TWO AWFUL SHOTS
Bradman b Bowes 0
Robinson b Cummins 0
Regard these two photos. Which, in your opinion, is the worse shot? Well, I think you will agree that both are pretty terriblebut each stroke - I hesitate to dignify either with the term ‘stroke’, one that you wouldn’t even see in a prep school match - in its own way embraces a story beyond what the batsman is doing at that precise moment.
The second one (Ollie Robinson bowled Cummins 0) is the final ball of the 2021-2022 Ashes series in which England were thumped 4-0 by Australia. In all the low ebbs that English cricket has endured down the years, this must have been the nadir. They had surrendered the Ashes long before this calamitous loss by 146 runs in the fifth and final Test of the series. But it was the manner of the defeat that stuck in the craw of England supporters. England had capitulated abjectly long before Robinson was bowled but the manner of his dismissal, in many people’s eyes, encapsulated surrender writ large. Robinson might just have taken a white handkerchief out of his pocket, waved it in the air and departed the scene. The thing is that Robinson is no mug with the bat. All right, he was batting at No.10, but he has a first-class batting average of nearly 20. Besides, no tailender would ever sacrifice his wicket in such a shameful way, whatever the state of the game. Robinson is running away to square leg. Either he was petrified of getting hurt – he’s an international cricketer, for heaven’s sake, and ought to be able to shift for himself – or he just couldn’t care less, was mocking the situation, impatient to get on the plane home and was disrespecting the game which has looked after him rather well. I leave you to decide on which side of the fence you come down on.
The background to the second photo is even more extraordinary. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you; that’s Don Bradman getting bowled by Bill Bowes for 0. Now, it was an unusual occurrence for The Don to be dismissed for a duck (famously, he scored 0 in his final Test innings; had he scored 4, his career would have ended with a batting average of 100, instead of the paltry 99.94) …but in this ignominious fashion?What on earth is the greatest batsman – by a country mile - that the world has ever seen doing, heaving at a ball, his feet wide apart, a yard outside off stump, facing towards long leg with his hands crossed as if he has swiped at the ball….and missed? If there has ever been an uglier shot played in the game, I have not seen photographic evidence of it. Apparently, there was an audible gasp in the MCG when it happened, not so much that their hero had made a golden duck but at the unimaginable manner of his dismissal.
Why? There must be a story behind this. What was going on, behind the scenes, out there in the middle, in Bradman’s mind? For elucidation, I sought the insight of the renowned author and cricket historian, David Frith. He has been kind enough to help me with bits and pieces of background for my books, he has written the story of the Bodyline Series of 1932-33 and he interviewed Bradman on several occasions. Because, of course, this picture was taken during that infamous Australian summer when Douglas Jardine formulated his plan to combat the prodigious run-making machine that was Bradman. In the previous tour of England, Bradman had scored a record 974 runs in five Tests, including two double hundreds and a triple. But during one of those double hundreds in the Oval Test, Jardine thought that he had detected the great man flinch once or twice when trying to deal with the short ball. Thus ‘leg theory’ was born and the patrician Jardine (Winchester and Oxford), a ruthless hater of Australians and captain of the MCC team touring Australia in 1932-33, was the man to implement it. He instructed his fast bowlers, Larwood and Voce, to target the body of the batsmen, with a packed leg-side field (there being no restrictions then on the number of fielders on the leg-side). It was brutal, but effective. And, my word, did it provoke controversy, outrage and the near- severance of all diplomatic communication between the Dominion and the Mother Country.
Bradman had missed the first Test, owing to dental treatment, the chaos of early-married life (Bradman in Australia was the 1930s equivalent of a rock star), and a spat with the Australian Cricket Board. According to Frith, he was shaken by news of events in Perth, where ‘leg theory’ had been first tested, with the fast bowlers being let loose, supported by that extraordinary leg-side field. Bradman knew he was the principal target and was expecting a barrage of bouncers from the very first ball when he made his appearance at the crease in the second Test in Melbourne. He was right to expect the barrage but not first ball. Bowes pitched it up, Bradman went fishing somewhere outside off stump, his stumps were shattered, the packed MCG fell silent in shock and Jardine did a jig at mid-off.
Frith admits that he never quite plucked up the courage to ask The Don what he felt about that first-ball duck but believes that Bradman’s mind was undoubtedly scrambled. I said that Bodyline was brutally effective. Well, sort of… England won the series, but lost friends and reputation. And Bradman’s batting average in the four Tests descended from the stratospheric to the more manageable tree-top level of 56.57. Incidentally, he made a hundred in the second innings. Many questioned Bradman’s nerve, even some within his own team, but I believe that true courage is when you face up to your demons. That was a truly awful shot, but it was never repeated.