Found this intro to a book Jonesey and I were going to write into the beautiful period of cricket before Bradman, It’s not bad! Dated 2007 so the attacks are on JW Howard, who manages to make other offspinners look good…
It’s hard to see history as a continuing, evolving stream. We like markers, a beginning and, often, and end.
In European terms, “Modern” history, at least as taught in Australian schools, begins with the French revolution in 1789. Before that, all history is “Ancient”. So, 100,000 years of human history in one category, and 216 years in the other.
You might expect that the delimiter would move forward in time with us, making what was once modern now ancient. Look in the mirror and tell me that’s not true.
In cricketing history, we choose the advent of the Bradman phenomenon as the delimiter. His first game in Sydney, for St George against Petersham at Petersham Oval, in November 1926, is the dawn of modern cricket history.
This is not to equate Bradman with Napoleon – his successes too polite, his failures so unromantic. (If we were looking for a parallel, Ian Chappell, the great moderniser, would be a better fit.)
As each year passes, and the amount of information placed in front of us grows, it becomes harder to look back into time and see what has gone before. This is especially the case with cricket, where our ageing memories shrink in direct proportion to the number of tests played, and the decreasing periods between them.
Each wave of history, each crescendo of achievement, works to obscure what has come before. Already we’re being force-fed the Clarke/Watson era as if it was a reality, and we haven’t even laid to rest the Waughs/Warne/Hayden/McGrath/Gilchrist era. Before that was the Border/Simpson era; the Chappell(s) era; the Benaud/Davo era; Bradman’s Invincibles; and Bradman before the war.
To put it into perspective, between 1877 and 1926, 50 summers, Australia played x tests, or . We also capped x players, or … And even outside of the Great War, there were still gaps of up to x months between tests (example)
You can see how Bradman’s complete domination of Australian and world cricket form 1928 to 1949 blots out anything that happened before it. It’s a cricketing blanket fog.
But there was life before Bradman. Just as there was civilisation before Napoleon, and even before the Medicis, Michelangelo, Leonardo.
We talk of how the Renaissance ended the Dark Ages, but in cricket many have called these pre-Bradman years “The Golden age”. Indeed, George Giffen wrote a book of that title.
So to ignore Clem Hill, Archie Jackson, Victor Trumper, Fiery Fred Spofforth, Tibby Cotter or Arthur Mailey would be as heinous as ignoring the Norman Invasion, the Hansa League, the Domesday Book, Magna Carta, not to mention the centuries of enlightenment that flowed out of Africa and Asia, long before Europeans started to get their shit together.
Not to mention Bardsley, Armstrong, Trumble, Murdoch, Noble, the Gregorys.
Yet all we ever seem to hear about, from our Prime Minister down, is Bradman. And what he begat.
There’s history there, lying under the silt and clay, like those skeletons at Lake Mungo. Just waiting to be uncovered.
Looking at that era gives a glimpse of the major issues cricket would face – debates over professionalism, contract disputes, constant rule changes, attempts to globalise the game. There were Aboriginal tours, games of XI vs XXII, and even the ugly face of sectarianism. It was time when it was Ok to be a Trott, and, if you were Midwinter, to change horses mid-summer.
Our problem’s not with Bradman. He WAS the greatest player ever, quite possibly of any sport. But he was not the only great player Australia ever produced. And he certainly wasn’t the most interesting –the metronomic prose of My farewell to cricket, reflecting the robotic nature of his genius, is one of the great cures for insomnia.
Just as history would suffer if we only examined Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon or Churchill, so is cricket the loser from an obsession with the Don.
His star eclipses everything.
But if we could build a Hubble telescope (rumoured to be named after WA’s spare parts paceman of the 1960s, Jim Hubble), to look past our sun back into time and place, surely it’s time to look past the Bradman constellation, to see the mystery and complexity of cricket as it was forming?