AS I write these words, press reports have come in of effigies of Saurav Ganguly being burned in Kolkata and of mass demonstrations in the streets against the woeful performance of our cricketers at the start of the current World Cup. Of course, such are the clichéd “glorious uncertainties” of the game that matters may have been reversed by the time this article appears in print. But the nationwide fury against the team, and in particular the charge, widely bandied about, that commerce is more on the players’ minds than cricket, brought to my mind what is happening on another continent, to the reputation of a far greater cricketer.
On a visit to Australia last month, I was startled to see a cover story in the country’s leading newsmamagzine, The Bulletin, entitled “Debunking the Don”. The cover sported a photo of the immortal Don Bradman — every innings was a combination of music and massacre — with an anonymous arm pulling the halo off his head. Inside, an editorial commented that the sainthood that had been conferred upon the late Australian captain by sportscribes around the world was now being challenged. His former teammate Bill O’Reilly had considered him too aloof, too cold and calculating, even anti-Catholic; but O’Reilly had never gone public with his hostility, remarking colourfully that “you don’t piss on statues”. The editor (and remember, this is a news magazine, not Sports and Pastime!) added that it was time to look anew at the Don: Australians owed Bradman and themselves “a little honesty”.
And what did that necessary honesty produce? The feature story in the magazine catalogued a list of deficiencies: Bradman was “prickly”, “grumpy”, “crabby”, and he “despised reporters” (after reading this, one can imagine why). He failed to go to his parents’ funerals. His stockbroking firm collapsed scandalously. He didn’t drink with the rest of the team, and didn’t share with them the prize-money he earned for his own remarkable exploits. His son, tired of being introduced as “Bradman’s son”, changed his name (to Bradsen: but he also changed it back later). In a boxed item, Bradman’s successor (many times removed) as captain, Ian Chappell, recounted how Bradman’s “tight-fisted” parsimony as chief of the Australian Cricket Board had prompted Chappell and his team-mates to defect to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, nearly destroying the official game in the process.
Revisionism is inevitable in all walks of life, but if this is the indictment against Bradman, it hardly seems worthy of the national self-flagellation The Bulletin was promoting. So Bradman was reserved, a private man, and in the days when there was not much money to be made playing cricket, he gave some thought to his own financial security and not enough to those of others. Big deal! Against this is the man’s legendary generosity of spirit; his willingness to lend his name, his time and signature for charitable causes; his accessibility to strangers and well-wishers; his unfailing courtesy in replying to every letter addressed to him; and the graciousness with which he went out of his way to praise youngsters, notably in hailing Sachin Tendulkar as a worthy heir. But when the knives are out for former heroes, even their goodness becomes ground for petty criticism. Bradman’s decision to sign away the rights to his (highly marketable) name to the non-profit Bradman Museum in his hometown of Bowral is described as “canny”. Canny? How about “generous”?
I made my own pilgrimage to Bowral, and I would warmly recommend it to any cricket-loving tourist. The museum’s setting, overlooking the Bradman (formerly the Glebe Park) Oval where he played as a teenager, is exquisite, an idyllic lushly green ground fringed by gum trees and encircled by a white picket fence. There is a fascinating museum and a superb gift-shop (from which I emerged with two cricket ties bearing the Don’s silhouette and an armful of books). While nostalgists browse through the museum’s remarkable collection of cricketing memorabilia, kids can play interactive cricket on computer screens in a children’s room. Around the compact museum, you can be photographed next to a life-size statue of Bradman, learn the history of the sport and its famous Laws, and take in a special exhibition which changes each se
Source: The Hindu