#2 Sir Donald Bradman reversing the batting order
Way back during cricket’s teen days when captains were adventurous and audacious and were ready to lose a game rather than seeing it end up in a draw, Test cricket was a clash of tactics and tacticians. Test cricket wasn’t about brutality or enthrallment but was more about who drops his guard first much like the battle between two marksmen.
Donald Bradman embarked on his odyssey as Australia’s Test captain in the 1936/37 Ashes Test Series in Australia. Often colluded by rain that made the wicket wet, Australia lost both of the first two Test matches. Moves were being made against Bradman and people believed that captaincy was taking a toll on his batting. England besotted with victories in the first two games, were seething with aplomb.
So, the curtain for the third Test in Melbourne was raised with such a prelude- 350,534 people in the stadium earnestly groveling Bradman to alter the fortunes. Bradman won the toss and elected to bat first on “an island of green”.
Bradman entered the crease when the score was 7-1 and perished after adding 13 to his team’s score. Australia’s sorry story continued as they once again found themselves in a familiar territory- Bradman failing and the rest of the batting deficient of virility.
Rains came roaring down when the score was 181 for six, douching the pitch. Play was closed for the day and when the next day began Bradman decided to declare his team’s innings at 200 for nine, forcing England to bat in a wicket that played worse than a gravel filled rail track.
“I could scarcely believe my eyesight as I saw the ball’s preposterous behaviour. It described all manner of angles and curves; it was here, there, everywhere, spitting, darting, fizzing. One good length ball would rear to the batsman’s chin; another exactly the same length, would flash into the blockhole like a stone skimming over ice”, wrote Neville Cardus.
England soon found themselves seven down for 76 and Bradman decided to banish his close catchers to avoid a collateral damage. He wanted to keep England batting until the conditions improved for batting. England’s seniors, on the other hand, goaded captain Gubby Allen to declare their innings when the score was 68 for four, so that they could get Australia to bat again in the grave yard.
But Allen worried that should he do that Bradman might declare Australia’s innings immediately and make England chase on the same pitch. The next day was a rest day and when play resumed on the following day, conditions may have improved for batting and hence, Allen feared that he might end up being a fool at the end of the Test.
It was now a battle of tactics. It was a contest between two marksman and one will have to pull his trigger at one point, compromising his position to the enemy. The English captain finally threw in the dice with the score 76 for nine and 45 minutes still left for play. But the Don was not done yet.
He went up to the umpires George Borwick and John Scottand asked them whether they knew what Allen was doing. “We take it he has declared,” came the answer. “Well he didn’t actually say so,” denied Bradman. “I see what you mean,” Borwick replied, “I’ll go and confirm it.” The umpire went to the English dressing room to confirm the declaration and the English captain responded saying “That little blighter! Of course I have declared.” 45 minutes now became 40 minutes.
But the Don wasn’t happy yet. Hence, he devised another ploy. Conditions with sunshine were bound to improve and he didn’t want bowlers to dabble with the bat in good batting conditions. So, he decided to send his bowlers as sacrificial lambs on a track that was spitting barbs, hoping that they would hold ground until the clouds of predicament cleared.
To stadium wide chuckles walked in Fleetwood-Smith and O’Reilly, Australia’s recognized specialist tail-enders. O’Reilly perished off his first ball. Out walked Australia’s number ten at number three- a position that the world’s best batsman held in that line up. (Oh dear Time! How funny your scripts can be at times?) The pair successfully appealed for bad light as England could only muster 18 balls.
The day after the following day, when play resumed, the pitch was a redeemed character. Batting became easy and Bradman walked in at number seven and bashed 270 runs as England lost the match by 365 runs.
Shackles were broken and Australia came from behind to win the Ashes Series 3-2, the only time a team won a series after trailing by two in 5 a five match series.