July 27, 2020
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The Royal Coming

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The Royal Coming
He had fans all over the world, but after Australia, the most mail Bradman received was from India. He had great goodwill for Indian cricket thanks to the visit of Lala Amarnath's team to Australia in 1947-48. While the Aussie captain in his last home series plundered runs at will, the Indians made no secret of their hero-worship for the Don. Michael Page, writer of Bradman: The Illustrated Biography, described it as "perhaps the happiest and most pleasant Test tour in the history of cricket."

Though he only played Test cricket abroad in England during his 20-year career, the Australians would traditionally make a stopover in Colombo. It was on one of these trips—in 1948—that the ship stopped over in Bombay after Colombo. But, as he explains in his book Farewell to Cricket, Bradman became ill after playing in Colombo's oppressive heat. He says he got out of bed to attend a "small function" at which bcci president Anthony De Mello made presentations to the team. "He made a speech as did Peter (Pankaj) Gupta and Vijay Merchant; hasty replies were made as the boat was about to leave."

A trifle diplomatically, Bradman doesn't mention the tinge of unpleasantness that surrounded the incident. This is explained in greater detail in his most recent biography, Bradman by Charles Williams, released shortly after his 90th birthday. "For the Australians, Bombay might have been a welcome port of call....As it turned out, however, it was an unsatisfactory visit. At Colombo the Australians had heard rumours of smallpox and even bubonic plague in India, and were reluctant to disembark. To the great disappointment of the Indians, only the manager and one or two players were prepared to leave their ship at Ballard Pier. Bradman, for instance, was nowhere to be seen. The chanting of the crowd, however, became so raucous that he was forced to appear at the deck rail and wave wildly back at them; but there was no question of his disembarking."

Though Bradman didn't step on Indian soil then, he did so five years later—for the first and last time. (Invited by the bcci to attend the opening ceremony of the '87 Reliance World Cup, he declined on grounds of health). Bradman was aboard a boac flight to London to report on the '53 Ashes series for the Daily Mail. He'd instructed the airline to keep his flight a secret, as it would make a brief refuelling stop in Calcutta. But boac, sensing a chance for some publicity, leaked it out. Hordes of fans turned up at Dum Dum airport. As did cricket officials. Bradman faced the press patiently and was all praise for Vijay Hazare (comparing him to Frank Worrell), Vinoo Mankad and Amarnath. Later though, he sent a letter of protest to boac. In '96, Bradman complimented Tendulkar saying the Indian reminded him of his own batting. On his 90th birthday he invited Tendulkar to his home in Adelaide along with Shane Warne. The India link established over 50 years ago was thus maintained.

(The memorabilia is from the personal collection of Gulu Ezekiel, sports editor, indya.com)
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