The ‘Esk Bradman’: who was Jack Badcock?

There was a bit of fuss over the Sheffield Shield game between Victoria and South Australia at the Junction Oval a few weeks back. Despite the road on which they played and the lack of sporting declarations, Tom Cooper’s 271 not out at least provided some statistical interest.

 

The 32 year old Netherlands international (with a superb middle name of Lexley) raised his First Class average from 33.67 to 35.25 in his 182nd innings. Cooper’s score was the equal seventh highest shield score for SA, the 30th highest score in the competition, and the third highest for players who have not played Test cricket (behind only Liam Davis’s 303* for WA in 2012 and Cecil Thompson’s 275* for Queensland in 1930). Furthermore (for peak obscurity), with the innings finishing on 13 October, a higher shield score has not come earlier in a season.

 

The list of South Australian representatives on the list above Cooper make for fine company: Clem Hill (365* against NSW in 1900); Don Bradman (357 against Victoria in 1936); Barry Richards (356 against WA in 1970); Jack Badcock (325 against Victoria in 1936); David Hookes (306* against Tasmania in 1987); and Darren Lehmann (301* against WA in 2005). Badcock also bobs up again on 271 not out against NSW in 1938.

 

As a moderately cricket tragic, I know a fair amount about most of the cricketers on that list. But I drew a blank on Jack Badcock. So who was he?

 

Source: Trove

 

A cursory glance at his Cricinfo entry shows an impressive record – a great first name of Clayvel and an impressive first-class record with 7371 runs in 97 matches from 1929-1941 at an average of 51.54. His Test record is less inspiring with 160 runs in seven Tests at 14.54. Intriguingly, 118 of those came in one innings – the other 42 runs coming at 4.2.

 

But what more of him is there? Being sufficiently long ago that Trove will tell us some of his story, here is what came up.

 

Badcock was born in Exton, Tasmania (halfway between Devonport and Launceston) in 1914. Table Talk (a weekly magazine published in Melbourne from 1885 to 1939) in 1938 states that young Jack learnt his cricket from his father on a specially prepared concrete pitch on the family farm.

 

Playing his first game of senior cricket at 10, Badcock had to saw part of the handle off his full-sized bat so that it would not catch against his chest. He used a short handled bat for the rest of his cricket career. Reputedly, young Jack then went into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest cricketer to play ‘international cricket’ having played for Tasmania against England as a 15 year old in 1929.

 

An opening batsman, he was noted as the most promising colt in the country, having played the rising balls sent down by Englishmen Voce and Bowes surprisingly well. Soon after in the 1932/33 season, Badcock broke the Tasmanian club cricket record with 1197 runs at an average approaching 200. He then came to notice against the touring Victorians in early 1934, scoring 477 runs in four innings against the visitors.

 

Shield cricket

 

Aged 20, in 1934 he left Tasmania to play cricket for SA and Adelaide in district cricket following a healthy competition for his services between Victorian and South Australian clubs (Tasmania not entering the Sheffield Shield until 1977). Somewhat overshadowed by another interstate transfer to SA that year, Badcock was nonetheless billed as the first batsman of significance to come out of Tasmania.

 

It did not take him long to gain national attention, as the small but sturdy batsman (not the last northern Tasmanian to match such a description) scored 64 and 87 representing ‘The Rest’ against Australia at the MCG in November 1934. New Call and Bailey’s Weekly (22 October 1936) describes him thusly: “His broad shoulders, well-developed neck, solid torso, and ham-like forearms are things every champion in the making ought to possess”.

 

Having watched him bat around the same time, another on the above list, Clem Hill, was noted in the Sporting Globe (21 November 1934) as saying “There is no doubt about this boy, he is a great little bat and looks like a coming champion.”

 

After a comparatively quiet 1934/35 season (366 runs at 33.27), falling five times to wrist spinners in 11 shield innings (and noting Clarrie Grimmett was a regular opponent in the Adelaide district competition), Badcock gave his reputation a healthy boost in the 1935/36 Sheffield Shield season, scoring 622 runs at 124.4. By comparison, some teammate named Bradman could only average 123 that season.

 

325

 

Badcock’s breakthrough season included his highest first-class score of 325 against Victoria at the Adelaide Oval. SA having bowled Victoria out for 201 in their first innings, Jack opened the batting with Ron Parker, putting on 210. When Badcock was finally dismissed with the SA score on 565, Bradman was satisfied he had enough runs to secure an innings victory and the shield for 1935/36.

 

The Sporting Globe (26 February 1936) says of Jack’s achievement: “It was a fighting innings and, although not altogether chanceless, must rank with the efforts of the South Australian champions of the past. He hit no fewer than 34 fours and in 587 minutes he was rarely at a loss to know what to do with the ball.”

 

Early on in his career the biggest knock on Badcock’s batting was his ability against spin bowling, Referee suggesting he was a ‘rabbit’ against the slow bowlers upon crossing to the mainland. It goes on to credit future Test leg spinner Frank Ward with spending long hours bowling leg spin at Jack to help him improve this area of his game.

 

 

Test career

 

Table Talk, 28 April 1938. Source: Trove

 

Badcock made his Test debut in the first Ashes Test of 1937/38 at the Gabba at just 22. In his preferred opening position, Jack contributed little, beaten for pace by Gubby Allen for eight in his first dig. He fared worse in the second innings, an overnight thunderstorm finding Australia on a decidedly sticky wicket the next morning. Badcock was caught for a duck off Allen’s bowling as Australia was bundled out for 58 in a 322 run loss.

 

In hindsight Badcock’s Test career seems cursed from the start. One hour into his second Test, at Sydney in December, he left the field not to bat in the first innings with a terrible case of gastro. He was able to take his place in the batting line-up in the second innings as Australia followed-on but to little effect. He scored just two as Australia lost by an innings.

 

Dropped, and after Australia fought the series back to two Tests each with convincing victories in Melbourne and Adelaide, Jack came good when it counted in the fifth and deciding Test. Badcock put together a ‘slashing’ 118 which, along with centuries to Bradman and McCabe, guided Australia to a series clinching win by an innings and change.

 

The Courier-Mail (1 March 1937) was not sparing in its praise: “The mantle of Bradman already has fallen on this young Tasmanian. He is a new star in the Australian constellation of batting greatness.” No pressure, then…

 

Following his Test century, a Tasmanian testimonial fund raised enough money to buy Badcock a “magnificent cutlery cabinet” with sufficient funds left over to buy him a “very handsome eight-day chiming clock” as well.

 

Launceston Examiner, 16 June 1937. Source: Trove

 

Later in 1937, Badcock’s star was still very much on the rise. The Sporting Globe in November noting, following a century in a Richardson-Grimmett testimonial match that doubled as a Test trial: “Badcock, who is hitting harder and more confidently than ever, seems destined to soar, before long, into the select circle of freak batsmen Australia has produced, with Ponsford and Bradman as outstanding examples.”

 

1938 tour of England

 

A case of gastro was not to be Badcock’s only brush with health issues. Prior to the 1938 Ashes tour to England, Jack was hospitalised in Adelaide with catarrhal jaundice (a form of hepatitis). Reportedly he contracted it from drinking Sydney water after scoring a dashing 132 in a shield match at the end of a season where he compiled 360 runs at 36 a pop. Recovery took some time but the doctors eventually declared him fit for the tour.

 

Courier-Mail, 7 January 1938. Source: Trove

 

The long trip to England gave Jack some time to get better acquainted with his more senior teammates. Amongst other activities his teammates took the opportunity to teach Badcock to dance. Arthur Mailey also took to referring to him as “Musso” given a passing similarity to a certain Italian leader of the time.

 

Stopping at Egypt on the way, Jack was also able to show off his camel management skills at the pyramids. According to Mailey in the Telegraph (11 April 1938) he impressed aboard his steed “Moses, which showed a pair of dusty heels to the other competitors” in an impromptu race.

 

Upon arrival in England, there was little wrong with Badcock’s general form as he racked up 67 against Worcestershire, 198 against Leicestershire and 186 against Cambridge University in a “run-getting orgy” at the start of the tour. In fact, he was going so well in the tour games that Jack was the second batsman (after Bradman) to reach 1000 runs on the tour.

 

With Fingleton and Brown now occupying the openers spots, Badcock lined up in Australia’s first Test team at Trent Bridge batting at seven. Bowled by Doug Wright for nine in the first innings, he came in at six in the second innings and fared no better. Jack scored five before Wright (a rare English leg spinner) once again disturbed the order of his stumps immediately after tea on the final day. Despite Jack’s limited contribution, Australia held on to draw the Test – possibly something to do with Bradman’s 144 not out.

 

Badcock quickly rebounded at Lord’s against the Gentlemen of England the following week, fiercely pulling and hooking his way to an unbeaten 112. However, the subsequent second Test provided worse viewing for as he picked up a ‘pair of spectacles’, while Bill Brown and Wally Hammond swapped double centuries in a drawn four day Test.

 

The third Test at Old Trafford being abandoned without a ball bowled did not help Badcock’s cause despite the mountain of first class runs he had already accumulated on tour. Nor did the fourth Test at Headingley in late July. In Australia’s first innings 242, on four Jack lost his off stump to a cutter from “big, bespectacled” Bill Bowes in fading light.

 

So badly was Jack going in the Tests that, following his first innings dismissal in the fourth Test, his uncle is recorded as joking  “I’ve just sent a cable to Jack. It was: ‘Come home and feed the pigs. You’re doing no good over there.’” (The Sun, 24 July 1938)

 

After O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith ran through England’s second innings, Badcock batting at six was at least there on 5 not out as Australia chased down the 107 runs required for victory and retained the Ashes.

 

Before the fifth Test, Badcock proved he was still in strong first class form with 76 against Kent at Canterbury in an innings described as “more satisfying than many more productive efforts . Many of his strokes were almost savage, and full of destructive power.” (The Sun, 14 August 1938).

 

Nonetheless, the fifth Test at the Oval was not to mark a change of fortunes. Returned to opening the battling with Brown (Fingleton and Bradman both not batting, injured), in the face of England’s 7/903 (including Hutton’s record 364) Badcock fell twice cheaply to Bowes again as Australia was pummelled by an innings and 579 runs.

 

 

Bad form or bad luck?

 

In trying to divine the cause of Badcock’s Test batting problems, L.H. Kearney in the Courier Mail (25 August 1938) posited that maybe he was just out of luck. The Mirror in Perth (27 August 1938) heaped insult upon injury by reporting that Jack “is apparently unlucky in cricket as well as in love” with the story that his girlfriend at the time he left on the tour had just married another man, deciding that she “couldn’t play second fiddle to a cricket bat”.

 

As it turned out there would be no international redemption for the ‘Esk Bradman’ as he did not play Test cricket again. With no team visiting Australia in 1938/39 and the small matter of a World War following soon after, the fifth Test at the Oval turned out to be Australia’s last until March 1946.

 

Return to first-class cricket

 

To his credit, Badcock was quick to brush off the comparatively disastrous tour. Jack returned to the shield competition with relish (and possibly other condiments), compiling 489 runs at 97.8, including the unbeaten 271 against NSW. The following winter he was also happy enough to tour country SA showing the 4000 feet of film he had taken of the Ashes tour.

 

Badcock with state and national teammates Merv Waite and Don Bradman (Sunday Mail, 11 December 1938. Source: Trove)

 

Despite being beset by back and ankle injuries curtailing his participation during the 1939/40 season, Badcock still managed 387 runs at 64.5, the bulk of which came in a rollicking 236 against Queensland at the Adelaide Oval in an innings victory.

 

The end of big cricket

 

What turned out to be Badcock’s last Sheffield Shield match came in January 1940 at the SCG. Fittingly perhaps, he was dismissed in both innings by O’Reilly as SA was convincingly beaten by NSW. Bradman, the batsman with which he was often compared but was not to emulate, was at the other end as Badcock’s luck deserted him for the last time in shield cricket – the ball hitting his pad and hip then ricocheting off his bat and the keeper’s gloves before being caught by Chipperfield at slip.

 

The Telegraph, 18 January 1940. Source: Trove

 

But ‘big’ cricket was not quite done for Jack as, while the shield competition did not resume in 1940/41, 10 exhibition games were played to raise funds for the war effort. Jack scored heavily recording four centuries and averaging 73 across the season.

 

After enlisting in February 1941, Jack was declared unfit for military duties with the AIF due to “strained muscles in his left leg” by March. The Burnie Advocate notes in November 1941 his decision to retire from first class cricket and return to Tasmania while at the peak of his powers having just clubbed 140 in 79 minutes that month in the district competition.

 

Following the end of the war, the Daily Telegraph in 1945 notes 31 year old Badcock’s decision to retire from ‘big’ cricket altogether as “he had to choose between big cricket and his farm and he had decided for the farm.”

 

It is a quiet end for a cricket career that started off so prodigiously and promised so much. In shield games for South Australia, Badcock scored 2473 runs at 58.88 – only Bradman (112.97) and Richards (100.09 in eight matches) averaged more. Badcock is ahead of Sobers (57.61) and Lehmann (56.97) but there are no statues, stands or bars to be found in his honour in Adelaide.

 

A life-size statue of sorts stands in his honour at Westbury Recreation Ground, Tasmania, next to a comically massive set of stumps at six metres high. It is perhaps fitting that the one physical tribute to be found is so close to his farm at Exton, where the story starts and ends. Maybe even more so that he is still overshadowed by something within cricket but bigger than it.

 

The Esk Bradman died suddenly in 1982, aged 68. Just four years after Tasmania was admitted to the Sheffield Shield competition and the first-class debut of another short but powerful batsman from just 30 minutes up the road. So much about cricket comes down to timing and luck, then as now.

 

 

 

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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Nice work in the archives Dave. I remember hearing about him as a kid, it was a certainly a name familiar to Tasmanians, from the mysterious dark ages before we were admitted to Sheffield Shield.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Phew Dave, that’s some impressive reasearch.

    Assuming no 5s or 6s, Badcock scored almost 200 in 1s, 2s and 3s in that 325.

    Former mine host of the Rose and Crown, Merv Waite also had a forgettable Ashes in 1938.

  3. Dave was Jack related to Kevin Badcock? I recall he played for Tasmania from the late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s.

    My primary memory of him was a Gillette cup match,Tasmainia V Queensland where he was bowling to Viv Richards. Richards drove one straight back at him,hitting him in the face, resulting in him having no further involvement in the match. Memories !

    Glen!

  4. Bernard Whimpress says

    Superb piece Dave
    I’d like to Talk to you more about Jack. i also have a Badcock bat i picked up in a Brickabrack shop in Plympton some Years ago.

  5. “Lexley”? “Clavel”? Only in cricket…

    “…second fiddle to a cricket bat”? Straight out of the Mrs Smokie playbook.

    Great research and a really interesting read, Browny. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the read and comments, folks.

    Probably demonstrates a change in cricket (and bat technology) Swish that he was considered a brutaliser of the ball.

    I can’t confirm that Glen! Kevin was from Launceston and Jack Badcock had two sons but there were a number of other Badcocks in the region at that time (and I can’t find any relevant birth notices on Trove from 1951)… and ouch!

    Thanks Bernard, I’ll send you an email. Quite a find. The bat manufacturer Jack was tied to ran newspaper ads in 1938 about his first-class tons in England.

    Thanks Smokie, cricket seems to have more than its fair share of unique names.

  7. Dave, The Courage Book of Australian Test Cricket, by R S Whitington, was a regular companion in my formative cricket years. J Badcock was one of those names that made a tantalising appearance, only to disappear as quickly as he appeared.

    This fills in so many of the blanks.

    Cheers

  8. matt watson says

    Great story Dave,
    You should delve into the archives more!!
    Cheers

  9. Great stuff,Dave and likewise as a cricket tragic had seen,Jacks name stats and record wise but didn’t know much thank you for educating us

  10. Great Article Dave.

  11. I love these stories Dave. How good is the “come home and feed the pigs” line? Great research. Thanks.

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