Why Don Bradman’s Highly Successful Method of Batting Has Not Been Imitated

Published: 2022
Pages: 85
Author: Kettle, Peter
Publisher: Private
Rating: 3.5 stars

Dave’s thoughts
I’ve reviewed other cricket offerings from author Peter Kettle, and interestingly they have all, including the subject of this review, been varied in some respect, even a play no less. He has looked at Don Bradman in some detail previously, however those studies were largely statistical, whereas this latest work delves into what it was about Bradman’s batting technique that set him so far apart from the field. By the way, I must get this out of the way at the outset – the fact that I am mentioned on the same page as David Foster Wallace in the Preface has not impacted my review in the slightest. Honest.
Kettle has been inspired by an earlier exercise into the same subject by Tony Shillinglaw, an ex-Minor Counties cricketer from Cheshire. Shillinglaw’s book Bradman Revisited: The Legacy of Sir Donald Bradman was first printed in 2003, and there is footage of him demonstrating his findings in an interview with ABC Lateline available on YouTube. Kettle spends some time looking at Bradman’s “rotary” style and setup, comparing these to both contemporaries and modern players (65 in all), with the essential question being, were other batsmen aware of the benefits of the rotary style over the traditional and preferred MCC-recommended method, and, if yes, what was it about Bradman’s technique that resulted in an apparent complete lack of imitation? One point from this particular section that stuck out to me was Charlie Macartney’s averages before and after the war (35.1 before, 69.6 after) though this isn’t discussed further. The conclusion from this review is that there are no other players that had such an open stance and wide pickup, although it appears that George Headley was very open.
Although Kettle notes that there are “…strong grounds for thinking that a sizeable proportion of aspiring batsmen would have made an assessment of the rotary style”, no real evidence is provided to support that statement and, per Martin Chandler and his sizeable cricket library, Martin doesn’t recall any player bios that review Bradman’s technique (though Bob Woolmer’s book “Art and Science of Cricket” does have a section on Bradman’s Unrecognised Legacy). Kettle wonders why other players saw Bradman’s incredible conversion rate but weren’t motivated by that to replicate his style, though I’m not sure if even stats nuts were reviewing such issues back then.
Following the Second World War, Kettle notes that there was an increase in “wristy manipulation” and the open stance became more prevalent, providing us with a new acronym BOPA – Body Open Path of backlift Away from the body.
In the section “Reconciliation”, Kettle returns to his earlier work Rescuing Don Bradman from Splendid Isolation, which had introduced the concept of Dead Runs. I’m not sure how relevant this section is here, as the result of the application of that concept is to bring Bradman closer to the herd. Also, batsmen that may have been motivated to emulate Bradman would not have been aware of this concept.
The Epilogue emphasises Bradman’s proficiency in a range of sports, such as golf and tennis, though others have been similarly proficient, for example Ted Dexter (who apparently missed a putt on the last green that would have qualified him for the Open).
After much research and review, a lot of which is very interesting in and of itself, such as Bradman’s older relatives and their place in the pantheon of Australian cricket, the final conclusion boils down to the fact that, by the time batsmen felt comfortable enough to move away from the MCC-preferred method, Bradman was too long gone to be a target.
Which is a shame – I think I would’ve certainly given it a try as a younger man had I known what was involved. Too bad no actual cricketers felt the same way.
All in all an interesting read, though readers should be aware that this presents more as a dissertation than a typical cricket book, which is probably apparent from the rather long title.
PS: There are many useful footnotes which are provided in a separate document, however one issue I had is that the book is perfect bound and fell apart as I was reading/reviewing it. It is possible that I may have been subjecting it to more stress than a typical sequential reading might do. Notably, Martin did not have this issue with his copy.

Martin’s take

Given the records he holds, and in respect of many of them the distance that separates him from the nearest challenger, it must be certain that the name of Donald Bradman will resonate down the years for as long as cricket is played. Anyone with only a passing interest in the history of the game has heard of him and 99.94 is probably the single most iconic number in the game.

But one thing that does tend to be forgotten about Bradman, and increasingly so since the number of those who saw him play has dwindled away, is that Bradman’s approach to batting and his technique were distinctly unorthodox. Given that, Peter Kettle asks the very sensible question as to why the many cricketers who have set out to try and emulate The Don seem never to have tried to simply copy him.

The first part of the book inevitably therefore has to identify those unorthodoxies, which are relatively minor in themselves, but added together represent an approach some way from that recommended by the coaching manuals. The way Bradman stood at the wicket, and the manner in which he held the bat are unusual, but most significant of all is the way he picked the bat up, a technique referenced as his rotary method.

As is to be expected Kettle has clearly spent a great deal of time watching the footage of Bradman that is available. A man who could not be accused of being anything other than thorough has also looked at other batsman and come up with several cricketers whose approaches at the crease resembled Bradman’s. Amongst contemporaries Karl Schneider, Bill Ponsford and George Headley are three, and moving forward in time he notes similarities in the way that Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar batted.

Kettle has read a great deal as well. Bradman produced his own instructional books, and there were films as well. Given the ability of his contemporaries to watch him for hours on end there was clearly a great deal of scope for them to copy their hero. After the war things changed a little, the very conventional and ultra orthodox MCC Coaching book running to five editions between 1952 and 1987 and on each occasion stressing the importance of the batsman taking his bat straight back, in the manner of a pendulum, rather than the looping of the rotary method.

There was another sea change as the first MCC book ran out of steam. By the time its successor appeared in 1994 there was a more wide ranging discussion and no lesser mortal than Geoffrey Boycott extolled the virtues of the rotary method, at a time by which the opening up of batting stances had been happening for a few years. Bradman’s idiosyncrasies may not have been stressed as being such, but coaching agendas were no longer as rigid as they once were.

But of course in the long run no one has ever emulated The Don, and no one copies him even if, borrowing his own research from Rescuing Don Bradman From Splendid Isolation, the great man is not quite so far in front of everyone else as the raw statistics suggest. Kettle’s conclusions as to the reason for this are eloquently expressed and probably close off an interesting question.

The book is well worth investing in for anyone who has ever been tormented by the question the book raises and the even better news is, given that there are as many as 106 of those endnotes that normally force the reader to keep turning to the rear of a book to read them, that Kettle supplies a duplicated and separate set of the notes in order to spare his reader that irritation.

Why Don Bradman’s Highly Successful Method of Batting Has Not Been Imitated has been self-published in a limited edition of 80 signed and individually numbered copies. The book is available from Roger Page in Australia, and Christopher Saunders in the UK.



This book is now impossible to get hold of but as a technique geek I’m desperate to read it. Anyone out there got a copy I could have a read of and return?

Comment by Paul Williams | 9:27am GMT 31 October 2022

Yogi Beera, an American baseball manager, once said to a player who was unsuccessfully trying to imitate another player’s technique. “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him”

Comment by Colin Price | 8:56pm GMT 7 November 2022

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