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A great innings ends

SIR Donald Bradman is dead. And so is a tender part of the cricketing community worldwide. The man who gave a nation something to cheer about during the depression of the 1930s died on February 25 at his home in Adelaide, South Australia. He was 92. Cricket fans would have hoped that the Don would cross the magical 100 barrier, a mark he just fell short of in his Test days. Sadly, it was not to be.

In this day and age when cricket is an entirely different game, when flat-track bullies parade as master batsmen, it is difficult to appreciate what exactly a man like Bradman meant to Australia and the game at large. He played in a different world, where money could never be a consideration. It was all about pride. Not that he was unpaid but the sums which he received wouldn't have put a glint in the eye of any of today's bunch.

Bradman played in an era when wickets were left to the mercy of the elements. If it poured, the pitch received its fair share. If there was hail, then the pitch took a beating. And if there was dew, why the pitch had to absorb what it could. Out there in the middle, a man had to battle against nature and the skills of the opposition. He wasn't very successful on wet wickets but given the big scores he made, his average held up. His figures are legendary and do not need repeating here.

The one big difference between him and the others was he never sought to capitalise on his fame. He was a private man who lived a quiet life and gave back to the game as much as it gave him. He served as a chairman, administrator and selector for Australia and South Australia for over 35 years. He also served on the Imperial Cricket Conference and was knighted in 1949.

He is probably the only cricketer who was targeted publicly by another team. The tale of Douglas Jardine, Harold Larwood and the bodyline series is pretty well known. England's desire to win the Ashes was so great that the theory of targeting the man, not the stumps was devised, and Larwood executed it to perfection in 1932-33. Even though just two players were actually hit during the series, the fear of being hit was enough and Bradman's average during the series was below 60, in a season when his domestic average was well above 100.

Bradman was a successful stockbroker and was involved with disabled children. He almost died of appendicitis in London in 1934; his wife, Jessie, went to England, nursed him and brought him home. Her death in September 1997, after 65 years of marriage, ended what he called the 'best partnership of my life'. His desire to carry on was notably less after this; he was totally devoted to his wife and it affected him terribly.

It was shortly before his wife died that he gave an interview for the first time in many, many years. He always shunned publicity but finally decided that he would go before the camera. One thing emerged during this interview - over the years little had changed. Bradman wasn't preoccupied with what he had done on the pitch, how he had captained the side, or his average. He still rated his integrity as the one thing for which he would like to be remembered.

Bradman was also a very intelligent person. He wasn't given to much in the way of casual conversation and small talk but he had an astute brain and used his powers of reasoning to great effect in both his playing days and when he was an administrator. He was short and sharp with many people and thus he did not prove popular with all and sundry. But this was something for which he was prepared. He knew that at times one had to tread on toes in order to get things done efficiently and in the best way possible and he did not seek short cuts.

On the cricket field, one of the greatest tests of his character came in 1936-37 when Australia was down 0-2 against England and in danger of losing the Ashes. He came back with centuries in the remaining three Tests; he made 270 and shared a world record partnership of 346 with Jack Fingleton in the third Test despite suffering from flu to the extent that he could field during the final innings. He followed this up with 212 and 169 in the fourth and fifth Tests and Australia won the series 3-2.

One could go on and on, listing his feats; every one of his 29 centuries has a tale behind it and then some. Suffice it to say that it is unlikely that we will ever see the likes of such a cricketer again. He was a legend and will remain as such with those who revere the game.