The Australian and English Test cricketers who fought and survived together in World War II came home knowing the difference between sport and war. They planned to resume the Ashes in a new spirit of friendship. Australia’s legendary captain had something else in mind.
Hailed as one of the greatest cricket teams of all time, the 1948 ‘Invincibles’ are the only Australians to complete a tour of England undefeated. Their crushing victories under Donald Bradman’s captaincy wrote them into the record books, even if the Don himself, on his final tour, was left forever stranded on a Test batting average of 99.94 after his duck in the fifth Ashes match.
But often forgotten are the mixed feelings about the manner in which these feats were achieved. In his absorbing account of the legendary tour, Malcolm Knox exposes the rift between players who had experienced the horrors of active duty, epitomised by the fiery but sporting RAAF pilot Keith Miller, and those who had not, such as the invalided Bradman. Knox reveals the discomfort among the fans, commentators and players – from both teams – at Bradman’s single-minded tactics, on and off the field. Bradman’s ruthlessness, even against the war-ravaged veterans of the county clubs, scotched hopes that after the terrible realities of the war, the game might resume in a more friendly spirit than the angry competitiveness of Bodyline.
While Bradman’s War celebrates the talents of the likes Ray Lindwall, Sid Barnes, Lindsay Hassett, Bill Johnston, Arthur Morris and, of course, their irrepressible captain, it also considers what value we place on entertainment and good-natured rivalry in competitive sport. When it’s winner takes all, what’s left for those who love the game?
Malcolm Knox is the former literary editor and award-winning cricket writer of the Sydney Morning Herald. His novels include Jamaica, The Life and the Ned Kelly Award-winning A Private Man, and his many non-fiction titles include The Greatest: The Players, The Moments, The Matches, 1993–2008 and The Captains: The Story Behind Australia’s Second Most Important Job.
Published 10th July 2013
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