As a grim and uncompromising competitor
experienced combat. ‘‘ Most famously,’’ Knox writes, ‘‘ Miller derided the pressure a mere cricketer faced, no matter how Bradman-like his status; real pressure was ‘ having a Messerschmitt up your arse’.’’
Knox continues: ‘‘ That lay at the heart of Miller-versus-Bradman: one man, his nerves damaged by war, wishing to play cricket as a game, versus another one who spent the war as an invalid, yet returned to the field to wage cricket as war without the shooting. It also lay at the heart of England’s ambivalence over the way Bradman led his 1948 team.’’
After the series was over, some of the top English players ‘‘ wrote scathingly of Bradman’s sportsmanship’’. As Edrich saw it, Bradman brought ‘‘ an element of grimness, savage competition and uncompromising search for victory that no other country has equalled’’. On the question of sportsmanship (or gamesmanship), Knox intimates that Bradman’s influence was critical in changing the new ball rule to benefit Australia’s fast bowlers. (England’s pace attack had withered since the days of Larwood, so it had little to gain and much to lose from the change.) He also demonstrates the hypocrisy in Bradman’s reliance, as captain, on the intimidatory use of bouncers: a tactic he had bitterly complained about a decade earlier when he was on the receiving end.
Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is Knox’s suggestion that Bradman, through his close friendship with the English selector Walter Robins, might have influenced the selection of teams that played against him, for instance in having England’s most dangerous batsman, the Yorkshireman Len Hutton, dropped for the third Test.
Knox places considerable weight on his discovery that ‘‘ among Bradman’s teammates few spoke of the 1948 tour as their favourite’’, setting this against the orthodox view that the tour was ‘‘ a triumphal march through warravaged Britain — a tour that restored cricket’s supremacy as a popular entertainment and resuscitated the mother country’s battered morale’’. Yet one need not falsify the other. The often fierce personal animosities that Knox portrays among and between the two Test teams don’t belie the excitement and adulation that seems to have greeted the Australians wherever they went, generating record crowds and revenue.
Bradman himself, Knox writes, ‘‘ resembled a modern St Paul, receiving 100 personal letters a day, up to 600 at peak times’’. Broadcaster Andy Flanagan remarked: ‘‘ To travel throughout England with Bradman is a unique experience. Cities, towns and hotels are beflagged, carpets set down, and dignitaries wait to extend an official welcome.’’
As part of his research Knox interviewed the four surviving players, Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris, Sam Loxton (who died in December last year) and England’s John Dewes, finding, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the quartet had ‘‘ mellowed’’ with the realisation that they were now ‘‘ custodians of a corporate memory, talismans of national myth-making’’. Their vivid recollections, combined with contemporary commentaries by the likes of John Arlott and Bill O’Reilly, make Bradman’s War an absorbing read for those who like their cricket played in white rather than tree-frog green.
Knox, as always, writes with great insight and intelligence, challenging us to look beyond the image of Bradman as ‘‘ the nation’s shy grandfather, to whose suburban Adelaide home great men went to pay homage’’, and in the process revealing a more unsettled and unsettling figure.
His purpose in writing this book, he says in his acknowledgments, is to produce a ‘‘ different kind of book about the Invincibles’’. On that score he has succeeded brilliantly, deepening and complicating a cherished Australian myth without dispelling it.
A stunned Donald Bradman is out for a duck in his final Test innings at the Oval in 1948