| Early-morning Don
Remembering Bradman By Margaret Geddes, Viking, Rs 495
Sir Donald Bradman was, and remains to this day, something of an enigma. But “Braddles”, or simply Don, has always been just another affable neighbour who liked his spot of golf on a sunny morning, and shuddered at the thought of putting his money in risky investments. “Those whose lives he had touched” remember the greatest cricketer of all times in Margaret Geddes’s book, trying to break the awe-barrier and uncover the man, not the legend.
So far, so good. Not that Bradman’s fiercely-guarded private life is the stuff that Hollywood films are made of, but Geddes manages to make it several times more boring than it probably was. She does this in different ways — by not organizing her interviews with care, by asking nearly everybody who had shared the crease with the Don, “what was he like to bat with” (knowing that the answers would be pretty much similar), and above all, by leaving the interviews in their raw state, peppered with “you know”s, “I mean”s, “do you see”s, “and that sort of thing” and so on. Sample Alec Bedser on Bradman’s popularity in Australia, compared to the adulation sportsmen receive in England: “I mean take where he lived in Adelaide, I mean everyone knew where Don Bradman lived in Adelaide and everything else, whereas if you live in London they don’t care less where you are.”
The book could easily have been reduced to half its size with a little bit of judicious editing, which would have made some of the interviews real pleasures to read.
Painful to trudge through as it is, the book is not without its interesting moments, understandably because it revolves around one Don Bradman, whom even the vicious English Bodyline attack could not fell. Doug Insole, former English vice-captain, who knew Bradman as well as some of his teammates on the Bodyline tour, admits that “there was a suggestion that because of the way [the ball] was directed at him, he wouldn’t be able to play it and therefore might try and find other ways of playing it, which would get him out. But nobody in my hearing has ever suggested that he was frightened of it.” For all the rivalry between the Ashes combatants, the English have had to admit that they failed miserably in their mission of getting the mickey out of Don Bradman. Insole goes to the extent of saying, “I would think that he was probably the most influential man around in the latter half of the 20th century.”
If he wielded even a little bit of influence, it would seem that Don Bradman did not derive any great sense of power from it. He comes through as a remarkably unassuming man, to the extent of being embarrassed by excessive adulation and irritated by others’ eagerness to announce their presence. Percy Beames, journalist and captain of the Victorian cricket team in 1946, relates how it infuriated Bradman to see Walter Hammond, the English captain, go out to toss wearing a brown felt hat with his white clothes.
While the interviews with Bradman’s teammates and rivals are rich in anecdotes, it is the memories of his non-cricketing associates like Brian Cole, Jill Gauvin, Mal McPherson and Jim Tummel that set this book apart from the run-of-the-mill books on cricketers’ lives. There is a gem from Bradman’s godson, G.R.V. Robins, on how, in 1995, when “it was amazingly hot in Adelaide” and Bradman’s wife, Jessie, remarked in passing that it was probably the hottest she had ever known in Adelaide, her husband corrected her immediately: “No, we had three days like this in 1934.”
Given the amount of hard work that has gone into this book — perhaps the author felt that a slim volume would not do justice to the hundreds of interviews she recorded — Geddes could have done better. After all, there is such a thing as readability. Surely, Geddes did not intend her book to become an academic tome, which lovers of cricket would not dare to open, and scholars who are not into the game could not grasp.