Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Complete quote: “I feel convinced that something new will have to be introduced to curb Bradman, and the best way of selecting that something new is to seek it along the lines of theory.”
By: Percy Fender in The Observer, August 1930.
Percy Fender was a supreme strategist, an inspiring leader of men, an advocate of playing to win, and one of the finest innovators cricket has seen. Douglas Jardine, Fender’s successor at Surrey, inherited all three traits. The two obviously shared an excellent rapport.
The respect was mutual. Jardine hailed Fender as “the ablest, the quickest and most enterprising cricket brain”; Fender, on the other hand, went out of his way in 1931 to get sacked as captain to ensure Surrey replaced him with Jardine.
A word or two about Fender’s thinking may not be out of place here. He hired a baseball coach for fitness training at Surrey. He ordered sweat-absorbent underwear for the team. When he figured out that fielders may grass catches if they looked into the sun, he got special caps designed, with longer peaks.
He also did his best to eradicate the amateur-professional bar in English cricket, which probably led to the selectors overlooking him as captain. He had to remain content with the tag of “the best captain has never chosen to lead England”.
As was perhaps expected, Fender evolved into a cricket journalist with exceptional analytical insight, invariably backed by data. His tour books invariably involved meticulous analysis. He was, by common consensus, the first to introduce a typewriter into the cricket commentary box.
But that was not all. Fender also carried an enormous home movie camera on tours. The idea was to record cricketers in action. Fender video during the 1928-29 tour is probably the oldest surviving recording of Bradman.
While England were thrashing Australia on that tour, Fender took particular note of a debutant called Don Bradman. “One of the most curious mixtures of good and bad batting I have ever seen,” was his verdict.
Fender predicted Bradman would fail in England – a prediction that backfired horribly. Bradman’s 974 in the 1930 Test series remains a world record. Fender was gracious in confession: “Until we saw Bradman this summer, I do not think any of us realised that it was possible to be so really brilliant without taking risks.”
Australia regained The Ashes by winning the final Test, at The Oval. Bradman scored 232. However, Fender took particular note of Bradman’s batting in a particular session against pace and bounce. It is not exactly clear what went on inside his mind at that point, but he did pen down the excerpt mentioned above in The Observer.
What did Fender notice? It had rained at lunch on Day Three. The wicket was fresh when cricket resumed. And almost immediately Harold Larwood, bowling at his fastest, broke the bat of Archie Jackson. It rained again the next day – and the pitch “livened up almost supernaturally” (David Frith, Archie Jackson: The Keats of Cricket) afternoon.
England captain Bob Wyatt immediately recalled Larwood, who hit Jackson on his elbow, jaw, hip, and thigh. Bowling from the other end, Wally Hammond hit Jackson on the knuckles.
Larwood hit Bradman on the chest at the other end. The blow was so hard that play had to be held up for five minutes. Encouraged by this, Larwood did bother Bradman several times during this innings with bouncers, often hurrying the latter, even hitting him on the wrist once.
“There is no doubt that Bradman showed signs of disliking the short ball intensely,” commented Wyatt.
The consensus was that while Bradman was troubled (unusually by his standards), the elegant Jackson retained his poise.
Wisden chose to downplay this crucial phase: “On a Wednesday morning the ball flew about a good deal, both batsmen frequently being hit on the body.”
Bradman himself did not mention this in A Farewell to Cricket. Neither had Irving Rosenwater in Bradman’s biography, though he did point out that this was Bradman’s longest innings on English soil (in terms of minutes, not balls faced): he had to bat 417 minutes.
But it was enough for Fender to observe what he did. His amazing brain was perhaps the first to spot a defect in Bradman’s otherwise perfect technique. Fender stayed in touch with Australian journalists during winter, tracking Bradman’s progress in the Sheffield Shield, and diligently passed on everything to Jardine.
As for Jardine, when he saw a clip of the innings at The Oval, he famously yelled “I’ve got it! He’s yellow!” in front of his daughter, Fianach.
Just over two years later, he would set out on a mission to conquer Bradman and Australia and bring The Ashes back home – and would succeed. Bodyline, the key to his success, was planned after Fender and Jardine spotted Bradman’s weakness against bounce.
Bradman had resumed the day on 130 (in 249 balls) and Jackson on 43 (in 179). Jackson fell for a 311-ball 73. At that point, Bradman was on 202 from 372 balls (data: Charles Davis).
In other words, Bradman had scored 72 in 123 balls during that rain-hit session while Jackson got 28 in 142 balls. One must remember that Jackson was always considered – by contemporaries and otherwise – the more talented and attractive of the two.
In other words, batting alongside even a harrowed Bradman could make someone as revered as Jackson look like a pedestrian. The mind boggles when one thinks how dominant the man used to be.