The New Bradman


NOVEMBER 11: "Nervous" England - or "terrified" England if you are one of the tabloid writers - lose the first Test by a margin big enough to drive an Australian road train through and all the cranks in the world offer solutions. The one I like best comes from a reader of the Brisbane Courier. He calls on the Australian Cricket Board to donate money to the England and Wales Cricket Board so that they can put together a stronger team and make the Ashes more competitive. He ought to know that the last shortage the ECB have is with money. Their coffers are overflowing which is more than can be said for the talent reservoir at the Academy.

Big Matthew Hayden, a genial cove judging from his grin at the after-match Press conference, makes his seventh hundred in 10 Tests, a feat only beaten by the late Sir Donald Bradman. It means that Hayden is automatically labelled The New Bradman, a title he does not like; though the stats people say that Bradman needs four years to make the eight and Hayden less than 11 months for his seven. "I'm not Bradman, even though being his equal is a dream of mine as a little lad," he smiles. Matthew has been through hard times but he remembers the misery years with some affection when his fans at the 'Gabba, his home ground, try to remind the selectors of his quality with posters demanding "Give Matt a Bat." He says: "I thank them now because it keeps me going when I am not wanted by Australia."

November 12: One journalist decides that John Crawley looks like Prince Edward, the fourth of Queen Elizabeth's children, which in view of the Royal family's current problems is not a kind comparison. Alec Stewart finds he holds two unwanted records. He collects a pair for the first time in his 12-year Test career and he takes part in a 50th Test defeat, a run unequalled by any other player. It also emerges that however his cricket career is faring Darren Gough remains loyal to one of his paymasters. He asks the ECB publicity department to delay the announcement of his return to England for 24 hours. He says he wants to avoid the television crews at the airports but really he wants the exclusive news to appear in the paper that pays him handsomely.

November 13: Nasser Hussain flies to Hobart with the rest of the squad but he is about to head for Perth where his wife Karen is to have their second baby and his sister Benazir is taking part in a ballet. Benazir's career takes off when she goes to live in Australia and she is now the principal dancer with West Australia Ballet. Benazir begins life in Madras, but, aged one, she flies to India with the rest of the Hussain family and later turns her clever footwork to dancing while her older brother uses his nimble feet to launch a sporting career. Years ago everyone of the Essex team is keen to know him because he has a ballet dancer sister. Now Benazir has a lot of friends who want to get to know the England captain even if he has made one of the most notorious mistakes in Test history. She is not exactly the most romantic of dancers. "When you have done 30 consecutive performances of Swan Lake it eventually becomes as boring as doing the dishes," says this happy housewife. But she adds: "Of course, like any professional, my technique and ultimately my performance improve when I am happy." So lighten up, Nass. Nasser is not the only prominent cricketer with critics. Victoria's coach David Hookes disputes the composition of the 'A' team against England at Hobart - too many old players like Greg Blewett and Matthew Elliott - and is ordered to keep quiet. The ACB don't like criticism, it appears, especially when it comes from men employed within the game and he may find they try to gag him. I wish them well. We miss the Hobart game and fly to Hookes' homeland Adelaide, the city of churches. Perhaps the gagmasters at the ACB can help me keep the church clocks quiet as they ring out the time at all hours of the night.

November 14: So the England of today think they have problems. Nothing to compare with the first few hours Geoffrey Howard spends in Australia. He is the manager of the side captained by Len Hutton, another captain to insert Australia with disastrous results at Brisbane. When Howard lands in Perth - all journeys by ship then of course - he goes to the bank and asks for the money deposited by MCC. Sorry, he is told, we don't have any such cash. So he has to take out a personal 10,000-pound loan to cover expenses, including the purchase of 100 bottles of champagne to cheer his troops in difficult times. They must sup quite a few of those bottles the night they lose the first Test. Howard dies aged 93 during the Test Hussain tosses away.

November 15: Two of our favourite cricket people are in Adelaide with us while the England team are in Tasmania. The umpire Steve Bucknor never changes: always murmuring that he no longer gets home to the family in Jamaica, complaining about the ceaseless travel, but always helpful, amusing and, in this instance, able to direct me to the adapter which means I can once again use my beard trimmer and electric toothbrush. He is 56 but he may be the fittest of all the umpires on the international panel and his feats in the gym are spoken of with awe by cricketers 30 years his junior. "I run in the morning and go to the gym in the afternoon," he says. What an example to us all. We turn another corner and there is Norman Cowans, once a fast bowler, now guiding a group of fans as they take in the first three Tests. Another Jamaican; another permanently cheery lad. Cowans provides me with one of my great memories. As India begin their second innings in the second Test at Delhi in 1984-5 he bowls the first ball to Sunil Gavaskar. It may be the fastest ball he bowls in a long career. It beats Gavaskar and bounds past Paul Downton, the wicket-keeper, and hits the fence just below my seat with such a resounding bang that I can hear the noise still. "If it pitches six inches shorter it will be six byes," Gavaskar tells me years later.

November 16: The promotional literature for the Bradman Collection in North Terrace is so persuasive that we feel it is a must-see exhibition. Sorry to have to report that the exhibition, of some of the great man's pottery, a video, half a dozen bats and some photographs, is extremely disappointing and does not offer great enough credit to the man who lives most of his life in this city. The exhibition in the Bowral pavilion is much more attractive. I am on the look-out for an unusual visitor. Rory Allen is 25 and a striker for Portsmouth, top of the English First Division and therefore aiming directly for the Premiership and great riches. He already earns 3,000 pounds a week. Allen is one of the most promising young players in the country two years ago but he is injured and plays only a few games since his million-pound transfer from Spurs. All the same Portsmouth are shocked to receive a letter saying that, although his contract has eight months to run, he is quitting. Where is he? According to their spokesman: "We think he is in Australia to join the Barmy Army." The Army publish his picture on their website but so far none of us catch a glimpse of this Scarlet Pimpernel.

November 17: That busy man Michael Kasprowicz - Queensland captain in succession to Stuart Law and Glamorgan fast bowler in the English summer - plans to marry his girl friend Lindsay Campbell on December 5. "It is the only free day of our summer." he says. The last time he tries to arrange the ceremony he is called up for a Test and has to cancel at the last minute.