Since his death, the sacred cow status of the great Australian dominator Sir Donald Bradman has diminished significantly.
Writers and former players have been quick to dish the dirt on the near perfect batsman in a way that would never have occurred whilst he was living (possibly because the law states you cannot defame the dead).
There is a sadness about a rewriting of history that turns the differences in opinion between Bradman and his teammates into something more akin to hatred.
Maybe the attempt to redress the balance in terms of Bradman idolatory has swung too far, as to read some descriptions of his relationships with teammates, you would think there were only feuds between Bradman and those playing with him.
It is hard to believe that may be the case given the success that teams achieved while he was dancing around the crease – and not all of it due to his superlative batting.
Australian Test cricket teams are not immune to differences of opinion, just like any other work place or sporting club, but let’s not build ducks into triple centuries (to subvert the old mountain/molehill saying).
And just as some of the Don’s darker moments have emerged from the closets in which they were stored for so many years, so too are the scads of memorabilia either touched, used, worn or signed by Bradman during his record breaking career.
Bradmania seems the entirely appropriate word in this context.
There is now a massive auction based industry surrounding Bradmania, which in its way is ironic because the great man penned his mark into anything and everything he possibly could so as to diminish the value of his signature to those who may wish to turn a profit from his name.
In recent months Bradman’s 1946 Test baggy green, three match-used bats and a life-mask of the Don created in 1930 have all been up for auction.
While a press release from another auction house recently despatching a valuable piece of Bradmania described a bat up for auction as thus:
“A rare, match-used bat belonging to Sir Donald Bradman is being offered for sale by the descendants of the man who struck gold after a chance encounter with the world’s greatest cricketer.”
The breathless description of the relationship between two men is cold, calculating and totally impersonal – roughly reminiscent of the way Bradman dealt with opposition bowling attacks or, some might say, of his dealings with players while he was the head of Australian cricket.
The man, Bert Bowden, who received the gift of a bat with which Bradman scored 183 for New South Wales, did not strike gold in his chance encounter with the world’s greatest cricketer, he formed a friendship.
According to the auction house’s publicity, the Bowden family never knew how Howden came to be in the changerooms but the bat and ongoing letters between he and Bradman reflect a remarkably close bond between two men.
Far from being a gold digger who had struck the motherlode, Howden had become a close friend.
While it is an auction house’s business to highlight the rich history of the memorabilia and its owners past and present, it is sad to see such relationships broken down in this cold, impersonal way, as if the correspondence shared by Bradman and Bert Bowden over 50 years had been manufactured merely for pecuniary reasons.
The bat’s providence was that it was signed during the pair’s first meeting for Bowden’s son, who was ill at the time, by Bradman and many of his then Blues teammates.
Among the legendary names to sign the willow were Alan Kippax, Bert Oldfield, Bill O’Reilly, Jack Fingleton and Stan McCabe.
It is a beautiful piece, which this author would unashamedly like to add to the several pieces of Bradmania that have been passed on to him by family members.
But, no matter how nice a genuine Bradman bat would look in the ‘pool room’, there just seems something very sad and undignified about the regular auctioning of these items to the highest, often overseas, bidder.
The Bradman legend is about a divine flood of runs from a batsman who lifted a nation with every calculated swing of his blade.
But in future years, as living memory of the great man dwindles and inevitably disappears, it is possible that Bradman, despite his wishes, will become best remembered by Australians for the tsunami of people rushing to sell his name at auction. That would be a sad legacy.
Rob McLean is the editor of grass roots cricket website www.wickettowicket.com.au