Never just Don or Donald. Never Bradman. Not even Mr Bradman.
It is always just The Don.
Simple. Authoritative. Regal.
From the slums of Mumbai, the back alleys of London, the mountainous regions of Pakistan or the most remote parts of Southern Africa, we all know who The Don is.
August 27 marks his birthday. He would have turned 107 this year.
It is only recently that his age has overtaken his Test batting average.
For everyone else, even the world’s best, this has happened by the time they turn 61.
Most cricket lovers know what 99.94 represents.
But over time, many have forgotten the intricacies of how that came to be.
In fact, there are not many left who could say they saw The Don in full flight. Even less who were old enough to understand the context of the story their eyes were telling them.
Folklore suggests he crafted his marvellous eye by hitting a golf ball against a water tank with a cricket stump. Over and over. Like a metronomic wind up toy.
Go outside and try it against a brick wall. I’ll see you back here in a few minutes. You will be frustrated and beaten. This I can guarantee.
That Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression certainly helped his star to rise, but public adoration only takes one so far. Runs still need to be made and success had.
His rise from First Class debut to Test debut took less than two years. A remarkable feat given the conservative nature of cricket selection at the time.
From there, it was record after record.
Current Test records still held by him include:
- Highest Individual Test Batting Average (minimum 15 innings) 99.94
- Highest Test Batting Average for a 5-Test Series 201.50 (v South Africa, Australia, 1931-32)
- Equal top-scorer of triple centuries (with Lara) 2
- 5th wicket partnership (with Sid Barnes 1946-47) 405
- Only Test batsman to score more than 5,000 runs v an opponent (5,028 v England)
- 7 times scored 500 or more runs in a Test series (Equal with Lara)
- Six times scored centuries in an interval (once pre lunch, twice lunch-tea, three times tea-stumps)
- Scored the most runs in a single day’s play 309 v England, Leeds, 1930
Since his retirement, cricket has had over 65 years to catch up and steal these records back.
The Don was famous for stating that the bowler can’t dismiss you if you hit the ball along the ground. He only ever hit 6 sixes in a Test match. In fact he made more Test ducks (7) than times he hit the ball over the fence.
However, always the entertainer, The Don paradoxically once made a century in only 3 overs during an exhibition game.
He also has two Test wickets to his name, including when he bowled Wally Hammond in Adelaide.
During his Test career, The Don scored 26% of his team’s runs. Mathematics tells us that if he averaged near on 100, his team therefore would typically score 400.
The Don – 100
10 other batsmen – 300. An average of 30 a piece, making them not even a third as good.
Most notably, and the point often neglected, is that this genius was concocted during the days of uncovered wickets.
It probably also explains why The Don described his self as a predominantly back foot player.
Balls were liable to pop, spit or shoot low off any length.
These days, we would call a pitch that provides conditions like these as unplayable.
For The Don, it was a surface that harboured a Test century less than every 3rd Test innings.
So next time commentators talk of batting greatness when Virat, Smith, Root or Williamson pick up the bat, just remember that there is a higher level still.
One that is unlikely to ever be matched. One that has its own name.
It is referred to as “The Don”.
Originally published at The Quint