The great triumphant tour of 1948.
The Australians, the Invincibles, took on the Gentlemen of England at Lord’s in a three-day encounter starting August 25. The scheduled third day of the match was the great man’s 40th birthday.
The Test series had already been won … nay, ransacked, plundered. Only three matches remained to be played. Yet, Bradman, famously and infamously, was in no mood to show any sign of letting up. It bears testimony to the man’s incredible resolution that in the final three innings of the tour he notched up big hundreds.
Bradman was not able to bat on his birthday, though.
Australia batted first, on August 25, and made 610 for 5. The Gentlemen were not good enough to make them bat again.
The great man walked out on the first morning with the score on 40 for 1. Methodically, with assurance, he got to 18, thus crossing 2,000 for the tour. A habit formed 18 years earlier.
He reached 50 just after lunch and 100 an hour and a quarter after that. When he threw his wicket away, skying Freddie Brown to mid-on, he had scored exactly 150. His final knock at Lord’s had produced one of his best innings on that hallowed turf.
On the second day at Lord’s, after lunch, Bradman was presented with a special birthday cake, bearing kangaroos and other adornments. It was prepared by the old MCC catering maestro George Portman, who had been at Lord’s for 46 years.
The cake was a gift from all at Lord’s. It weighed 60 lbs and resembled a book of about 18 inches square. The icing was in the form of the yellow and red ribbons of MCC. There was also a photograph of the maestro in the cake-book. Some said that it symbolised Bradman’s career, which had been nothing but a ‘piece of cake’.
The other gifts included Sir Pelham Warner’s new book on Lord’s. He was also toasted with champagne, but The Don, as usual, did not indulge in alcohol.
The crowd gathered in front of the pavilion and sang Happy Birthday to You and Auld Lang Syne. Bradman appeared on the balcony of the Australian pavilion and waved. The celebrations were one day in advance, but it was an emotional Don that left the Grace Gates that day.
So, how much did Bradman score in First-Class matches that were played on his birthday?
It turns out that he did not get too many. August is not a cricketing month in Australia. The Don generally spent the day quietly at home, his preferred way.
But, when in England, he did get to bat. In the matches that involved the special day he managed 392 runs in 4 innings, with one not out.
An average of 132.66.
Sigh … No matter where you sliced him or his cake, Bradman remained Bradman.
Text: Arunabha Sengupta