Portrait of Bradman
Bradman’s War: How the 1948 Invincibles Shaped Modern Cricket
FEW sports have generated such rich and vigorously contested mythologies as cricket. Are these mythologies a product of the people who play or of the people who watch and write? Or are they organic to the game itself, reflections of what Malcolm Knox, in this masterful book on the 1948 Ashes tour of Bradman’s Invincibles, calls the ‘‘ narrative pattern that gives Test cricket its enduring appeal’’?
In Bradman’s War Knox gives us a narrative played out not across five days or an English summer, but across decades and eras. If the main story is the tour itself and the duck at the Oval that left Bradman famously stranded on a Test average of 99.94, the backstory is World War II, England’s ‘‘ brutal’’ 903 runs for seven wickets at the Oval in 1938, Bodyline and a host of perceived slights and career disappointments that Bradman had never forgotten and for which the 1948 tour would be his personal revenge.
The tour that took the Australians to England reciprocated one 12 months earlier, the so-called Goodwill Tour led by the amateur Wally Hammond, which many hoped would regenerate the game after the ravages of world war and the bitterness of Bodyline. But the primary motivation for both tours was money, and Bradman, as the main drawcard, was able to set the terms and even, Knox strongly suggests, to bend the rules to maximise his team’s chances of outdoing previous Australian sides (particularly the By Malcolm Knox Penguin, 434pp, $39.99 1938 tourists) by returning home undefeated.
‘‘ If England had not toured in 1946-47,’’ Knox writes, ‘‘[ Bradman] may well have retired from cricket. This in turn would douse England’s hopes of having him there in 1948, the essential ingredient, financially, to getting the counties and MCC back on their feet. So one thing led to another — if you want Bradman in 1948, come give Australia’s coffers a fillip in 1946-47.’’
A vision of sporting renewal was thus compromised from the outset by the age-old need for cash, and idealistic principles were subordinated to the personality and ambitions of the game’s biggest moneyspinner.
Bradman’s opposition in the five Test matches was the England team captained by Norman Yardley, but the tensions on the field were more complex, and these are the deeper subject of Knox’s book. He reveals how the war fuelled hostilities and created solidarities not only within teams but across them. Bradman, of course, fought his war as a stockbroker, safely out of harm’s way in Adelaide, while team-mates such as Keith Miller and opponents such as Bill Edrich