Cricket

What would Bradman average today?

Don Bradman... the greatest willow-wielder of all time.  

Sir Donald Bradman has ruined the life of all batsmen who followed him.

Such was his domination, that anyone else who has batted in Test cricket since, is buried beneath his avalanche of runs, never to have the chance of being recognised as the best ever; even for a week!

Like most cricketers born AB (after Bradman), I grew up in the shadow of, or more correctly, the solar eclipse that was the batting prowess of Donald George Bradman.

An apocryphal story goes that a journalist asked Sir Donald Bradman, at a time when the Australian batsmen were giving the hapless England bowlers a particularly torrid time, how he thought he would have fared against that crop of bowlers? After some thought, Bradman opined that he would average around 60. Stunned, the incredulous journalist continued, but Sir Donald, you averaged 99 in your career, why only 60 against this lot? Well, responded the great man with a cheeky grin, I am in my 80s you know!

With Steve Smith knocking out Test runs at a ‘Bradmanesque’ rate, it is understandable that some of the fanatical cricket aficionados at Lord’s last week were musing about how the great man might have performed in the current day; in his prime of course!

It was John Lydgate circa 1440 who first suggested that comparisons are odious. Nothing much has changed since then, but, despite the odium, sporting comparisons can be provocative.

It is both a positive and a negative that the modern international cricketer plays so much cricket in three different formats, in many diverse countries and conditions.

Because of this, and the fact that they can devote all of their time to the game as professionals, the modern player is fitter, stronger and more adaptable than any predecessor. Out-fielding is also much better, than in earlier eras.

Bradman only played Test cricket in Australia and England, and only on 10 grounds, at that. His 52 Test career spanned 20 years, including a hiatus for World War ll, so he was better able to pace himself. As against that he had to restart his career every six months or so, and did not get to build on any positive momentum during the good times…which was most of the time!

Before he was 18, Sachin Tendulkar had played his first 10 Tests on ten different grounds; all of them outside India. He finished up playing 200 Tests over 24 years on 60 different grounds in 14 different countries. This is without even considering his 463 One Day Internationals. His resilience and talent were remarkable.

Sport for sport’s sake

Sir Donald told me when I enquired late in his life, why he had resisted the players advances for better conditions in the 1970s, that “sport loses something when it becomes a business.” From that I got the distinct impression, that for him cricket was a sport to be enjoyed for the glory.

Not for him the monotony of a one-dimensional life, when he could enjoy the cut and thrust of business and use cricket as his creative outlet to get a variety of stimuli. His cricket was good for his business and the lessons from business, no doubt, helped his cricket.

If Bradman had been born in the current era, he would have been stronger and fitter as a full time player, and would have had the same opportunity of playing on smaller grounds with more powerful and forgiving bats.

Against that, he may not have had the variety of stimuli that kept his mind sharp. Let there be no doubt: it was his mind more than his talent that put him in a class of his own.

For some reason, Bradman had an insatiable need to make runs. Something in his early life inspired him to make bigger scores than anyone else. No one, not even Bradman himself, would have understood exactly what it was that drove him so relentlessly to make runs, far beyond their need, on occasions.

Two statistics separate him from the rest. He started innings better and he made a higher percentage of big scores per innings than everyone else. Without that, he would not have averaged nearly twice as much, as most other legendary batsmen. I did not see Bradman bat live, but I can’t believe that he was physically much better than Sobers, Lara, Viv Richards, Tendulkar, Sangakkara and Ponting.

He was never a slave of technique, technique was his slave.

Good conversion rate

Bradman was dismissed for less than 30, in 29 of his 80 Test innings. At 23% this is twice as good as Sobers, Viv Richards, Tendulkar, Sangakkara, Ponting and Lara. He scored in excess of 150 in 19 of his 80 innings which, at 21%, is almost 3 times higher than all of the others apart from Sobers who did it in 17% of his innings.

The other thing that Bradman did was to score his runs quickly. Opposition captains rarely set defensive fields and it was not unusual for 100 eight-ball overs to be bowled in a day. Even batting on 200, Bradman was faced with attacking bowling and attacking fields. Jardine apart, no opposition captain tried to defeat Bradman by strategic bowling and negative fields.

I can think of quite a few captains who would relate to what Jardine did, and who wonder why no one else had thought of trying something similar, before Jardine did.

If Bradman played today, he would have to contend with a different landscape. Over rates would be nowhere near what prevailed then. Bowling plans and field settings would be much more defensive; probably from the outset of his innings. Many more balls would be bowled in the hip to chest region than he faced outside of the Bodyline series; deep point, deep mid-wicket and other boundary riders would be employed to slow his run rate and deprive him of the strike.

I doubt that modern protective equipment would help him at all. Like Viv Richards, he would probably spurn the opportunity. It would be more likely to hinder him, than help him.

I think he would be inclined use a bat much lighter than most others, because heavy bats reduce shot-making options. They help up to a point, but soon become an impediment to stroke-play because they promote an over-use of the bottom hand — which Bradman would not want.

Contrary to popular opinion, he wasn’t a bottom-hand dominant player.

In his favour, would be covered, batsman-friendly wickets, leg side field restrictions, one bouncer an over, smaller grounds and powerful bats that are far more forgiving and powerful than the tooth picks that he employed so devastatingly.

Finding the gaps

Bradman was better than most of his peers in that he consistently hit the ball to where the fieldsmen weren’t. He was pronounced unorthodox, because he regularly played with a cross bat and played across the line, working the ball into the gaps. His ability to change his body position to the optimal place from which to play the shot that he had imagined left his peers in the shade.

In the modern era, with the preponderance of slower over rates and defensive fields, Bradman would struggle to score his runs as freely.

However, I am absolutely convinced that his remarkable mental ability and Brobdingnagian determination to make runs would take him to heights of which most batsmen can only dream.

He may not average 99 today, but I believe he would average closer to 75 than 55. His strike rate would be up with the elite of the elite.

It is almost superfluous to add that he would be the first to be picked in any ODI or T20 team. His ability to score runs in all situations would have seen him excel in all three formats of the game.

Everybody has a favourite player, but on the evidence, I am absolutely convinced that Bradman would adapt seamlessly to the modern era and he would bury the opposition all over again.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 9:17:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/what-would-bradman-average-today/article7464740.ece

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