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The Curious Case of the Don and the Sticky Wicket

Dave Wilson | 9:56pm gmt 30 Sep 2009
The Curious Case of the Don and the Sticky Wicket
Presumably not contemplating a \"sticky\"
When voted as one of the Five Cricketers of the Century in the 2000 edition of Wisden, the writer lamented of Don Bradman that "If there is a blemish on [Bradman's] amazing record it is the absence of a significant innings on one of those "sticky dogs" of old, when the ball was hissing and cavorting under a hot sun following heavy rain". In compiling this article, it was pointed out to me that the Don's record would be even more impressive if we took into account that he had to play on uncovered wickets - to compare more directly with today's batting greats we should really take out those innings by the Don which were made on rain-affected wickets.

Of course, the only way to test this hypothesis, that the Don was merely mortal on a damp pitch, was to go through each of the match reports and determine which of his innings could be considered to have been made on rain-affected pitches. Although rain fell in a significant number of the Tests in which he played, not all necessarily affected the Don's own innings - here is a listing of all of the Tests in which Bradman appeared which were affected by rain, together with details of the relevant innings:-

29-Dec-1928England79 & 112rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
13-Jun-1930England8 & 131wicket had improved by the 4th innings, so only his first innings was affected
11-Jun-1930England334rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
25-Jul-1930England14innings affected by rain
16-Aug-1930England232rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
1-Jan-1931West Indies25rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
16-Jan-1931West Indies223after rain overnight, Bradman did not add to his score
27-Feb-1931West Indies43 & 0both innings affected by rain
27-Nov-1931South Africa226rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
18-Dec-1931South Africa112rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
8-Jun-1934England29 & 25only Bradman's second innings was rain-affected
22-Jun-1934England36 & 13both innings affected by rain
20-Jul-1934England304rain affected the pitch after Bradman's innings
18-Aug-1934England244 & 77after rain overnight, Bradman added one to his second-innings score
4-Dec-1936England38 & 0only Bradman's second innings was rain-affected (rain between fourth and fifth days)
18-Dec-1936England0 & 82both innings affected by rain
1-Jan-1937England13 & 270only Bradman's first innings was rain-affected
24-Jun-1938England18 & 102rain did not affect Australia's innings
29-Nov-1946England187rain did not affect Australia's innings
28-Nov-1947India185rain did not affect Australia's innings
12-Dec-1947India13innings affected by rain
1-Jan-1948India132 & 127rain did not affect Australia's innings
10-Jun-1948England138 & 0rain did not affect Australia's innings
8-Jul-1948England7 & 30*both innings affected by rain
14-Aug-1948England0innings affected by rain

Note: during the Test of 22-Jul-1938, a match played in high humidity, Bradman would not appeal against the bad light as he did not want to have to bat next day on a potentially damp wicket. In the event it did not rain, so that match doesn't appear in the list above.

Rain affected 25 of the 52 Tests in which Bradman played, i.e. almost half - the Don's affected innings are shown in bold above, so we can now create two averages for Bradman, one for rain-affected innings and one for non-affected innings, i.e. more equivalent to playing today on covered wickets.

By my reckoning there were fifteen of Bradman's Test innings which we can consider rain-affected and treat them separately - here are the adjusted averages:-


As we can see, there is a significant difference between his performances on rain-affected pitches as compared with those which were unaffected - not only was he merely mortal on those wickets, he was not even good; he made only one fifty in fifteen innings, or a rate of 6.7%, compared with 41 out of 65 on unaffected pitches, or a rate of 63.1%. Also, four of his seven ducks were achieved on damp pitches (including, of course, that most famous duck, in his final test innings).

So what specificially were his weaknesses on such wickets? Let's look at the fourteen dismissals for clues, first the bowlers:-

Seam bowlers: 7
Spin bowlers: 7

So no particular type of bowling seemed to fox him - let's take a look at the dismissal types:-

Bowled: 5
Caught behind: 4
Caught close: 3
Caught outfield:1
lbw: 1

Close catching accounted for half of the dismissals, but I think it's fair to say that there was no real bowling/fielding combination with which he had trouble - Bradman simply could not fathom damp wickets.

Nonetheless, His astonishing average of 119.90 on unaffected pitches should be compared with today's players, who all bat on covered wickets - this distances him even further from all-comers and shows that, had he been even an average batsman on damp wickets, his average would have been comfortably over a hundred, thus ending the seemingly endless discussion over his Test average being so frustratingly close to the magical 100.00.

FOOTNOTE: I was also asked if the Don had been unduly affected by the change in the LBW law of 1935 - he was dismissed LBW three times in 42 innings prior to the law change and three times in 38 innings after, which I think we can summarise as no, he was not unduly affected by the LBW law change.

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