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An Indian tribute to the Don - Partab Ramchand column
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 26, 2008
On the occasion of his birth centenary it is interesting to recall Don Bradman's India connection. On the face of it, this was rather limited. He played just one Test series against the Indians in 1947-48 taking his customary toll by aggregating 715 runs in the five Tests at an average of 178.75, with three hundreds and a double hundred. He hit a century in each innings the only time he accomplished the feat during his 52-Test career. It was also against the touring Indian side that he notched up his 100th hundred in first class cricket playing for the Australian XI at Sydney, an experience he described as "my most exhilarating moment on the field".

And yet an agency report as part of Bradman's obituary notice in February 2001 stated that "more than forty years after his retirement, Bradman would still receive up to a couple of dozen letters a day from his faithful fans, many from India where he never even played". This just about sums up the reverence Bradman was held in India and puts his association with his country in proper perspective.

During his playing days, Bradman's fan mail was unprecedented. Letters with just part of his face visible and marked 'playing somewhere in England' reached him. Another letter just marked 'To Don Bradman, Australia - please help me. I don't know the address' also reached its destination. The fan mail continued well after his playing days were over. In India, Bradman has always enjoyed fanatical following. And keeping in mind the fact that numerically - because of the country's population - Indian cricket fans are the biggest in the world, it is fair to assume that the majority of the fan mail for Bradman would have been from the sub continent. In India too, he has maintained the super celebrity status he enjoys in every other major cricketing country which is quite astonishing, especially given that as already stated he never played there. A personal visit to India was restricted to just a few hours when he made a stop over with his wife at Calcutta airport in the mid fifties.

Bradman always had a soft corner for India and cricketers from this land. In his autobiography `Farewell to Cricket' he says that the series against India was one of the most enjoyable in his career and a wonderful spirit of camaraderie existed between players of both sides. He also pays handsome tribute to players like Lala Amarnath, Vijay Hazare, Dattu Phadkar and Vinoo Mankad. In 1985-86, while presenting Sunil Gavaskar with a memento, he described the Indian batting maestro as an ornament to the game. And only a few years before he died, Bradman described Sachin Tendulkar as the one batsman whose playing style and approach to batsmanship closely resembled his own.

Any news about Bradman was always reported faithfully and featured prominently in the Indian media. In August 1998, when Bradman turned 90, newspapers and magazines in this country highlighted the event prominently with special articles and features. When a news agency put out a story on August 14, 1998 that it was fifty years since Bradman's last innings in Test cricket - his famous last duck at the Oval - publications across the country again carried it prominently. And of course, his death received wide coverage and every major newspaper carried editorials. Bradman always guarded his private life carefully and has not been known to give interviews. So when two young intrepid journalists from Calcutta, Debashish Dutta and Gautam Bhattacharya, finally made it to the great man's home in Adelaide and interviewed him when he was in his 80s it became an Indian media event. Another journalist colleague of mine, Gulu Ezekiel made it a point to visit the Bradman Museum when he went to cover the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He picked up a lot of memorabilia and when I met him in Dhaka for the inaugural Test against Bangladesh a couple of months later he was proudly flaunting his most cherished possession - a baggy green cap with 'Don Bradman - 99.94' prominently on it. I never saw him take it off.

Some of the most profound things said and written about Bradman have been made by Indians. Perhaps the most significant of them has been the remark of Gavaskar. Congratulated on his record 30th century at Madras in December 1983, when he surpassed Bradman's long standing mark of 29 hundreds in Test cricket, Gavaskar was quick to shrug off the 'record' tag. "Bradman's tally is still the record. It will only be surpassed if a batsman gets 30 hundreds in 52 Tests", was what the Indian master batsman said. Incidentally, Gavaskar got his 30th hundred in his 99th Test and that was why he wanted to set the 'record' straight.

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