Young Bradman

Published: 2018
Pages: 167
Author: Rowe, Mark
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 4 stars

It never even occurred to me to pick up a copy of this one back in 2018 when it was published. When all is said and done how many books on the subject of Sir Donald Bradman does an Englishman need? I figured that the dozen or so I already had, including the Irving Rosenwater biography that seems to be accepted as the definitive book on the subject, were probably enough, particularly as the author of this one was an Englishman who had never met The Don.

Not that I do not rate Mark Rowe as a writer, as I have much enjoyed four of his previous books, The Summer Field, Tour de Farce, The Victory Tests and a biography of Brian Sellers. But for all that I couldn’t see that Young Bradman would add anything to my knowledge of the game’s most prolific batsman – how wrong I was.

I should have re-read the brief biographical details on Rowe’s other books before dismissing Young Bradman out of hand, although whether the knowledge that he had spent a year in Australia in the late 1990s would have swayed me I rather doubt. But it is significant for two reasons. Firstly during those twelve months Rowe had the chance to go to Bowral, and it is clear that he made it his business to visit all of the locations that were significant to the youthful Bradman. Following on from that visit Rowe immediately had this book in mind, so he had twenty years to reflect on what he wanted to say.

Although seamless, Young Bradman does divide neatly into two parts. The first two thirds of the book amount to a biography taking the reader up to the end of Bradman’s first tour of England, in 1930, by which time he had just turned 22, so still a very young man. In some ways this is a typical piece of biographical writing, but it is different in the sense that it concentrates rather more on the development of Bradman as a cricketer and as a man than simply recording the details of his life. This part of the book Rowe could, I suspect, have written largely as it is now as soon as he returned from Australia in 1999.

The final third of the book is, on the other hand, something that has no doubt benefitted from the years that Rowe has had to reflect on a subject that is clearly one that still fascinates him. That is hardly surprising because, of course, an explanation as to why in the best part of a century no one has come remotely close to emulating Bradman’s record, let alone bettering it, is something that has exercised the mind of every cricket lover who has ever lived and possessed an interest in the game’s history.

Bradman famously had a batting technique that was unconventional, and four years after Rowe returned from Australia another Englishman, and a good enough cricketer to have played for Cheshire with some success, Tony Shillinglaw, analysed that technique in a book entitled Bradman Revisited. Rowe has clearly reflected on the contents of Shillinglaw’s book in framing his own contribution to the discussion.

Also relevant and, given that anybody can try and copy the Bradman technique, perhaps the more so, is the Bradman personality. It is on that subject that it seems to me that the passing years have greatly informed Rowe’s narrative. His researches into other subjects have clearly brought him into contact with a myriad of other writers’ views and it is difficult to imagine that his look at Bradman as he was regarded in the minds of his peers, and indeed the wider cricketing public, can be improved. Having made that observation and thereby perhaps created a misleading impression, I would stress the wise words that Rowe himself uses in his notes on sources; If another book has something worth reading, that’s the place to read it. There is no trite repetition of other writers’ work here.

Any answer to the question that asks what made Bradman unique is inevitably conjecture, but Mark Rowe provides plenty of food for thought on that one in Young Bradman. For anyone who is more interested in what made Bradman the most prolific batsman who ever lived, as opposed to a traditional biography, then this one is well worth investing in, and the good news is it is still in print and available from the ACS shop.

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