This statement issued some time back clearly gives us a sense of the loss the Australians were expecting for some time now, a loss they knew was coming rather soon. With Donald Bradman suffering from ill health for some time now, the inevitable was just a matter of time. It has finally struck on February 25, 2001, justifiably resulting in an overflow of eulogies from all parts of the world for the best cricketer ever.
His phenomenal average and his exceptional batting feats have long become part of cricketing folklore, and after his death they are so commonplace, that it would be a waste of words recounting them once more. Rather, for once it would be worth going beyond the game itself, trying to give fruition to C.L.R. James's immortal statement "What do they know of cricket that only cricket knows?"
Cricket, it may be recalled, was nearing a possible death in Australia in the late 1920s and early 30s on account of the severe financial depression plaguing the country. To put the figures in context, unemployment in the country had risen from 11% in 1929 to 29% in 1932. People almost bankrupt, could hardly afford the luxury of going to sporting encounters, a fact evident from the falling attendance's all over the country. General receipts of the comparatively rich Melbourne Cricket Club, records show, had also dropped from £40,000 in 1928-29 to £30,000 in 1930-31.
And cricket, it was apparent, was nearing a very rough phase. At this juncture as Phillip Landsay recalled "Any name was needed to revive our shrinking egos.....had there been a god of the game to whom we could have prayed, that lad's name would have risen from every home in Australia, freighted with a country's hopes." As if to answer such beacon calls, there emerged Bradman. He was much more than a simple cricketer, he was Australian cricket's much needed 'avatar'.
By his exceptional achievements on the playing field, he helped restore a near lost confidence in the minds of his countrymen, an achievement made easy by his humble lower middle class background. The reaction his success heralded in depression-hit Australia was unparalleled, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to state that it successfully galvanised a heart-broken nation. In Sydney, when news of the Australian victory over England arrived before dawn in 1930, thousands of people were waiting outside the offices of the Sydney Morning Herald to catch a glimpse of the scores. With so many people out of work, as Chris Harte says "a new young hero was just what they wanted". After the series when Bradman returned to work at the Mick Simmons sports store in central Sydney, more than 2,000 people stood to catch a glimpse of their newfound legend.
This revival initiated in 1930 was carried forward by the infamous Bodyline controversy in 1932-33. Even in this biggest crisis of cricket, prior to Hansiegate, money had left an indelible mark, a factor successfully kept removed from public gaze to protect the myth about the noble nature of the gentleman's game. Soon after the Bodyline imbroglio had unleashed itself, the Australian Board of Control had sent a cable to the MCC, the text of which read "Bodyline is causing intensely bitter feeling between players... in our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once, it is likely to upset friendly relations existing between England and Australia". The prompt MCC response to this cable informed the Australian Board that if they felt disposed to cancel the remainder of the tour, the MCC would be reluctantly compelled to agree.
This reaction, Jack Fingleton argues in his celebrated classic on the Bodyline series 'Cricket Crisis', "sent the Australian Board scurrying to the fox holes. If this series was doing nothing else, it was generating huge profits. "Sportsmanship or no sportsmanship, the series must go on." In a situation when money was key for the survival of the game, the Bodyline series could not be stopped. A strategy devised primarily to check the cricketing genius of Bradman, bodyline, it seems in hindsight, was the best thing that could have happened to Australian cricket in its years of depression.
With the depression showing signs of recession in 1933-34 Australian cricket had never had to look back again. This commercial appeal of the Don, which helped rescue Australian cricket in the 1930s, became a major cause of trauma for this legend in recent years.In 2000, the Prime Minister had to intervene personally to stop companies trying to use Bradman's name to endorse their products. The Bradman museum in Bowral had to spend countless sleepless nights trying to stop companies from resorting to unjust business tactics. An attempt by the Ultimate Risk Sex shop to rename the store after the legend had attracted considerable media attention a few months back. What was even worse was the alleged attempt by a Sydney bookstore owner to auction personal letters of Bradman, letters of the master giving accounts of his wife Jessie's tragic death from cancer. This fatal commercial attraction has also forced his son John Bradman to change his surname to escape form the paparazzi.
In this situation, when the sporting world looks longingly for an icon, more so an immortal one, as most new stars soon fade into oblivion becoming arcane data in dusty sport history texts, the Don's demand for a personal funeral seems all the more justified.
The king is dead. Long live the king.