By Adrian Meredith
VICTORIA, Australia (TheSportsNext) August 28, 2012: There has been a lot of debate, especially in India, as to whether Don Bradman would be any good today – and even suggesting that a player like Sachin Tendulkar, who is indisputably the best player ever to play for India, may have in fact been better than Bradman.
So, based on what we know of him, how would he cope today?
First off, let’s look at some key differences between cricket today and cricket in Bradman’s time:
In Bradman’s time, they played on uncovered pitches, meaning that if it rained the night before (they still went off for rain), coming back there were no covers and you would expect to get out very, very cheaply for perhaps 1/4 of your normal score, at least for the next half-day; but, depending on how much rain, it could last for as much as 2 days. In Bradman’s time, there was no such thing as a helmet – nor were bowlers in any way prohibited from bowling bouncers. In Bradman’s time, there was a lot more public interest in cricket, especially in Australia and England. While India didn’t really care much about cricket, in his own country a lot more people playing cricket than they do today. In Bradman’s time, there was only 1 serious opponent – England – while today there can be anything up to perhaps 8 or 9 who are competitive and right at this exact moment there are as many as 5 or 6 competing for the top spot. In Bradman’s time, players were paid a pittance to play and had to work full time, taking breaks to play international cricket, in order to afford to play – a great strain on the cricketers. In Bradman’s time, they played a lot more first-class cricket than they do today. In Bradman’s time, they didn’t play ODIs or T20Is.In Bradman’s time, they didn’t play one day domestic or T20 domestic either. In Bradman’s time, there was nowhere near as much international cricket – Bradman, for example, played just 40 tests over a career spanning 20 years, which, even with a break for WW2, was still 13 years worth. Some years they didn’t play a single test, others they played 3 or 4 – while today they would play as many as 15. In Bradman’s time, a tour to England could last for up to 6 months, playing virtually non stop the whole time. In Bradman’s time, there were no neutral umpires and when you played overseas you would expect a much worse averaged based on biased umpires. Now, let’s look at some qualities about Bradman himself: He had an unorthodox technique, not based on a coaching manual but based on him teaching himself. He practiced by hitting golf balls against a tin water container – getting used to unpredictable bounce and deviation. His scoring rate per minute is easily the best of any player, averaging 45 runs per hour, the equivalent of a strike rate of about 120, assuming that both players had equal strike. His slowest ever century took 225 minutes – still mighty quick – an estimated 150 balls – and that was his slowest! He vehemently supported professional cricket, siding with Kerry Packer’s grandfather to be employed as a journalist and having many great fights and threats – each way – with the Australian Board of Control – including Bradman going on strike and boycotting an important tour to New Zealand that, had Bradman participated, would have led to New Zealand being granted test status. He vehemently supported one-day international cricket and especially Kerry Packer’s “world series cricket”. While he wasn’t about when T20 cricket was invented, it can be assumed that he would have supported that too. So what would he be like today?
Bradman loved the idea of professional cricket, and, had he been about today, he would have embraced it and enjoyed it. It would mean that he could have been a full-time cricketer. The fact that he could have played one day and T20 cricket, where the strike rate is important, would have been very exciting for him.
Bradman had a strike rate of about 120 in test cricket – easily the fastest in history. If we can imagine normal progression, we might expect him to have a strike rate of 140 in one day cricket and perhaps 180 in T20 cricket.
His batting average probably would have gone down from test cricket to ODI to T20s. Assuming the same conditions, etc, we might expect him to average perhaps 60 in one day cricket and only 40 in T20 cricket.
Tests: Average 99.94 S/R 120ODIs: Average 60 S/R 160T20s: Average 40 S/R 180
Now, of course, the huge amount of cricket may have been an issue. But we have to remember that while they didn’t play a lot of test cricket in Bradman’s day they still played a hell of a lot of cricket – it was just first-class cricket. For players who went to England for the county circuit, they could be playing virtually every day for 8 months of the year. Bradman wouldn’t have been tired from playing extra cricket – if anything they played more in those days than they do today – just that less of it was internationals. I hardly expect them to have ended up getting tired. Besides which, in Bradman’s time they had to have a full-time job on top of that.
The uncovered pitches issue and the helmet issue probably did reduce batting averages overall but for Bradman, it is hard to imagine his average being any higher. He simply worked out how to play bouncers and worked out how to handle an uncovered pitch. His experience with the golf ball against the water tank at home, it is claimed, led to him being one of the best-wet pitch batsmen. He could handle all kinds of conditions with ease.
No batsman has ever come close to his record, not in terms of average nor in terms of strike rate. They didn’t count balls faced in those days and, I guess, it is possible that Bradman simply farmed the strike in every single match he played. But it is highly unlikely. He once scored 309 runs in a single day. That would be off 90 overs, and he would have faced 45 of them, 270 deliveries. 309 off 270 deliveries. And that was far from his fastest strike rate. It just so happened that it was the only time when he batted throughout most of the day. Nobody since has come close.
There is talk that cricket is more competitive now that India, Pakistan and West Indies, in particular, are involved, and now that South Africa are no longer easy beats. While this might be true in a sense, and certainly during the 1970s and 1980s when West Indies were dominant it seemed relevant but nowadays it doesn’t really. For all of the passion that India and Pakistan bring to the game, they are yet to really be dominant on the field.
If Bradman were playing today, I am convinced that he would have still averaged much the same as he did. He may have averaged a bit more. But probably not much more. The difference is that he would have scored a lot more runs and have also had ODI and T20 records as well.