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The Curious Case of the Don and the Sticky Wicket

230px-DonaldBradman
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:-

Date Opponent Inns Comments
29-Dec-1928 England 79 & 112 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
13-Jun-1930 England 8 & 131 wicket had improved by the 4th innings, so only his first innings was affected
11-Jun-1930 England 334 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
25-Jul-1930 England 14 innings affected by rain
16-Aug-1930 England 232 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
1-Jan-1931 West Indies 25 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
16-Jan-1931 West Indies 223 after rain overnight, Bradman did not add to his score
27-Feb-1931 West Indies 43 & 0 both innings affected by rain
27-Nov-1931 South Africa 226 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
18-Dec-1931 South Africa 112 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
8-Jun-1934 England 29 & 25 only Bradman’s second innings was rain-affected
22-Jun-1934 England 36 & 13 both innings affected by rain
20-Jul-1934 England 304 rain affected the pitch after Bradman’s innings
18-Aug-1934 England 244 & 77 after rain overnight, Bradman added one to his second-innings score
4-Dec-1936 England 38 & 0 only Bradman’s second innings was rain-affected (rain between fourth and fifth days)
18-Dec-1936 England 0 & 82 both innings affected by rain
1-Jan-1937 England 13 & 270 only Bradman’s first innings was rain-affected
24-Jun-1938 England 18 & 102 rain did not affect Australia’s innings
29-Nov-1946 England 187 rain did not affect Australia’s innings
28-Nov-1947 India 185 rain did not affect Australia’s innings
12-Dec-1947 India 13 innings affected by rain
1-Jan-1948 India 132 & 127 rain did not affect Australia’s innings
10-Jun-1948 England 138 & 0 rain did not affect Australia’s innings
8-Jul-1948 England 7 & 30* both innings affected by rain
14-Aug-1948 England 0 innings 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:-

MATCHES INNINGS RUNS NO AVERAGE HS 100 50 0
11 15 284 1 20.29 82 0 1 4
41 65 6712 9 119.90 334 29 12 3

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.

Comments

Was\’t Australia caught on stickies in both innings in Bradman’s Test match ?

Comment by T | 12:00am GMT 30 September 2009

Excellent piece there Dave. The difference in his average is really astronomical. Thanks for putting it together.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am GMT 30 September 2009

excellent piece dave. i always wanted to know this but never had access to the stats you have used in this article. thoroughly enjoyed it.

Comment by Bagapath | 12:00am GMT 1 October 2009

Made a bad typo – weren\’t Australia caught on stickies in both innings in Bradman\’s **first** Test match ?

Comment by T | 12:00am GMT 1 October 2009

It’s a very interesting piece of analysis, but I don’t think his uncovered pitch average should be used instead of his overall average. Once you go down that road, you would end up having to account for all kinds of advantages and disadvantages of batting in each era.

For me, they’re all too much to decipher, trying to weigh off the difficulty of (say) having to bat against 7 different teams of quality bowlers against the difficulty of having to play on the odd rain-affected humdinger. As far as I’m concerned his average of 99.94 makes him comfortably the best batsman of all time. I’d rather just leave it at that.

Comment by Uppercut | 12:00am GMT 1 October 2009

Pleased to see the overrated hack cut down a peg or two finally; we knew he was windy against fast bowling, he’s now proven to be clueless against spin on recepetive pitches.

Nah, seriously, an interesting article, always impressed when someone does the legwork to back up a hunch or contention. Know it would’ve effectively doubled the work, but a comparison for a contemporary (Hammond perhaps the obvious subject) on stickies might’ve be illuminating too.

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am GMT 1 October 2009

I have read that Bradman’s innings at The Oval in 1930 as played on a partly rain-affected wicket, not sure if that’s right though.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am GMT 1 October 2009

He was 130* overnight before the fourth day started – there had been overnight rain and Warner described the wicket as “not a sticky but soft on top and hard underneath” – Warner said the ball didn’t turn for the spinners nor move sideways for the quicker bowlers but that Larwood did get some lift – this was supposedly the session when the bodyline idea was conceived

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am GMT 2 October 2009

Fender descibes “oceans” of rain falling on Manchester in the days leading up to the match (no surprise there then) but they made a prompt start on the first day – the weather was fine but the sun didn’t shine so the wicket was described as “slow and easy paced” – Warner said it started to get sticky briefly in the late afternoon when the sun came out but that that didn’t last long – Bradman was back in the hutch by then though

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am GMT 2 October 2009

To which someone (I think it was O’Reilly) responded by saying that he’d pick Bradman and take a chance on the weather

Comment by Michaelf7777777 | 12:00am GMT 2 October 2009

I think it was Woolley who left Bradman out of his all time team because of his batting on sticky wickets. But tbh I think he was (and I have read it more than once) still able to play an innings if needed:)

Comment by archie mac | 12:00am GMT 2 October 2009

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