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Sir Donald George Bradman (August 27, 1908 - February 25, 2001) was an Australian cricket player who is universally regarded as the greatest cricket player of all time, and one of Australia's greatest popular heroes.
Over an international career spanning nearly 20 years from 1930 to 1948, Bradman's statistical achievements were unparalleled. He broke scoring records for both first-class and test cricket, his highest international score (334) stood for decades as the highest ever test score by an Australian. It was then equalled by Mark Taylor, who deliberately declared with his score at 334* in what many regard as a tribute to Bradman. In 2004 it was once more equalled then surpassed by another fellow Australian, Matthew Hayden, who fittingly went on to gain the highest score ever in test cricket (380).
Bradman so dominated the game that special bowling tactics, known as "fast leg theory" or bodyline, regarded by many as unsporting and dangerous, were devised by England captain Douglas Jardine to reduce his dominance in a series of international matches against England in the Australian summer of 1932 - 1933. The principal English exponent of bodyline was the Nottinghamshire pace bowler Harold Larwood, and the contest between Bradman and Larwood was to prove to be the focal point of the contest.
Some indication of his superlative skill was that his average for that series, 56.57, is above the career averages of all but a handful of international players in the 125-odd years of international cricket matches.
Born in Cootamundra, but raised in Bowral, he was noted as a youth for his obsessive practice, often hitting a ball repeatedly against a wall using only a cricket stump. After a brief dalliance with tennis he dedicated himself to cricket, playing for local sides before attracting sufficient attention to be drafted in grade cricket in Sydney at the age of 18. Within a year he was representing New South Wales and within 3 he had made his Test debut. Receiving some criticism in his first Ashes series in 1928-1929 he worked constantly to remove the few weaknesses in his game and by the time of Bodyline series was without peer as a batsman. Possessing a great stillness whilst awaiting the delivery, his shotmaking was based on a combination of excellent vision, speed of both thought and footwork and a decisive, powerful bat motion with a pronounced follow-through. Technically his play was almost flawless, strong on both sides of the wicket with only his sternest critics noting a tendency for his backlift to be slightly angled toward the slip cordon.
Despite occasional battles with illness, he continued to dominate world cricket throughout the 1930s and is credited with raising the spirit of a nation suffering under the vagaries of the economic depression, until war intervened.
Approaching forty years of age (most players are retired by their mid-30s), he returned to play cricket after World War II, leading one of the most talented teams in Australia's history. In his farewell 1948 tour of England the team he led, dubbed "the Invincibles", went undefeated throughout the tour, a feat unmatched before or since.
On the occasion of his last international innings, Bradman needed four runs to be able to retire with a batting average of 100, but was dismissed for nought (in cricketing parlance, "a duck") by spin bowler Eric Hollies. Applauded onto the pitch by both teams, it was sometimes claimed that he was unable to see the ball due to the tears welling in his eyes, a claim Bradman always dismissed as sentimental nonsense. "I knew it would be my last test match after a career spanning 20-years", he said, "but to suggest I got out as some people did, because I had tears in my eyes is to belittle the bowler and is quite untrue." Regardless, he was given a guard of honor by players and spectators alike as he left the ground with a batting average of 99.94 from his 52 tests, nearly double the average of any other player before or since. He was awarded a knighthood in 1949, and a Companion of the Order of Australia (Australia's highest civil honor) in 1979.
After retiring from playing cricket, Bradman continued working as a stockbroker. Allegations that he had acted improperly during the collapse of his employer's firm and the subsequent establishment of his own, were made behind closed doors until his death, were publicised in November, 2001. He became heavily involved in cricket administration, serving as a selector for the national team for nearly 30 years. He was selector (and acknowledged as a force urging the players of both teams to play entertaining, attacking cricket) for the famous Australia - West Indies test series of 1960-61.
As a member of the Australian Cricket Board, and, reportedly, their de facto leader, he was also involved in negotiations with the World Series Cricket schism in the late 1970s. Ian Chappell, former test captain and selected to lead the rebel Australian side, has stated that he places much responsibility for the split on Bradman, who in his opinion had forgotten his own difficulties with the cricket authorities of the time.
He was also famous for answering innumerable letters from cricket fans across the world, which he continued to do until well into his eighties.
Bradman married his childhood sweetheart, Jessie, and had two children, John and Lorraine. An intensely private person, probably because of the intense media scrutiny he suffered under, he was regarded as aloof even by teammates, particularly in later years. A strict Methodist, he had occasionally been accused of anti-Catholicism in his actions as captain and selector - however, it should be pointed out that at that time sectarian prejudice was very widespread in Australia.
Statistical analyses give some credence to the claim that Bradman dominated his sport more than Pelé, Ty Cobb, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, amongst other champions of their disciplines. Regardless, his impact on a nation's psyche is arguably unmatched.
Bradman is immortalised in two popular songs of very different styles and eras, "Our Don Bradman", a jaunty 1930's ditty by Jack O'Hagan, and the folk-influenced rock of Paul Kelly in the 1980's. The story of the Bodyline series was also told in a television series.
He also wrote several books on cricket technique and tactics, which are regarded as classics.