Not all fairytales have happy endings, especially when it comes to sport. The final Test innings of Sir Donald Bradman, arguably the most prolific batsmen in cricket history, is proof of that.
The story of the Australian’s last Test is an integral part of cricket folklore.
He walked out in the Baggy Green for the final time August 14, 1948 at The Oval in London. It was 5:50pm on Saturday with 40 minutes of play left in the day, as per reports of the time. It was more or less assured that this will be his final knock given England had been dismissed for 52 in the first innings and Australia were already 117/1. A second innings seemed unlikely.
He needed only four more runs to reach 7000 runs and finish with a astronomical Test average of 100. He was cheered by the packed English crowd, said to be about 20,000, and even by the opposition team. But as sporting as the English team was and as momentous the occasion, they were not going to go easy on even the greatest cricketer of the time.
England leg-spinner Eric Hollies bowled a googly and knocked down his stumps on just the second ball. He looked unsettled and off balance and with a minimal show of emotion, he began the walk back. Minutes after he came in to cheers, the 39-year-old Bradman returned to similar applause and a legendary career with 6,996 runs and the now-famous average of 99.94.
Here’s how a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald on August 16, 1948 described it
“When Bradman was bowled by Eric Hollies yesterday it was the sixth time he had been out for a “duck” in Tests against England. He failed to score on four occasions in Australia, and in the second innings of the first Test at Nottingham this year. Bradman has scored in all his innings against county teams on the present tour. Hollies, who took Bradman’s wicket yesterday, also bowled the Australian captain at Birmingham last week when he took 8-107 for Warwickshire.”
Now, decades later, it still remains cricket’s most (in)famous duck. A batsmen who scored centuries with such fluency and consistency had failed to score the only four needed in his final outing. But maybe the blemish makes the Australian’s storied career so much more intriguing.
Back in 1948 though, no one cared much for this particular statistic, or any cricket statistic as such.
“In those days, statistics were nothing. Nobody had a clue. The press didn’t know. There was no television, of course. And if the press didn’t know, nobody’s going to know. So that’s how it was. We just played the game as a normal session,” another Australian star of the time Neil Harvey told ABC while recounting Bradman’s final innings.
But if not the record, the occasion is said to have gotten to the cricket great. The bowler who dismissed him said there were tears in Bradman’s eyes, which was a controversial statement at the time.
In his autobiography Farewell to Cricket in 1950, Bradman wrote: “I dearly wanted to do so well. It was not to be. That reception had stirred my emotions very deeply and made me anxious – a dangerous state of mind for any batsman to be in. I played the first ball from Hollies, though not sure I really saw it. The second was a perfect length googly which deceived me”.
Hollies, on his part, proved to be very astute in his usage of the wrong’ un. The story goes that the leg-spinner had figured the batting great could not pick his googly while he bowled to him during a county game and refrained from using the delivery to him at all, saving it for the Test match. The ploy worked.
According to another story on Sydney Morning Herald, Bradman “strolled back into the dressing room, sat down to remove his pads and said simply: ‘Fancy doing that’.”
But in hindsight, it was this final blight that made the Bradman success story so much more fascinating. A fairytale with a not so satisfactory ending but a legacy for the ages.
Here’s a clip of Bradman’s final innings, brief as it was.
Here’s Bradman (and peers) talking about the innings: “One of those things...,” he said.
More in this longer video of the Bradman documentary here (about his farewell from the 20th minute):