The drama at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was riveting.
England had unleashed Bodyline in the first Test of the series, and Australia had been vanquished. And Don Bradman had followed the Test match at Sydney away from the ground, in his civilian clothes, locked in a contract battle with the Board, chained to commitments for writing and broadcasting that were frowned upon by the management.
The stuff bowled at the Australians had been dangerous. The balls hurled at the body and head, with a posse of close in fielders on the leg side, close enough to the batsman to pick his pocket. And there lurked a couple of men in the leg side boundary as well, in case the batsman launched into a counter attack.
It seemed a fool-proof strategy.
But the Australians had faith in their champion. There was a widespread belief that The Don would step in and all would be good again.
In 19 Tests till then he had amassed 2695 runs, with 12 hundreds, at an average of 112.29.
If Bodyline was unplayable, so was Bradman unstoppable.
Hence, when he walked in to bat at Melbourne, the score reading 67 for 2, and he proceeded slowly to the pitch, every step was clapped and cheered. Bradman had to walk in a semi-circle, to allow the crowd to quieten, and to accustom his eyes to the light.
It was 2:57 pm in the afternoon. Bill Bowes waited with the ball as Bradman took the standard ‘two legs’ guard.
What followed has been recounted an innumerable number of times.
George Hele, the umpire 22 yards away, recounted it as follows: “Bowes’ first ball to him was short and well outside the off stump. Crouching a little Bradman stepped back a foot or more outside the off stump, his right leg bent almost at a right angle as he pivoted almost square-on to the ball, now approaching his left shoulder. Swinging his bat horizontally and over the ball, he contacted it with the bat’s lower edge and dragged it on to the base of his leg stump before he followed through.”
The silence that followed was eerie. Bowes recalled it as: “A silence that would have been a theatrical producer’s triumph.” Covering the tour, Jack Hobbs recalled, or rather his ghostwriter scribbled: “It was as though they expected the skies to fall.”
Bradman was more pragmatic: “A rotten shot, and that’s all that can be said about it.”
Strangely it was the only wicket Bowes ever took on Australian soil.
Well, the rest is history as well.
On a difficult wicket, Bradman emerged in the second innings to essay one of his best hundreds ever. He got 103 not out of the Australian total of 191. And thanks to Bill O’Reilly and Bert Ironmonger, Australia triumphed by 111 runs.
Yes, briefly though, it would turn out to be, Bradman’s return had restored balance in the series.
But there was an incredibly positive result of the Bradman dismissal in the first innings.
In a hotel in Launceston sat Mr P Hancock, listening to the progress of the Test on the radio. And as soon as Bradman was dismissed for his famous duck, he switched the contraption off and walked out in disgust. The typical agitated walk of a distressed fan took him along a nearby river. Three children were playing on the bank, and the youngest was only two and a half years old.
As Mr Hancock walked by, the three of them fell into the river by accident. And the good man, in all his clothes, jumped in to save them.
And he did. The three went on to enjoy long lives and told the tale often.
As Irving Rosenwater, the best and most brilliant biographer of Bradman, puts it: “All three (and the gallant gentleman too) are … fully cognizant of the miraculous powers of a Test match duck.”