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“and when the one great scorer comes to write against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game”—grantland rice
It seems appropriate to paraphrase the words of an American sports broadcaster to describe the passing of Sir Donald George Bradman. He was an extraordinary man in a time of extraordinary cricketers. Even today, more than half a century after his retirement, the mere mention of his name fills my breast with national fervour. Every boy in Australia playing backyard cricket imagines himself as “The Don” making a ton in an Ashes match. Those who are swayed by statistics have no alternative but to worship at the Bradman shrine purely because of the record: 52 tests, 6994 runs at an astonishing average of 99.94, with 29 test centuries to his name. He bestrode the game of cricket as a colossus. Mere statistics, however, do not do justice to his influence on the game. The infamous bodyline technique in the 1930s was designed to counter his run scoring prowess. It was partly successful—he only made one century in that series; however, the furore caused by this approach almost caused Australia to secede from the Commonwealth!
In a rare interview in 1994, The Don was asked whether he had any regrets about his career or unfulfilled cricketing ambitions. He answered in his characteristic manner: “None. I did not set out with any preconceived goals or ambitions and I achieved far more than I could ever have wished . . . hopefully the game of cricket was enriched by my interpretation of its purpose and character . . . my greatest satisfaction is that I believe at the same time I was able to enhance the sportsmanship for which cricket has been famous since time immemorial”. How prophetic were those words and how must he have felt to see the reputation of the game of cricket tarnished by the recent match fixing scandals.
Tony Greig tells a fascinating personal experience of The Don that shows The Don's characteristic humility. When Greig arrived in Adelaide in 1972 for the Rest of the World tour match, a chap who introduced himself as “Don” met the team at the airport. He loaded the player's bags on to the bus, drove the team to the hotel, and helped them to their rooms. It wasn't until the following day when Greig saw the reporters chasing their “driver” for an interview that the penny dropped and he realised just who the driver actually was. I wonder whether he tipped him?
At the memorial service, conducted in Adelaide's St Peter's Cathedral, the millions of Australians transfixed to their television sets saw the Bradman family convey the story of a man who handled fame modestly, craved the quieter life, always put family before self, and who preferred to be remembered as an ordinary man not as a hero.
Vale Don Bradman. The game is the lesser for your passing.
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