The Story Thus Far
In the Summer of ’48, Don Bradman led a formidable Australian team across the oceans with intent, with resolve, with enormous talent in their ranks, and with the dogged will to win all that they could. Following Bradman through the tour was the buzz about his clearly stated intention to become the first team to go back undefeated from the British Isles. He was a man on a mission in his last series as an Australian captain and player and determined to come back home without a loss from the almost six-month-long series. He was not about to give any quarter and stumble at the last hurdle as his predecessors had done in 1902 and 1921, losing in the final festival match.
Bradman took every one of the 34 matches in that 1948 series seriously, making sure his team did not let up, even when he himself was not playing. And when he played, he ensured the opposition were ground to dust. The stories around those 56 days on the voyage and the 112 days of brilliant cricket (of the 144 days spent on tour in Great Britain), have become the stuff of lore, taking on a life of their own in the telling and re-telling over the past 70-years.
The first Test at Nottingham had gone the way of the Australians. England was all out for 441 in the second innings leaving Australia to score 98 to win. With rain coming down heavily all over Nottingham but seemingly miraculously sparing the ground, and Bradman out for a duck in an exact repeat of the dismissal from the first innings, an unbeaten 64 from Sidney Barnes ensured an eight-wicket victory for the visitors. Australia had a 1-0 lead and Bradman’s lads had taken the first step on what would be a long journey to the Invincibles sobriquet that they would eventually earn.
A Team on a Mission
If anyone thought that after going one up in the series Bradman’s lads would take it easy in the county matches that followed, they would be sorely disappointed. Two days after the first Test, the Australians took on a weak Northants side in what would be one of the easier matches on the tour. While the team could have taken it easy, for six-day-a-week cricket was not easy on the bodies, that’s not how Bradman played his cricket. Instead, an innings victory followed and immediately thereafter it was on to Bramall Lane, Sheffield the ‘Cutlery City’, for a return match against formidable Yorkshire.
The Sheffield crowd were nicknamed the ‘Grinders’ and Jack Fingleton once said that they “believe once inside the ground they are part of the game”. Bradman considered them a knowledgeable crowd and wrote: “the atmosphere was like a Test match but more intimate and concentrated.” Most importantly, however, Yorkshire was Len Hutton’s team and for Bradman, it was of paramount importance that all-out pressure was kept on Hutton by employing his main fast bowlers all hurling bouncers at England’s premier batsman. In the end, however, the game became a bit too close for Bradman’s comfort and he delayed his declaration making sure they could not lose the match even if it cost him a few fans.
The biggest takeaway for England from the first Test had been the realisation that they could not match the Australians for speed, to add to the woes of an ageing team and a lack of leadership. They made a few changes to the side for the second Test at Lord’s, but the battle could only be won by their hardened veterans of whom only Dennis Compton had shown fight at Nottingham. Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, John Edrich, Norman Yardley, Godfrey Evans and Alec Bedser had to step up and be counted.
The Australians went in with an unchanged team despite some injury worries to Miller and Lindwall and the indifferent form of Bill Brown. Young Neil Harvey, who had been in magnificent form in the tour matches, would have to wait his turn to debut in England.
The Second Test at Lord’s
The day the second Test started brought home to the teams the difference in how the two countries had fared economically in the Second World War. It was the day that Australia ended the rationing of meat and clothing, but the end of post-war austerity remained a faraway dream for England.
Lord’s itself, despite being the home of the MCC, held different meanings for the two teams. The Australians had not won at ‘Headquarters’ until 1934, and then it would not lose a Test there into the 21st century. As Malcolm Knox wrote, “Lord’s became Australia’s favourite ground before it was England’s, if it ever was. It is ironic though, that a ground and a club that preserved anachronistic class distinctions should have found its greatest fans and myth makers in Australia.”
Bradman won the toss and batted first, not necessarily because he wanted first use of the pitch, but because it would give the spearhead of his bowling attack, Ray Lindwall some more time to recover from the injury. Lindwall had told Bradman in the morning: “Look Don, I’m absolutely sure I shall be all right. Leave me out on a form if you want to – but not on fitness.” It would not take much to persuade Bradman. “All right, keep your hair on, you’ve talked me into it. We’ll take the gamble.”
Sydney Barnes strode out to open the innings with Morris.
Barnes was desperate to get a big score. Displaying uncharacteristic anxiety he had asked for two hours of bowling from the ground staff before the other Australians arrived the day before the match. He had then told his teammates at dinner that he would make a hundred on this ground. For good measure, he had then put eight pounds on himself at 15 to 1 to score that century. In the second over from Coxon the medium pacer making his debut, Barnes gently pushed at a bad ball down the leg side straight into the hands of Len Hutton. He was out for a duck and Australia was 3 for 1.
Bradman walked into huge applause. John Arlott described the first few balls: “Bradman made so stammering a start, even for him, that many spectators had to take a second look to be sure that it was indeed le maître. He almost played his first ball into his wicket, and immediately afterwards he was thumped upon the pad, and at the instant-roared appeal for lbw he looked up with the air of one who has enough troubles already without outsiders presuming to add to them.”
He edged to gully, was dropped by Hutton in the leg trap with his score at 13, and with Morris managed to only record 32 in the first hour. “Arthur Morris and I were still there, but it could scarcely be said we were entirely responsible,” is how he would later bluntly recollect that period of the match. He and Morris took the score to 87 before Bradman perished in the leg trap…for the third time in succession. Morris scored 105, an innings about which Bradman wrote: “Prior to the Lord’s Test, Arthur had displayed good form under easy batting conditions, but had been in great difficulties when he encountered a turning wicket or a green-top … His batting visibly improved before our eyes. The measure of his superiority became more evident when a great batsman like Miller found the conditions beyond him while, at the same time, Morris was giving a superb display. Only the supreme combination of eyesight and natural genius could have done it. From that day onwards Arthur Morris was a far greater player than before.” Then thanks largely to some gritty batting from Don Tallon, Australia’s iconic wicketkeeper and the lower order, the innings closed at 350, a score they would scarcely have believed possible the previous day.
Barnes, Miller and Bradman – The characters and exchanges that made it special
Ray Lindwall’s groin was hurting when he started running in for his spell. Bradman’s heart sank, but his assumption still was that he had Miller, despite Miller telling him before the innings that he didn’t think his back would stand up to a new-ball spell. To make matters worse, as he stretched at slips for a Hutton catch off Lindwall, Miller felt his back give way. So when Bradman threw him the ball, Miller declined and just tossed it back to him. It was a gesture that would give rise to speculation for the rest of the tour about bad blood between Bradman who saw Miller as a bowler and bowled him to the ground in the interest of the team, and Miller who saw himself primarily as a batsman and resented the injuries that he was picking up from bowling so much.
This particular instance may, however, have been more innocent than it appeared if Miller’s explanation is to be believed: “Now, there had been times before when I had had a bad back and bowled, and maybe [Bradman] thought this was another of those times. Then again he might have been applying a little psychology, thinking I would not have the temerity to refuse because of the huge crowd. Anyway, I simply could not bowl and I told him so and walked away. I was not playing the prima donna.”
What this did, however, was put enormous pressure on Ray Lindwall, who was struggling with the groin injury but was determined that none of his colleagues should see his pain. John Arlott’s description of Lindwall’s bowling in that innings gives a rare insight into the determination and character of the bowler: “He was bowling beautifully, a lithe athlete that he is, his loose limbs ambling over the ground until the final four yards, when he gathered himself up and stretched taut every muscle.” Lindwall would be instrumental in finally bowling out England for 215, only Dennis Compton once again providing resistance with a well made 53.
When Barnes went out to bat the second time, the one thing that gave him comfort was that his eight pounds bet was still valid, and there was only one way to redeem himself – score that elusive century at Lord’s. Psychologically he was a wreck. In a conversation that no modern batsman would ever have out in the middle, Barnes said to Godfrey Evans behind the stumps: “I’ve never felt so out of form, Godfrey. I hardly know which end of the bat to hold.” Evans was to say later: “If ever a man looked set for. ‘pair’, he did.”
But Barnes survived. In Jim Laker’s first over Morris lobbed the ball back to Laker, who dropped it. In the same over Barnes stepped out, the ball spun away and Evans, one of the best keepers on the leg side in history, missed the stumping. Barnes told Evans: “Thanks Godfrey, that’s the first bit of luck I’ve had in the last month. I hope I can take advantage of it.”
At 122, Morris departed for 62 and Bradman came in. Once again the leg trap came into play, but this time Bradman was ready for it and didn’t give his wicket away. To give him some respite, Barnes now set, went on the offensive, scattering the field. In the process, Evan missed another stumping, one of five missed chances by the team as the pair went about batting England out of the match, Bradman now pulling with impunity.
Finally, after spending ten minutes at 96, Barnes straight drove Coxton for a four, running past Bradman’s extended hand in delight then coming back to shake it. The 120 pounds was his and a century at Lord’s was now written against his name on the Honours Board. He and Bradman then opened up before Barnes was finally out for 141.
In a dig at Barnes’ pecuniary nature, Knox wrote in Bradman’s War: “Typically, Barnes would sell ‘the bat that made the century at Lord’s on more than one occasion over the years. The actual one went to New South Wales’ Ken Grieves.”
Miller and Bradman then continued where Barnes had left off. Miller had become friendly with Princess Margaret and had been socialising with her at the Embassy Club and Kensington Palace. She had given him her royal standard, the flag given to her by the King on her 18th birthday. She was at the ground and Lord’s was his second home from his time with the Air Force in England during the war. This time he could not disappoint and made sure he didn’t, scoring 74 swashbuckling runs. Bradman departed for 89, and finally declared at 460 for 7 waiting until the pitch and run up area had dried enough after some rain, for his fast bowlers to bowl flat out. England was left to score an improbable 596 runs to win.
If the exchange between Bradman and Miller in the first innings had not ignited the rumours, the repeat in the second innings certainly did. After Lindwall’s first over, Miller was thrown the ball, and just as in the first innings, Bradman found it back in his hand moments later. Barnes maintained that for good measure Miller curtly advised Bradman to have a go himself.
Back in the dressing room a conversation then allegedly took place that was later relayed back to Jack Fingleton. “I don’t know whats up with you chaps, I’m 40 and I can do my full day’s work in the filed,” said Bradman. Back came the reply from Miller: “So would I – if I had fibrositis during the war!”. Stunned silence accompanied this exchange because it was the first time anyone in the team had talked about Bradman’s non-participation in the war and suspicions that his medical condition had been concocted to keep him out. An unfair accusation that would never quite go away notwithstanding all the evidence that pointed to Bradman’s actual physical ailments. Speculation would forever be rife that the exchanges during this Test were the reason Miller would be dropped from the 1949-50 tour to South Africa when Bradman was a selector.
The Crushing Victory
Out on the field, the Englishmen faced up to some ‘body music’ from the Australian quicks. Washbrook showed enormous spirit taking hits on his body, but Hutton, already mentally shaky from his failings at the crease, was flinching and backing away from Lindwall. Even a lifelong fan of Hutton’s, Laurence Kitchin would describe his innings as “the most mysterious innings I’ve ever seen him play.” It was a relief to one and all when Hutton departed for 13 edging Lindwall to slip. Washbrook departed to a remarkable catch by Tallon at ground level, a full toss yorker that took the bottom of the hand into his gloves, described by Bradman as “one of the most remarkable catches ever made behind the wicket.” The English resistance crumbled and despite an unbeaten rearguard effort of 24 from Godfrey Evans, the inevitable was not long in coming. England was all out for 186 and Australia had won by 409 runs.
Fifteen minutes after the last wicket fell, heavy rain flooded Lord’s. If this had been a non-Christian nation, the English could have blamed their Gods. For now, all of England could only agree that after only two Test matches the rampaging Australians were beginning to seem Invincible.
(To be continued…)