably brought forth strong opinions on cricket and public affairs. In November 1991 he told the author of his support for a goods and services tax, while correctly observing that it would be very hard to sell to the public.

Despite Bradman’s affected modesty, his self-confidence as a cricketer was limitless. He knew how good he was and had no doubt as to the authority he commanded in the cricketing firmament, but still resented often ill-informed critics. A proposed Bradman museum at Bowral, adjacent to the Bradman Oval where he had played in his youth, earned his full approval. The facility opened in 1989 and, in accordance with his wishes, became as much a cricket history and tourist centre as a tribute to himself. Operated by the Bradman Foundation, a charitable trust founded in 1987 to promote cricket, it displays a collection of Bradman memorabilia. Other honours included the naming of grandstands after him at the SCG and the Adelaide Oval, and the award of an Australian Sports Medal in 2001.

Bradman died in Adelaide on 25 February 2001, predeceased by Jessie and survived by their two children. He was mourned nationally and across the cricketing world. A state memorial service was held at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral on 25 March. His and Jessie’s ashes were scattered on the Bradman Oval and the surrounding gardens. That since his death some observers have been critical of aspects of his character and conduct, notably in the lead-up to World Series Cricket, cannot diminish his achievement as the world’s greatest batsman of his and, probably, all time. Discomforted as he was by fame, no other sporting hero had contributed so much to the Australian public’s pride and sense of nationhood. A portrait by Robert Hannaford hangs in the Long Room at Lord’s Cricket Ground; others by Bill Leak are in the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and the Bradman Museum; and one by Sir Ivor Hele is also in the Bradman Museum. Bradman is the subject of public statues in Adelaide by Robert Hannaford, in Melbourne by Louis Laumen, and at Bowral by Cole Bennets.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

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Additional Resources

Citation details

John Howard, 'Bradman, Sir Donald George (Don) (1908–2001)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 23 July 2024.

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