Book review: Bradman’s war


I’ve just managed to finally grab my copy of Bradman’s War, by Malcolm Knox, off my bookshelf, and not before time, as it’s a fine read.  Knox writes in an  easy to read style, though in a manner in which all the required detail is presented.

This book  looking at the 1948 tour of England by the Australians, captained by Sir Donald Bradman, a historic tour in which the Australians were undefeated, came out in late 2012.  Bradman’s War  looks at the build up to this tour, the impact of World War 2, the English tour of Australia in 1946-47, ,all of which contributed to the tone of this series, and of course the all conquering 1948 tour.

It jogged my memory reading about the services team playing in post war England, how they were drawn solely from those on active service in the European, and  Mediterranean theatre(s).  Those in action in Borneo, and Papau New Guinea, including  Arthur Morris, and Bill Brown were thus not able to participate in these matches.

Bradman is clearly established as the main identity in the period; as he was .  For one of the greatest sporting figures of the 20th century he has never come across as a particularly pleasant person.  One area of apparent contention pertained to him not seeing active service, whilst other such as Keith Miller were at the front line. The many aspects of the Miller/Bradman relationship has long been talked about, as both were distant to each other, in a range of ways.   Though Australia did not lose any of our test players during the tumultuous conflict of World War 2, a number of English players such as Ken Farnes, and Hedley Verity paid the supreme sacrifice.  For those who had seen active service Test cricket did not seem like a war, but to Bradman it was perceived, and played, in a manner, where no mercy was shown to the opposition, almost like a metaphor for the war conflict Bradman did not experience .  For Bradman the humilitation of the ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932-33 continually rankled, this was the motivator for him.

The close rapport Bradman enjoyed with English selectors like Walter Robbins, and ‘Gubby’ Allen is talked about.  Was Bradman influential in the omission of Len Hutton after the Lords test? We will never know . The ability of Bradman to perhaps influence interpretations of rules, also influence rule changes, is touched upon. Knox cites the following examples.  For a period the new ball was not taken until the batting side had scored 200, on this tour it was allowed after 55 overs.  This curtailed the spinners role, but was of great value to bowlers like Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall. With Lindwall there were concerns re him dragging his rear foot through the bowling crease on  delivery, meaning the potential to be no balled under the rules of the time. In this period a bowler must have their back foot behind the bowling crease , but Lindwall regularly drarged it past there by the time of his release. He was apparently rarely no balled on the tour.

After the Australians strong start of the tour, the English selectors went into defensive mode, picking an  unbalanced  for the opening test at Nottingham.  It included only one strike bowler Alec Bedser, with the batsman Bill Edrich opening the bowling with him, as well as a number of medium-pace trundlers . This side was meant to draw the opening test, victory didn’t seem an option.  The situation during the early part of the Australian first innings of the bowlers bowling leg stump to a packed on side field indicated a mind set of not being confident of victory, so playing for a draw from the start of the series was the English mind set. It did not help as Australia walloped them in that opening test.

From here we follow the progress of the tourists as they become the ‘Invincibles’,  winning the five test series, four-nil, finishing their tour undefeated.  The team dynamics, the  heroic final day  run chase at Leeds,  Bradman’s final innings duck,  leaving him with a test average of 99.94, all this and more  is part of a splendid book.

We often hear from cricketers of this period, such as Neil Harvey about what a happy time it was,  allegedly  far nicer time  than what I’ve seen in my time following cricket.  It is sometimes portrayed as a golden era of exemplary player behaviour, played in the ‘true spirit’ of cricket, devoid of the trait of sledging. Yet reading this book you will find though cricket is far nicer than  fighting a war,  there was an ongoing enmity throughout the series, for which one figure is pivotal, Bradman.  In the current 24 news cycle with its propensity for sensationalism, above substance,  how would we view the behaviour of Keith Miller, manhandling a spectator in the opening test? How does that behaviour sit with recent controversies like Ricky Ponting, and his black  eye from a night on the town, or any of the many Shane Warne indiscretions?

There is much more I can add on this publication, but hopefully this brief review provides some insight into the work. The book is a fine read, heartily recommended.  Bradman’s War, Malcolm Knox, Penguin Australia, 2012.





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