Don Bradman, the greatest batsman of them all
Since a momentous tour to England in 1930, Sir Don Bradman has been considered supreme in the pantheon of great batsmen. An endless, and still unresolved, debate has followed regarding the next best batsman in the history of the game.
At various times, critics, fans, and former players have floated warped theories, often confused with personal prejudices. These have posited the likes of WG Grace, Victor Trumper, and Jack Hobbs being as good – and even better – than Bradman.
The fact remains that there can never be another Bradman. He was a phenomenon the like of which not only cricket, but all of sport has never seen, before or after.
Bradman is not the greatest simply for his iconic Test average of 99.94. Nor is he the greatest for the amazing manner in which he reeled off double centuries and more, or because he scored 300 runs in a day in a Test match. Not even because of his mammoth aggregate of 974 runs in that 1930 Ashes series.
The Don is inarguably the best-ever for the way he turned around Test series and for the stirring fightbacks that he engineered. He is the greatest-ever for the way he clinched series for Australia, particularly the Ashes – the only real contest of those times – and for his dominance of the bowlers.
Not to forget, for the dominance by Australia that he engineered through his career, save the infamous Bodyline series.
Bradman’s flawless 254 at Lord’s in 1930 is considered by critics, as well as The Don himself, as his best innings. It was followed in the next Test at Headingley by what was then the highest Test score of 334, comprising 309 in a single day.
But it was in the final Test at The Oval with the series level at 1-1, that the 22-year-old notched up a superb 232 to wrest the Ashes. That was to become Bradman’s hallmark.
He then toyed with the West Indies and South African bowling and squared up to the scourge of Bodyline. Following that, Bradman once again swept through like a hurricane in epic partnerships with Bill Ponsford in the last two Test matches in 1934.
He scored 304 at Headingley, followed by 244 and 77 at The Oval, to regain the Ashes once again.
Never again during Bradman’s career did Australia lose the Ashes, nor another series. This was a tour when Bradman was unwell right through, which resulted in poor form in some of the earlier matches.
But, as always, he came back with a vengeance. Then on the eve of departure for home, he fell seriously ill and for a few days hovered between life and death.
Sir Don Bradman receiving the ovation of English players after walking out to bat in his final Test innings (Image: ICC)
That might have finished anyone’s career, but Bradman was made of sterner stuff. He missed the entire domestic season of 1934-35 and the tour to South Africa in 1935-36.
When the English came calling again in 1936-37, Bradman was faced with the biggest challenge of his days on the field. A number of stalwarts of the past decade or so were gone, and Bradman was now captain of a weak Australian team.
He was making a comeback to the Test arena after a near-fatal experience. And then, England went two up in the five-Test series.
Suddenly, the knives were out. That was just the spur Bradman needed to unveil his magic once again. He carved out tremendous innings of 270, 212, and 169 in the last three Test matches, clinching the series for his team yet again.
That is the only instance in the 145-year history of Test cricket that a team won a five-Test series after being down 0-2.
Sir Don Bradman, the true GOAT (Image: ICC)
The bemused English captain, and good friend of The Don, Gubby Allen, could only remark wistfully, “The Australian XI is simply Bradman and no-one else.” He was dead right, of course.
In the 1938 Ashes, Bradman scored hundreds in all the three Tests in which he batted, and Australia were leading 1-0. On a flat track in the final Test at The Oval, Len Hutton parked himself at the crease, piling up a record 364.
Bradman broke his ankle while turning his arm over in order to relieve his weary bowlers. He could not bat in either innings and England won that timeless Test to square the series.
After the Second World War, it seemed doubtful that Bradman would return to the Test arena. He was keeping indifferent health and age seemed to have taken away the edge. But again, the incomparable Don confounded friends and critics alike.
This time there were to be no fightbacks and turnarounds, but dominance instead, right from the start. Like he did in the previous 1938 series, Bradman scored centuries in the first Tests of all his three Test series after the War.
Amazingly, he scored hundreds in eight consecutive Test matches. The sequence began with the third game of the 1936-37 rubber and culminated with the second encounter of the 1946-47 faceoff.
Having weathered an uncertain start in his first Test innings after the War, Bradman went on to score 187 at Brisbane, and 234 in the next Test at Sydney. Australia went two up, and England could not fight back.
India felt the full weight of Bradman’s bat on their maiden voyage to Australia in 1947-48. The Don crashed 185 in the first Test, hundred in each innings of the third Test, and a double century in the 4th Test. The Indian players could only hold this man in awe.
On his final tour to England in 1948, at the age of 40, Bradman yet again wrested the initiative with his 138 in the first Test. Then, in his penultimate Test at his favourite English ground, Headingley, the champion combined in an incredible 301-run stand with Arthur Morris.
This partnership helped Australia successfully chase a target of over 400 runs on the last day. The Don returned to the pavillion unconquered with 173 to his name and minutes to spare before the play would have been ended.
England were left shell-shocked. Bradman departed the scene with a first-class average in excess of 95.
It is indeed well-nigh impossible for any batsman to come within light years of the immortal Don. The finest wielders of the willow will always be looking up reverentially at this Goliath of batsmanship.
But of the rest down history’s road, it can now be said that Sachin Tendulkar is perhaps the best. Bradman’s Test career lasted twenty years, interrupted by the Great War, Sachin Tendulkar completed 24 years in Test cricket.
He played to the age that The Don did. By then, he created benchmarks that will be hard to obliterate from the record books.
Sachin Tendulkar, from child prodigy to little master
Sachin Tendulkar is arguably the best batsman after Bradman
When he started out as a child prodigy in 1989, Sachin Tendulkar wanted to dominate the bowlers in the manner that Vivian Richards did. This was characterized by that rasping pull off the front foot, dismissing the fast bowlers contemptuously in that first decade.
Then his back trouble forced him to take away that awesome shot from his repertoire.
In the early stages of his career, he would have the bowling at his mercy, then lose interest after scoring a big hundred and give away his wicket. He overcame that and the double centuries started to come, and for another two years, he continued in his attacking mode.
If the 1991-92 series in Australia turned Sachin into India’s best Test batsman at the age of 18, the tour to New Zealand in 1994 saw him assume the mantle in the ODIs as well. Asked to open the batting, his breath-taking straight hitting sent the pulses racing, and he did not look back since.
Sachin Tendulkar in actin during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011
His sublime stroke-play in the 1996 World Cup, the hammering of Australia at Sharjah, the furious assault on arguably the best-ever leg-spinner Shane Warne, are now part of folklore. By 2001-02, his Test average was close to 60.
Then suddenly in 2001-02, he found that his reflexes were slowing, perhaps he was sighting the ball just that trifle of a second later. He tried to curb himself, and bat in the Gavaskar mould in Test cricket; cautious, cutting out the risks, being selective in his stroke-play.
The trip to the Caribbean in 2002 saw him dismissed for a succession of low Test scores. Was the great Sachin Tendulkar’s career on the wane? Everyone wanted to know. They had not reckoned with the Tendulkar spirit, his grit, determination, and passion for the game.
The little man fought back and was on a high again in the 2003 World Cup. Showing exemplary consistency, he was the single-most important factor in India reaching the final.
His demolition of the Pakistani pace attack containing Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Shoaib Akhtar is a saga that will never be forgotten in the annals of the game.
Sachin Tendulkar piled up a huge number of runs in the 2003 World Cup
He was the Player of the Tournament even as Australia ran away with the final. Then followed another in a series of injuries, entailing an operation to his hand.
Sachin Tendulkar was desperately seeking a new avatar. He was not quite himself. His quest to redefine his batting led to an extraordinary, if not bizarre, innings in the fourth and final Test against Australia at Sydney, in January 2004.
Sachin Tendulkar hardly played a shot on the off-side, yet scored an unbeaten 241, his highest Test score then, and earned the Man of the Match award. That was nothing else but determination, innovation and genius. Even when he was not playing well, he was hitting up a huge score against the best side in the world.
There was more anguish to follow. He was dogged by a tennis elbow and his plight was not dissimilar to that of Bradman in 1946-47. Sachin Tendulkar himself was worried that his career might be over.
In 2005, he looked a pale shadow of himself. There was no spontaneity about his batting. He seemed leaden-footed, and was making a conscious and laboured effort to move his foot forward. It was a sad sight, and many began to write the obituary of his cricket career.
Sachin Tendulkar scored two centuries in the 2007-08 Test series against Australia
However, once again, the fabled Sachin Tendulkar tenacity came to the fore. From the spring of 2007, he started to find the right balance between attack and defence. His confidence began to override diffidence and self-doubt, the fear of failure receded.
Though he lost his wicket a number of times in the 90s in 2007, he was aggressive in the ODIs, and solid in Test matches. India won the Test series in England with him contributing greatly in that triumph.
The tour Down Under in 2007-08 saw the final transition of Sachin Tendulkar into a happy blend of Sunil Gavaskar – for his technical excellence – and Vivian Richards – for his awesome stroke-play. There was also inimitable innovation to boot. He carried the team on his shoulders on several occasions.
His aggressive batting nearly snatched the Test series from Australia. The umpiring howlers in the acrimonious Sydney Test had a hand in India losing that series. Sachin Tendulkar played a major part in the defeat of Australia in the ODI triangular series, and in India winning the trophy.
Sachin Tendulkar with the World Cup trophy after India won the final in 2011
The year 2008 saw the little champion surpass Lara’s record Test aggregate. Later that year, he helped India chase down a target of nearly 400 in the fourth innings of the Chennai Test against England with his superb unbeaten century.
He marched on in 2009, evidence of which was that breath-taking and valiant 175 in the ODI against Australia at Hyderabad. Just when we were wondering how far this remarkable, lovable legend would go, he smashed the first double century in ODIs in 2010.
The maestro left his stamp in South Africa in 2010-11 with two tremendous Test hundreds.
In the summer of 2011, Sachin Tendulkar hammered two centuries in the World Cup, and wrested the Man of the Match award in the semi-final with Pakistan. His career was crowned with the World Cup title, and he finally ushered in his 100th international hundred the next year.
In the 2011 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar became the only batsman to score 2,000 runs in cricket’s biggest tournament. His 2,278 runs at an average of 56.95 and strike-rate of 88.98 are over 500 runs more than the next in line, Ricky Ponting. No one has emulated Sachin Tendulkar’s six hundreds and 15 fifties in the premier tournament.
He made a mockery of people’s projections of the number of runs and hundreds they thought he would score. He logged up 15,921 runs in Test cricket with an average close to 54, and 51 centuries.
In ODIs, he gathered 18,426 runs at nearly 45 per innings, and a strike-rate in excess of 86, with 49 tons. The Tendulkar treasure trove grew to mind-boggling proportions.
It needed two great batsmen to equal Bradman. Sachin Tendulkar can be considered Gavaskar and Viv rolled into one and The Don himself said that Tendulkar played like him.
Sachin Tendulkar scored such an amazing number of runs at the highest level and is the highest run-getter and scorer of tons in both forms of the game.
He carried the expectations of a billion of his countrymen with unprecedented success for nearly a quarter-century. He showed no signs of giving up or giving in during his career.
Therefore, there can be no question: Sachin Tendulkar has to be the next best after Don Bradman.