Scotland v Australia in 1948: Bradman’s Last Match in Britain

There might never have been another occasion like it in the history of Scottish cricket, as the two days in September when Don Bradman and his Australian “Invincibles” travelled to Aberdeen’s Mannofield ground in 1948. For “The Don”, here was one final opportunity to ply his trade with flashing blade in Britain. For the supporters, it was a chance to behold masters at work against the SCU’s amateur brigade.

Even at this distance, it’s amazing how many people grabbed their tickets in unprecedented numbers. There is a picture on the wall inside the clubhouse, split into three parts, which perfectly captures the excited, effervescent mass of cricket aficionados who flocked to the contest, which was played out on September 17 and 18, following the baggy-green ensemble’s ruthless dismantling of England during that summer’s Ashes series.

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Historian Neil Leitch estimates there might have been 8000 spectators on the first day and 10,000 on the second, which was when Bradman struck a magnificent 123 in only 89 minutes with a string of sumptuous boundaries and a couple of towering 6s.

Most of them are gone now, of course. This was 68 years ago, in a different age, where the sport still commanded large crowds, north of the Border. But, via the very modern method of Twitter, I managed to track down two of the fans who were present and, despite having amassed 172 years between them, Ally Main and Colin McKenzie still retain vivid memories of the fixture where maestros and Mannofield merged to glorious effect.

McKenzie was just 16, but this wasn’t his first encounter with that special group of Australians. On the contrary, he and three friends had cycled all the way from Aberdeen to Leeds two months earlier to watch the Fourth Test between the Ashes adversaries at Headingley – where the tourists famously chased over 400 in the last innings to triumph by seven wickets – and they were in thrall not just to Bradman, but many of his compatriots as well.

“It was a special summer, and we didn’t think twice about making that long journey, even though it took us four days to get down and the same time to return home,” says McKenzie, who now lives in Sutton Coldfield, outside Birmingham, and loves cricket as much as he did nearly seven decades ago.

“There was no Forth Road Bridge at that time, so we took our bikes, travelled down via Perth, then jumped on the ferry at Queensferry, and we slept in farmers’ fields – with their permission – during the nights.

“It was worth it in every way, because despite so much of the talk being about Bradman, that was an incredibly talented team. They had Neil Harvey, Ray Lindwall, Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Lindsay Hassett, Colin McCool….wherever you looked, they were very strong, and we all understood that Scotland had no hopes of beating them.

“But none of us cared about that, not in these days. I remember that we just turned up and got admitted to the ground and it was as if everybody in Aberdeen was there. The Scots batted first and they did pretty well [they actually reached 156 for 4, before collapsing to 178 all out], and our lads stuck to their task and George Youngson dismissed Harvey cheaply [for just four]. They finished the first day at 90-odd for three and there was no appearance by Bradman. So everybody went home and returned the next morning [which was a Saturday] and the place was even busier than before.

“Eventually, the Don came to the wicket and he and McCool were in peerless form. They made batting look very easy and both scored hundreds and once they declared [on 407 for 6], their bowlers got to work. There was never any doubt about the outcome, but Guy Willatt hit a half-century and although Scotland lost by an innings, there was no disgrace in that. Let’s remember we are talking about one of the strongest-ever Australian line-ups. Everybody was cheering them on. It was a pleasure to watch them.”

Ally Main was also in attendance and, oblivious to being 90, the former Forfarshire captain, who now resides in Broughty Ferry, was thrilled to witness Bradman’s last hurrah to Blighty.

As somebody who joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and served his country throughout the rest of the Second World War, he understood the sentiment once expressed by Keith Miller – “Pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your a**e, playing cricket is not” –
and simply revelled in the fevered atmosphere.

“You have to remember that we were used to drawing big crowds back then. We would get 3000 to 4000 fans when we played Perthshire in the [Scottish] County Championship and people absolutely loved the game,” said Main. “We also had some superb professionals on the circuit and I’ll never forget when we played Aberdeenshire and we managed to remove [the great West Indian batsman] Rohan Kanhai fourth ball. Very few teams managed that, so we were delighted and we eventually won the match.

“But it was still a different experience to watch the Australians, because they had so much quality in their squad they could afford to rest people like Miller and Hassett for the Scotland game. Nobody expected us to win, and especially not after what had happened in the Ashes, but we made a decent fist of it on the opening day.

“Once Bradman came to the crease, it all changed. But you have to say he had the talent to do that to any opponents in the world and it was a privilege to see him producing a marvellous array of shots.

“Nobody went home disappointed. And the beer tent was always busy. Unforgettable.”

The years may pass, and fashions might come and go, but nothing really changes for these boys of summer.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Cracking piece Neil.
    Imagine a tour game being played after the final Test of a series these days!
    I’m sure this is just one of many great Scottish cricket stories waiting to be told. And hopefully plenty more to come from the current group of players representing Scotland.
    Great stuff.

  2. Neil Drysdale says

    Thanks Luke, it’s always good to see a website such as this one carrying features from people who genuinely love sport. I just wish I had got the chance to interview Keith Miller. He sounded as if he was something a bit special!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Neil. Twitter can be a wonderful tool at times – sadly other times it is just full of tools. Great to catch these stories before they disappear from living memory. What is the building in the bottom photo?

  4. Neil Drysdale says

    Hi Dave, it’s the old score box. Aberdeenshire has more cricketers per head of population than anywhere else in Britain except Yorkshire. Scotland is in a rebuilding phase at the moment, but cricket is hugely popular here. I hate it when the tabloids try to pretend football is all that matters.
    The Scottish Cricket Union was set up more than 50 years before the SFA or SRU. That speaks for itself.

  5. Thesaurus Rex says

    Great sleuthing Neil to track down two of the surviving spectators from that match. Actually it was quite standard to still play games after the final test on UK tours in those days … the Aust team played five matches, apart from the Scottish game, AFTER the Oval test in 1948.

    Who’d have guessed that the venue for Bradman’s last-ever game in Britain, after four Ashes tours, would have been an obscure ground in Aberdeen! It reminded me of how the great Australian star centre, Reg Gasnier (one of the inaugural four ‘immortals’ of Australian rugby league) played his final game of football against a no-name team of “Young Hopefuls” in Avignon, France, 1968.

  6. Fantastic yarn. Travelling to a match by bike, then ferry, with a might spent camping in a farmers field, what marvellous tales of this bygone period.

    Where is Scottish cricket at now ? Eire has played in a few World Cups, but i’m a tad stumped the last time the fellow Celts have qualified/I Neil if you can jog my memory if/when Scotland has qualified for a World Cup.

    Slainte,

    Glen!

  7. Neil Drysdale says

    Hi Glen, Scotland were in the World Cup last year in your neck of the woods. They took seven NZ wickets, should have beaten Afghanistan – whose last two wickets added over 100 – and scored 318 against Bangladesh, with Kyle Coetzer hitting a superb 156.
    The trouble is India, Australia and England have carved up the game, so it’s difficult for Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and the other Associates to get the number of matches they need to make real progress. I think this is where the ICC should be making sure their Full Members send Development squads to the Associate nations every summer. We need more quality teams at international level.

  8. They took part in last year’s 50 overs WC in Aust/NZ, Feb-Mar. Josh Davey (from Aberdeen) was one of the tournament’s leading wicket-takers.

    Mike Denness was Scottish – captain of the ill-fated 1974-75 MCC tour of Aust & NZ (disastrous series for them but he did score 188 in the last test when Lillie didn’t play & Thomson broke down in the 1st innings, the one test England won!)

  9. Neil Drysdale says

    Douglas Jardine – yes, I know, boo, hiss, boo – was Scottish. His parents were both from Scotland and, although Douglas was born in India, he always regarded himself as a Scot. His children, including Fianach ( Gaelic for Fiona), lived up here and when Jardine died, his ashes were scattered on a Highland mountain. I interviewed Fianach before her death a couple of years ago and I’ll let you see the piece if Luke is okay with that.

  10. looking back it’s hard to see how Denness kept getting picked. Remember thinking he was too nice to be captain. poison chalice, that trip!

    Aberdeen is great. Orkney even better! Best country in the world (along with a few others)

  11. Barry McAdam says

    Love it Neil, brilliant writing. Is Mannofield still the main cricket ground in Aberdeen or does another venue get used for major matches there now?

  12. Neil Drysdale says

    Hi Barry, it’s still Mannofield. Scotland v England was up here a couple of years ago. I was down there today and the clubhouse is dripping with atmosphere and packed with cricket memorabilia. It’s just a pity that, in Scotland, the off season is twice as long as the playing one. It’s hard to keep
    Interest going when there’s no cricket for eight months of the year.

  13. Ta Neil re Scotland playing in the last World Cup. I had seniors moment, forgetting it.

    Re playing in my neck of the woods; Melbourne ?

    I’d be intrigued seeing a team of Scots who have played tests for England. Jardine, Denness, are the obvious ones. I’m trying to ascertain 9 more. Any chance of doing a side for us?

    Glen!

  14. Neil Drysdale says

    Hi Glen, I can think of seven or eight valid Scottish players who played Tests for different countries, but I’ll go away and try to come up with a team.

  15. Good onya Neil. Look forward to it.

    Glen!

  16. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Neil a fantastic read 1 what is the distance between,Aberdeen and Leeds to cycle ?
    Games for the community and for the minnows how brilliant now days they’re getting ready for the next, 20 20 tournament and counting there millions not a case of progression in my book.
    Totally agree re the ICC far more needs to be done for countries to improve and eventually reach worth while and deserving test status,when Sri Lanka played in the World Cup in 74- 75 they were very much developing and kept improving and won a World Cup other nations must be given far more opportunities for the benefit of the game overall.How many clubs and teams playing the game in Scotland at present ?
    Look forward to reading of your team of Scots

  17. Barry McAdam says

    Thanks Neil, great to hear Mannofield is still the main venue. Also looking forward to your team of Scots!

  18. Luke Reynolds says

    Further to Malcolm’s question Neil, what format is played in the main Scottish competition (is it still called the Scottish County Championship?), eg any 2, 3 or 4 day cricket?

  19. Neil Drysdale says

    Hi guys, there are hundreds of teams playing in Scotland during the summer and Cricket Scotland has won awards for getting kids into the game. One of the problems is that few other sports have an eight-month off-season as happens with cricket in Scotland – and if the summer is as bad as it was last year, players just drift away.
    Anyway, Luke has just published the Scotland Test XI. See what you think.

  20. Atholl Bonner says

    Almost 10 years after my father passed away I got around to searching this event on the net because he was there as an 8 year old boy!
    He grew up in Cults just further up Deeside from Mannofield and although not that keen on cricket was taken along by his father especially as the Don was expected
    The only reason I came to know this was when my father gave me the score card he had from the match just before my wife kids and I migrated to Adelaide in August 2000

  21. Fraser Simm says

    I enjoyed reading this; several years ago I wrote to the two remaining survivors of the Scottish side and included their comments- which weren’t that memorable – in my book “Echoes of a Summer Game”. Still, it was good to hear from them.

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