CHAPTER 33 – The Shock
Packer’s company released Bradman from his obligation to write for the Sydney Sun, which had been the hang-up from the Australian Cricket Board. He celebrated this freedom by playing at the MCG in the return Shield match between Victoria and New South Wales, scoring 157 at about a run a minute. He looked in deft touch. The more observant in the crowd noticed how he was pulling away from his leg stump to play shots into the off, regardless of the pitch of the ball. Bradman was both unorthodox and audacious, and this was his dress rehearsal for taking on Larwood and company at the same ground in a week’s time. The big Melbourne crowd loved his every move and had adopted him even more than his home Sydney supporters.
The Australian selectors dropped the talented Alan Kippax, who had been more than uncomfortable against Bodyline, and brought in Leo O’Brien, the Victorian left- hander. Grit had replaced grace; the stroke player had been shoved aside for the solid defender. It was a technical blow for the tourists, with Kippax being a victim of Jardine’s methods. The build-up to the Second Test was so big that a world record crowd of 63,993 packed the MCG under a hot sun on day one, 30 December 1932. Cricket fans sat with those with scant interest in the sport, most of them there just to see Bradman and his titanic struggle with those who would destroy him, or his game, or both. Two thirteen-year-old schoolboys, born on the same day, Keith Miller and Trevor Perry, were there. Miller, who would go on to become a great Test all- rounder, wanted to watch his hero, Bill Ponsford. Perry had never seen a big game before and was only interested in the theatre around Bradman versus Larwood and Bodyline.
Jack Hobbs, in the press box, was in awe of the crowd’s size, observing ‘one huge bowl of staring faces’.
Larwood and company were billed as the ‘villains’, and Jardine was their unpopular leader. He had been dubbed the ‘Iron Duke’ in the press and the more the spectators booed and heckled him, the more entrenched he became in what he was doing.
It was building his justification.
Yet had the Australians sat and clapped tamely as was the custom at Lord’s, he still would have presented steel towards Bradman. The Australian had humiliated the seat of Empire. Jardine was going to do everything in his considerable power to make sure the Empire fought back—and won. For Jardine, if nothing else, was a true Empire man. A Scot, born in India to a father whose family ties to the so-called ‘Jewel in the Crown’ had disparate links within the Empire. The features were Scottish in outlook, English in educational approach and Indian by family interests, which made him the right sort of mixed mind and figure to run the show. Although born into the Edwardian era, the Indian connection made him more Victorian in outlook. There was an attitude, more inbred than spoken in public at least: the Empire’s seat had to be seen as superior to its dominions and colonies.
Before the Melbourne Test, there was much talk about Australian retaliation using Bodyline
Before the Melbourne Test, there was much talk about Australian retaliation using Bodyline. The moral Woodfull, whose father was a Methodist minister, said he would not captain the side if speedster Tim Wall was expected by the Board to copy England’s methods. Woodfull said he would ‘not adopt such tactics, which bring such discredit to the game. I know Tim could do it but I am not going to participate in actions that could only hurt the game.’
With that, Woodfull won the toss and batted. He, Fingleton and O’Brien chuffed along at a snail’s pace, until Australia was 2 for 67 in the second session. The captain had held Bradman back, thinking it might be a fraction better for him if those three attack blunters were at the wicket before him. Bradman did not agree with the logic. In his mind, it was better to get out there and take charge rather than wait. A massive single roar went up when he entered the colosseum, for Melbourne fittingly in this case, with its huge stands gorged with fans, was an appropriate stage.
The crowd wished to give the thumbs up for Bradman and the thumbs down for the visitors.
They had been taunting Bob Wyatt, fielding near the fence, with calls of ‘wait till our Don comes in’.
A few metres onto the field he passed the imperturbable Sutcliffe, who remarked, ‘Wonderful reception, Don.’
‘Yes, Herbert,’ Bradman replied, ‘but will it be so good when I’m coming back?’
It was the sort of feet-on-the-ground riposte expected from a realist untouched by the noise. He had a premonition that the first ball he would face, from Bowes, would be a bouncer. The bowler had a six-three field—four close to the bat on the leg side, two in the deep on the leg, and three on the off side.
Bradman surveyed the placings, took block on leg stump as planned and settled in over his bat. Bowes took a few steps forward on his run, then stopped. He looked over at Jardine at mid-on. Hammond was moved from mid-off to the leg trap. Bowes, despite his objections, had been manipulated into delivering to a near-Bodyline field.
Now it was full on.
Bradman settled again after this staged delay intended to put extra pressure on him. Bowes stopped at the top of his run again. This time he motioned for Larwood at fine leg to go finer. This was all indicating, as Bradman had imagined, the ball would be pitched short, to draw a hook shot.
The crowd sensed this was all Jardine-directed theatrics. They roared their disapproval, not for Bowes, but for the England captain.
In steamed Bowes for a third time and let loose a chest- high half-volley. Bradman swivelled into the position, his back foot sliding back and across in the accepted orthodox manner. He took a tremendous swing at the ball expecting it to spear through mid-wicket to the fence.
Instead it hit the bottom edge of the bat and cannoned into the base of his leg stump.
Don Bradman was out for a first ball duck.
* Bradman vs Bodyline by Roland Perry, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99