Beyond Bradmania

It’s hard to see history as a continuing, evolving stream. We like markers, a beginning and, often, an end.

In European terms, “Modern” history, at least as taught in Australian schools, begins with the French revolution in 1789. Before that, all history is “Ancient”. So, 100,000 years of human history in one category, and 266 years in the other.

You might expect that the delimiter would move forward in time with us, making what was once modern now ancient. Look in the mirror and tell me that’s not true.

In cricketing history, we choose the advent of the Bradman phenomenon as the delimiter. His first game in Sydney, for St George against Petersham at Petersham Oval, in November 1926, is the dawn of modern cricket history.

This is not to equate Bradman with Napoleon – his successes too polite, his failures so unromantic. (If we were looking for a parallel, Ian Chappell, the great moderniser, would be a better fit.)

As each year passes, and the amount of information placed in front of us grows, it becomes harder to look back into time and see what has gone before. This is especially the case with cricket, where our ageing memories shrink in direct proportion to the number of tests played, and the decreasing periods between them.

Each wave of history, each crescendo of achievement, works to obscure what has come before. Already we’re being force-fed the Smith/Warner era as if it was a reality, and we haven’t even laid to rest the Clarke/Watson/Haddin/Johnson era in its unloved box in the crematorium, just in view of the ggantic mausolwum that houses the Waughs/Warne/Hayden/McGrath/Gilchrist era. Before that was the Border/Simpson era; the Chappell(s) era; the Benaud/Davo era; Bradman’s Invincibles; and Bradman before the war. Hughes and Ponting wer batsmen who couldn’t captain. See Appendix A. Etc….

To put it into perspective, between 1877 and 1926, 50 summers, Australia played about 80 tests I guess. (somebody should check!) We also capped 125 players, which is more than 25% of the current total. And this despite whole seasons without tests, as well as the Great War. Some of the 125 were pretty good, by the way: ahem… 117: Bill Ponsford; 119: Vic Richardson; 121: Clarrie Grimmett; 122: Alan Kippax; 123: Bill Woodfull; 124: DG Br…

Yet Bradman’s complete domination of Australian and world cricket form 1928 to 1949 blots out anything that happened before it. It’s a cricketing blanket fog.

But there was life before Bradman. Just as there was civilisation before Napoleon, and even before the Medicis, Michelangelo, Leonardo.

We talk of how the Renaissance ended the Dark Ages, but in cricket many have called these pre-Bradman years “The Golden age”. Indeed, George Giffen wrote a book of that title.

So to ignore Clem Hill, Archie Jackson, Victor Trumper, Fiery Fred Spofforth, Tibby Cotter or Arthur Mailey would be as heinous as ignoring the Norman Invasion, the Hansa League, the Domesday Book, Magna Carta, not to mention the centuries of enlightenment that flowed out of Africa and Asia, long before Europeans started to get their shit together.

Not to mention Bardsley, Armstrong, Trumble, Murdoch, Noble, the Gregorys.

Yet all we ever seem to hear about, from our former Prime Minister down, is Bradman.

There’s history there, lying under the silt and clay, like those skeletons at Lake Mungo. Just waiting to be uncovered.

Looking at that era gives a glimpse of the major issues cricket would face – debates over professionalism, contract disputes, constant rule changes, attempts to globalise the game. There were Aboriginal tours, games of XI vs XXII, and even the ugly face of sectarianism. It was time when it was Ok to be a Trott, and, if you were Midwinter, to change horses mid-summer.

My problem’s not with Bradman. He WAS the greatest player ever, quite possibly of any sport. But he was not the only great player Australia ever produced. And he certainly wasn’t the most interesting –the metronomic prose of My farewell to cricket, reflecting the robotic nature of his genius, is one of the great cures for insomnia.

Just as history would suffer if we only examined Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon or Churchill, so is cricket the loser from an obsession with the Don.

His star eclipses everything.

But if we could build a Hubble telescope (rumoured to be named after WA’s spare parts paceman of the 1960s, Jim Hubble), to look past our sun back into time and place, surely it’s time to look past the Bradman constellation, to see the mystery and complexity of cricket as it was forming?

About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids' book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional...


  1. When I was a kid (and even now if I have time), I soaked up all the ‘old’ literature on cricket. I know that they overlapped a bit, but Don Bradman’s records set in the 1930’s & 40’s, were quite often breaking Bill Ponsford’s of the 1920’s. I read a few of Jack Fingleton’s books years ago and I think it was he who told of starting in grade cricket and opening the batting with the great Warren Bardsley who was long past his test and first class cricketing days. Bardsley advised Jack to “Watch out for the first ball son, I like to smash it back at the bowlers head to let him know he’s in a contest” (That was the general theme of my 40 years ago memory).

    So yes, he was the greatest, but there was certainly great players before Bradman.

  2. How would we have ranked Victor Trumper under different circumstances ? Only a small amount of tests, with only two opponents, England and South Africa, compounded by the tyranny of distance. Add to that playing on rain affected pitches. Gee whiz how good he may have been in another era.

    Peter who do you deem our best batsmen of the 19th century ? I’m interested.


  3. There are those who would say that Bradman was just average … 99.94 average to be precise! It’s funny that amongst all the Bradmania obsessing no one ever mentions the other average – 95.14 in all FC games.
    When I played in street games as a kid we always referred to Bradman as “Descriptive Geometry”, a subject we had at school which we bill-shortened to DG, as in DG Bradman.
    I read an article in the paper in 1991 when Bill Ponsford died, describing him as “the Bradman of the 1920s” … ‘Ponny’ along with BC Lara are the only two batsmen to score 400 (or more) twice in their FC careers.

  4. I find it hard to put cricket into perspective these days. Am I just old and yearning for the dreams of innocent youth, or has the game that I grew up loving disappeared up its own commercial rectum? Romanticism or jaundice? Depends on the day. So here is my personal prism.
    Growing up in the country in the 60’s with little TV I devoured cricket books and ABC radio. Bradman was Zeus – a supreme being – but so otherworldly that even then he was disconnected from the other 99.94% of test cricketers. Dad saw him as a schoolboy just after the war, and long before Paul Kelly “he’s a machine” they said.
    In my child and adolescent mind the pantheon was the demi gods I could connect with as only slightly more than human. Mailey’s self deprecating humour with the trilby hatted man in the fifth row of the stand who ruined his figures dropping 3 catches, and “killing a bird” when he bowled Trumper in a grade game. The Big Ship – Warwick Armstrong – Clive Palmeresque as captain of an all-conquering Australia. Vic Richardson turning out for Sturt in the SANFL, champion baseballer, playing cricket in Hollywood in front of Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin. And let’s not forget our competition – Ranjitsinji, Duleepsinji, the Nawab of Pataudi – did you need a romantic monicker to have quick wrists? Learie Constantine back cutting sixes when bats were oversized toothpicks.
    Having never seen these gods in the flesh and with only grainy black and white stills for images, made them all 2 feet taller, quicker, stronger and cleverer. The imagination more powerful than any HD LED micro pixel.
    In my mind cricket splits between ancient and modern in 1972 with Ian Chappell’s ascendance to the captaincy. Lillee and that brilliantly competitive Ashes tour. Professionalism, colour TV and Kerry Packer looming in the background. England with Boycott epitomising what was past. Chappell and Lillee what was to come.
    Bradman was ET. Uncle Martin – our favourite Martian come to earth to make us scratch our head and wonder if that was possible. Not a fissure in time, just a Von Daniken crop circle – Roswell with more witnesses.
    So I disagree with your conclusion, but love your argument. Thanks Pete.

  5. Jim Johnson says

    With Bradman’s era the largest difference for players of his day were the uncovered wicket conditions. The batsman today have great problems with deviations and rising balls. On a wet wicket the ball rising and changing pace and direction was immense. What would Bradman’s average be if he had played on covered wickets? Certainly well in excess of 99.94. The older we get the more important history becomes as we ourselves become part of history.

  6. Thesaurus Rex says

    There’s Bradman the (Demi-God) batsman, then there’s Bradman the person … an interesting article from last year on a book two Monash academics are writing about Bradman. They present the sporting idol as a self-serving individual (as opposed to a team player) who cashed in at every opportunity, flaunting the ACB rules about participation in commercialism whilst under contract (ie, blackmailing the Board into letting him continue to write a newspaper column whilst on tour). His perpetual grab for money as a player starkly at odds with his practice whilst chair of ACB in the ’70s of underpaying the test players – leading the way to WSC! Also, his ongoing role in trying to preserve or reinstate the cricketing connections with ‘White’ South Africa. Worth a read if you haven’t come across it before:

  7. Hi Glen,

    I remember reading a number of books on Australian cricket as a kid and based on various authors descriptions can only guess at how good Victor Trumper could have being. I remember reading as well that he was generous to a fault and would often give his own wicket away, particularly in state and grade cricket, so that team mates would get more of a go.

    For the 19th century I think there are probably 3 stand out candidates in Billy Murdoch, Syd Gregory and Joe Darling. I may be somewhat biased as a Tasmanian but I would put honorary Tasmanian Darling at number 1 because of his success as both a batsman and captain who had little opportunity to play at a high standard outside of test cricket after relocating to Tasmania to run sheep farms. Billy Murdoch from all accounts was an excellent bat but a poor captain and by the sounds of things susceptible to fast straight bowling. Syd Gregory had excellent longevity and certainly achieved strong success again his efforts as captain were not as strong as Darling but better than Murdoch.

    Others I considered but were both of the Bannerman boys were good cricketers but Charles didn’t play enough games to get a real gauge of his level and Alec was never able to score a test century and Harry Trott who was a fine all-rounder but probably not as dominant with the bat as the other 3.

  8. Ta Cam, i’ll need to do homework on this. The Darling family were certainly an early dynasty. The Gregory family later, the richardson-Chappell family. Unsure what to make of the Marsh family.

    Re the Trotts, didn’t one of them also play for the ‘old enemy’, ? Was he also called “turnip Head”?


  9. Thanks to all for your feedback.

    I haven’t read George Giffen’s self-promotion for a gazillion years, might have to get it out. when I was young, Six and Out was the go. and now I just like scrabbling around on cricinfo looking at old scoreacards then clicking to read about guys I don’t really know.

    However, Charlie Macartney – nicknamed the GG. Averaged a princely 42 when that was 50+. Played across 19 years probably losing his best to the War (28 when it broke out.) Averaged under 30 with the ball. 345 in 4 hours in a tour game! But the best nuance I reckon is that his hundred before lunch on day 1 was at #3, coming in second ball! Have that!

    My mate used to tell a story about Bardsley being concerned about the stickies in england so he would get to Birchgrove Ovakl at dawn in summer to practice whilst the dew was on the ground.

    A million great stories!

  10. Peter Warrington says

    Peter b you should write a book! And seeing Trumper and Cotter recognised in Sydney gives me great hope.

    There’s whole boxes of treasure at the Mitchell library. Eg collections of donated cricket club yearbooks from the early 1900s. Including St George in the 20s… We need a department of cricket archaeology.

    The day Macartney grew Wings!

  11. I started my preliminary research on this topic last night. Billy Murdoch seems interesting. Born in Sandhurst, then moved north of the border to play for NSW. There was a ‘players strike’ over his non selection in the national team at one point, with chaps like Spofforth allegedly refusing to play until Murdoch was included.

    He was the first Australian cricketer to score a triple ton; 321 for NSW vs Victoria in 1881-82. Was he or George Giiffen the first to score 10,000 first class runs? It was one of that pair. His test highest was 211 scored at the Oval in 1884, the highest test score by an Australian until 1903, remaining the highest by an Australian in a test on English soil until 1930.

    Apparently he emigrated to England after his career. However he came back to see a test match in 1911-12 , Australia vs South Africa, where he suffered a fatal heart attack. His body was then shipped away from Australia for his final resting place.



  12. and the opposition. I had never really taken in the magificence of Gilbert Jessop’s 1902 knock before. Coming in at 5-48 chasing 260 to win when you all made 180 in the first and a mighty Australian team were just rolled for 120. and you are in the team really for your bowling and your test average ends at 21.

    104 in 77 mins. out of 139 scored while at the crease. still some work fro Hirstt o do, but Australia rattled, Headingley harbinger.

    surelly…, arguably at least…. the greatest knock of all time?

  13. Yes Gilbert Jessop, i read about this knock when i was a youngster, 40 plus years ago. I though hmm, what an innings but why doe sit have to be against us !?!

    Was jessop nicknamed “the Croucher?”


  14. Thanks Peter (& the answer is Australia played 128 tests up to the end of 1926). I’m increasingly interested in the pre-Bradman cricketers and the access that Trove can give us to information about them. Not so much interested in the stars as the all rounders – the ones that played cricket and footy at a high level such as Giffen, Darling, Richardson etc. At the time that was very much expected of them but their commitment to either not so much. The past is a foreign country…

  15. John Butler says

    So many childhood memories revived here Cranky. Nice to be reminded that my affliction is a common one.

    Love the Six and Out reference. An early fixture in my personal library, along with RS Whitington’s Courage Book of Australian Test Cricket. Every home should have a copy.


  16. Peter Warrington says

    Yes I think in the library age we were all hostage to the random purchases of central librarians. As an early reader I devoured six and out especially Bradman and Wendell Bill up the mountains, and macdougall.

    But being about 1970 we also had a book on the 62-3 series. Simmo taking that catch on the cover. I reckon I borrowed that 20 times.
    Nobody else seemed to :(

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