Don Bradman did poorly by me in my youth: all I saw of him was his parting Oval duck in 1948, the most untimely nought in the history of cricket. It came on the first day of the fifth and last Test, with Australia three-nothing up, so whether our own side won or lost made small difference and we could watch the game as dilettantes instead of partisans, hoping that Bradman would bat, as he nearly always had, lavishly, or even brutally. England batted first and barely made it through to lunchtime: they scored 52 in all, the fewest runs ever in a home Test (46 from the bat; the splendid Ray Lindwall 6 for 20). The Australian openers were past this shameful mark inside the hour. Don Bradman wasn't needed until after tea, when he came emotively in at his usual first wicket down. Because he had said that this would be his last Test Match here, he got three cheers from the assembled England, which was a nice extravaganee on their pan. The bowler was Eric Hollies, a down-market leg-spinner. Bradman stopped Hollies's first ball to him and played on to the second, which was a googly, and a historic party-pooper. We had come to see the unique Bradman bat, not an ephemeral trundler like Hollies bowl. He had no business getting out in so elementary a fashion. His duck was an awful statistical lapse, because when he came in, he needed to hit only four runs, or a single boundary, to end up with a Test Match batting average of 100. This was and remains, run-scoring on a transcendent scale: just how transcendent you can see by looking at one of the tables in Charles Williams's book, which shows Bradman, with his lifetime Test average of 99.94, almost forty runs an innings ahead of any other player, the run-rich Lara included.
LRB 22 August 1996 | PDF Download