Alex Massie

The Don’s Final Century

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On to more important matters than the Democratic convention. Today marks the centenary the birth of Sir Donald Bradman, perhaps the greatest sportsman who ever lived and a man whose brilliance becomes more, not less, mysterious as the years pass and no fresh pretender emerges to challenge his claim to the crown.

The numbers peak for themselves: Bradman's test average of 99.94 runs per innings is a summit beyond reach. No-one before, or since, has come close to his record of scoring a century every 2.75 innings. His closest comeptitor - of those who have played a serious amount of top-class cricket - is George Headley and even the great West Indian only scored a test century every four innings. Or, to put it yet another way, if one uses the traditional yardstick that any batsman with a career average over 50 has a claim to greatness, Bradman's brilliance was such that he was, quite literally, twice as good as even great batsmen.

To give an idea of Bradman's supremacy, American readers might consider him an amalgamation of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Verily, there's not been anything like it, in any major sport, before or since. It is the distance by which Bradman outstrips his challengers that elevates him above even the greatest practitioners of other sports. Only Ruth comes close.

Norm assembles a good collection of links, including this fine conclusion from Australia's greatest contemporary cricket writer, Gideon Haigh:

With the freedom to review Bradman's life backwards, we regularly overlook that he lived his life forwards, that deeds seemingly inevitable were achievements of flesh, blood and spirit. As a result, his legend has begun to fade, a Pindarian ode recited a shade too often, and too solemnly. While Bradman lived, there remained a sense of wonder that such a small, frail, soft-spoken and self-contained man could cast such a long shadow. Now, as the Australia of whch Bradman was part recedes into antiquity, he is at risk of becoming a mere statistical outlier. Succeeding generations have found fresh and deeper meanings in Anzac Day; Donald Bradman awaits rediscovery.

More good reading from Christopher Martin-Jenkins in the Times, Nick Hoult in the Telegraph and, last but by no meas least, my father in the Scotsman.

UPDATE: I hadn't realised Bradman was born on the same day as Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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