Few would ever question that Don Bradman is one of sport’s – not just cricket’s – most remarkable individuals. Rarely has one man so dominated his field and emerged head and shoulders above his peers. But he had, and continues to have, his critics, those who argue he was a batsman who did not take chances and who amassed runs rather than scored them in the more cavalier method of someone like his great rival Wally Hammond.
And yet when the occasion demanded, Bradman could open up and cut an attack to shreds. On Monday, November 2, 1931, he and New South Wales team-mate Wendell Bill travelled into the Blue Mountains, about 60 miles from Sydney, to play in a match to open a new malthoid pitch at Blackheath, the first in the district. The two star names were included in the Blackheath XI against neighbouring Lithgow. With a large crowd gathered, Bradman was soon in full flow, taking 38 off the first over he faced. After passing his hundred, a bowler called Bill Black was brought on. Bradman casually asked wicketkeeper Leo Waters what to expect. “Don’t you remember this bloke?” Waters replied, adding mischievously: “He bowled you in an exhibition match in Lithgow a few weeks ago and has been boasting about it ever since, at your expense.”
Black had indeed bowled Bradman for 52 in an up-country match, a feat that caused the supposedly impartial local umpire to yell, “Bill, you’ve got him” as the stumps were hit. The ball was mounted and Black had been dining out on the moment since.
Bradman ambled down the pitch to chat with Wendell Bill and reportedly said: “I think I’ll have a go.” What followed was brutal. In three eight-ball overs he scored exactly 100, with Wendell Bill chipping in with two singles to get Bradman back on strike. There is no record of how long the onslaught took but it is estimated to have been around 18 minutes, given the time taken to retrieve 10 sixes.
The first over from Black produced 33 runs (6,6,4,2,4,4,6,1), the second, from the blameless Horrie Baker 40 (6,4,4,6,6,4,6,4) and the third, again from Black, 29 (1,6,6,1,1,4,4,6), which included the singles by Wendell Bill off the first and fifth deliveries. A bewildered Baker demanded to be taken off with figures of 2-0-62-0, while Bradman was eventually dismissed for 256, which included 14 sixes and 29 fours. Wendell Bill made 68. “It’s important, I think, to emphasise that the thing was not planned,” Bradman said years later. “It happened purely by accident and everyone was surprised at the outcome, no one more than I.
“Wendell Bill became one of my staunchest friends, and in later years he said he got more notoriety out of the two singles he scored in those three overs than anything else he ever did in his life.”
In 2008, Syd Edgar, who had watched the innings from up a hoop-pine tree as an eight-year old, recalled: “When word got around that Bradman was coming to Blackheath, I think nearly everyone attended. I was yelling at him ‘Hit it over here, hit it over here’ and he hit one past my head out of the ground.”
As entertainment it was superb, but it hardly stood either batsman in good stead for the opening match of the Sheffield Shield season the following Saturday. The pair were dismissed for ducks in the same over from Queensland fast bowler Eddie Gilbert.
At the post-match dinner one of the Lithgow players, Bob Nicholson, a coalminer, sang, so impressing Bradman, who was to announce his engagement later in the week, that Nicholson was invited to sing at the wedding, the following April.
After the match Bradman presented the bat, which weighed 2lbs 2ozs, he used to the Blackheath mayor, who had it mounted on a wall in the council offices. It was said he asked people to swear on it when an honest response was needed. It is now on loan to the Bradman Museum at Bowral.