The Bradman Phenomenon
by Tony Shillinglaw and Brian Hale
1 - Bradman Revisited 2nd Edition - The Simplicity of Nature
When writing 'Bradman Revisited', first published in 2003, we rightly emphasized the importance of Bradman's backyard game with golf ball and stump to his evolution as a batsman and highlighted some of the accrued advantages this gave him compared to those coached in more orthodox circumstances and methods. The book was well received and had some immediate responses.
In October of the same year, Brian, Staff Coach Dave Reynolds and I met ECB's Gordon Lord at Old Trafford, where I was able to demonstrate an interpretation of Bradman's boyhood game. This was shortly followed by an invitation from Hugh Morris to visit the soon to be opened facilities at the Loughborough Cricket Academy. As a result, in November, we attended the annual coaching conference at the University of Warwick, where I addressed one of the seminars. (Later learning that during his own seminar, seminar, Bob Woolmer had asked if I was present, which, in view of subsequent happenings, bears mention.) All round, we were delighted by the interest shown.
Visiting Australia at the end of this eventful year, I was lucky enough to witness a Sachin Tendulkar double century during the 'New Year Test' against India at the famous SCG. I met high performance cricket manager Alan Campbell and enjoyed a most interesting stay at the home of cricket writer and journalist Philip Derriman.
Travelling to Bowral in company with an old school friend, Steve Roper, long time settled in Sydney, I was privileged to give a talk and demonstrate the 'Knack' and wall game to the 'Bradman Museum Society' in the cricket pavilion of 'The Bradman Oval'. The following morning, Museum Director, Richard Mulvaney, was kind enough to show us the Shepherd Street home where the boy Bradman played his 'Test Match' games in an eight foot space in front of the long gone water tank and stand. While imagining him at play, I was forcibly struck by the simplicity of this setting when compared to the highly technical and formalized approach witnessed during recent months at cricket establishments in both England and Australia. This highlighted that in the making of runs, the instinctive form of development based upon quick and flexible control over a moving ball had proved to be twice as effective as the academic and theoretical approach.
Following discussion and experimentation based upon Bradman's unusual form of training, came an awareness the findings outlined in the first edition required further development. As a result, a 'Synopsis and Update' was published in May 2005. Since then, however, more has been learned and this is a continuance of our determination to have Bradman's proactive and repetitive mode of play both understood and accepted for inclusion in any curriculum presented to youngsters leaning to bat. It has already been noticed an increasing number of players are now adopting a 'Bradmanlike', closed face, bat between the feet stance, and although this is a start, there is more to it than the stance. Nevertheless, conclusions expressed in 'Bradman Revisited' have been vindicated by the reactions of leading coaches Greg Chappell, Bob Woolmer and in particular Geoffrey Boycott who, during one of our visits, advised us not to let the book go out of print.
Whilst appreciative of Geoffrey's advice there came the realization, confirmed by certain reviews, a more complete explanation was still required to illuminate Bradman's progression from novice to accomplished batsman. This necessitates a rundown and update of both technique and mindset, from golf ball and stump, through evolution to the "Continuous Rotary Batting Process by which all those runs were made.
As is usual with Bradman, reviews such as the following tend towards the vague and noncommittal:-
1. Wisden 2004, page 1571:- "Can't we simply accept that some people are special?" This echoes the view of HS Altham and EW Swanton's "Genius defies analysis".
2. The Cricketer, May 2003:- "There are, or should be, as many tips on technique as there are great players. Shillinglaw does us a service by reminding us Bradman's technique worked for him: and how! It may help others too. But it is not the only way to play".
3. Wisden Cricket Monthly, July 2003:- "Stripping away any mystery from the Don's batting - what Neville Cardus called those "rare gifts from nature" - left me feeling uneasy. We inhabit an inexplicable universe where so much has yet to be understood (the existence of evil and Graeme Hick's Test average being two examples), and when it comes to Bradman, I'd prefer a little of the unknowable to be retained."
(Prophetically, "Rare gifts from nature" play a pivotal role to our thesis.)
4. The Times 17th May 2003:- "So was Bradman that different?" He was of course "Just a modern miracle", in Bill O'Reilly's words.
Two club cricket enthusiasts had knocked on the door of accepted batting practice. The door was ajar, but far from open.
We are, however, conscious in having an advantage in that modern science has discovered ways of exploring and comparing batting styles not available to past cricket writers. In this regard the support we have received from Professor Adrian Lees, Liverpool John Moores University and Professor Timothy Noakes of the University of Cape Town has proved central to our findings. The study of a 'Player's eye movement strategy' carried out by neuroscientists at the Universities of Oxford and Sussex, UK (Professor Michael Land) also supports our conclusions.
Getting at the truth of Bradman and explaining it was proving to be a long and arduous task, not to mention a frustrating one. To perform so consistently over a 30 year period means 'The Truth Itself' has to be simple, yet even Bradman was never able to get the full message of his batting formula across to others. The fact remains, a boy with below average eyesight reaction time brought up in the simple surroundings of Bowral, Australia, during the early 1900s, is still by far 'Test' cricket's most successful run scorer. Yet despite the passage of time and today's hi-technology he is still looked upon in mysterious terms such as phenomenon, enigma, one off genius, etc. which seems astonishing.
Regarding any full understanding and acceptance of Bradman, clearly there was:-
During study we have found people can be
slipped into 3 main categories:-
1. Genuinely interested
3. To varying degrees interested in the question:-
Why should anybody be so much better than the rest?
Fortunately, 'The Bradman Museum', in the names of Richard Mulvaney and David Wells, has fallen very much into the first category, as is shown when Richard took the trouble to interview Arthur Morris the great left handed opener from the 'Bradman Invincibles' side of 1948. There can be few people more qualified to comment on Bradman than Morris, for he shared in six partnerships of over a hundred with the 'Don' including the noteworthy 301 to help win the 'Headingley Test' of that year, described by Bradman as his greatest victory.
Morris was 82 at the time of the interview, but his comments give the cosy feel of a man 'Who was There'. To give a flavour of the conversation, here are the first three questions and answers:-
Arthur Morris on Bradman's strokeplay
Richard: I'm at the home of Arthur Morris in Cessnock, New South Wales. Richard Mulvaney doing the interview from the 'Bradman Museum'. I am here to ask Arthur about Don Bradman's batting technique as recently researched by Tony Shillinglaw in his book 'Bradman Revisited'. It's the 6th August, 2004.
Richard: You first played first class cricket in the 1930s to the mid 1950s. You coincided with Don Bradman's final decade of his career. Did you watch Bradman play, as a spectator, when you were growing up in Sydney?
Arthur: No, only once because I lived in the country and I went down and watched the cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground when I was on holiday as a boy. But I saw him play in a testimonial game, I forget who it was for, and he got a hundred and hit a couple of sixes which was most unusual. He hit Fleetwood-Smith into the stand but that was the only time I really saw him bat.
Richard: What was Bradman's reputation when you first started playing?
Arthur: Well, of course, he was every child's hero. I met him, my father was a schoolmaster at Dungog, and I met him as a boy about 8 or 9 when he was working for Mick Simmons and that's when I met him in the early 30s.
Richard: You played with St George Cricket Club which was the same as Bradman. While he had left some years earlier, some of his contemporaries were still playing such as Bill O'Reilly. Did they talk about Bradman's batting style in any way?
Arthur: Well, I don't know that they talked about his style, all I know that he just had everything. He had all the shots and fast footwork, confident, determined, just the complete batsman. I think he couldn't figure how anyone got to 50 and couldn't keep on getting 100 you know. It's just the way he thought and the way he could go on and on and make the bowlers get him out.
Apart from noticing Bradman's unusual grip and stance and the ball being hit along the ground all the time, Arthur, like Jack Fingleton and others who batted with Bradman, never seriously studied his partner's style of play. They all expressed the same sense of incredulity about the seeming inevitability of a large Bradman innings without troubling themselves too much how it was achieved. Of course, when at the wicket, concentration is on one's own game and the task in hand rather than the details of your partner's batting method.
Also during August 2004, great encouragement was given to the task when the following e-mail was received from Professor Noakes:-
"When in London recently I happened upon your book and found it very inspiring. I am an academic scientist in the sports sciences and a writer ("Lore of Running"). Currently I am working with former English cricketer and Warwickshire/South African/Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer on what we hope will be a definitive book on cricket coaching. It has taken us five years to write and, we believe, it is an advance on all previous coaching books which we feel only scratch the surface, with some notable exceptions. Your book is a definite exception since it shows a depth of analysis that most cricket coaching books lack. I will understand it if your book is dismissed by many as "irrelevant". But for me it has enormous relevance and may be one of the most important books ever written on cricket. cricket.
"The point of my letter is to say that the batting section of our book will now include a lengthy analysis of your analysis of Bradman. Bob is very supportive of your ideas and wants them to be given substantial support and emphasis in the book. He has also indicated that Bradman did one other thing that you might not have emphasized. That he hit with the bottom hand and straightened his right elbow to generate power. He literally threw the bat at the ball much like a golfer does. Probably you described that but it escaped me. Yesterday we received some film that Bob had on Bradman (It was a video hosted by Bill O'Reilly). It was beautiful to see how Bradman had simplified batting.
"After this introduction, I have one question. In your book you mention Bradman's early (1934) book on coaching. I understand that there may also have been some visual material as well. Would it be possible to source that material so that we can be sure that we have all the necessary information in our book? Any help that you may be able to offer us would be greatly appreciated. I do hope that we can get hold of this information as we would like to emphasize what you have discovered.
"Finally, I write a regular column and have devoted the next two to your book. The magazine goes out to approximately 400,000 South African homes. Perhaps that will lead to a sale or two for you in South Africa. But at least your ideas will be exposed to close to a million South Africans.
"Congratulations on a fabulous book. I do hope that this letter finds you and that you will be able to respond and hopefully to help me in this research."
With Warm Personal Regards
Since receiving this introduction, regular communication has taken place, including a visit from Tim and his wife Marilyn during which wide ranging views of Bradman were discussed. We were also able to use the indoor facilities of the Birkenhead Park Cricket Club where I was able to demonstrate the repetitive 'Knack' of continuously hitting a tennis ball to and fro against the wall while carrying on a separate conversation. Crucially, this highlights Bradman's subconscious, unconscious form of concentration which functions in direct response to the ball as an integral part of his "Continuous Rotary Batting Process".
Following are extracts from subsequent correspondence written by Tim Noakes.
1. 7th December 2005
"I do think, however, that we have got a wonderful opportunity to make a major contribution to the understanding of cricket batting and this joint collaboration between Pakistan, South Africa and England could do something that might revolutionize the coaching of cricket. I am firmly of the opinion that Tony has uncovered an incredible truth and we really can make a major contribution by researching his ideas." (This referred to a proposed link up between Bob Woolmer, then Pakistan Coach, Professors Noakes and Lees and ourselves which tragically never took place.)
2. 6th March 2006
"I looked at 6 of Bradman's major shots very carefully and it soon became very apparent that Bradman was different to some of our players in a very simple way.
"The key point was that when he lifted his bat out to second slip, when the bat came down, it followed the path that is determined by the nature of the delivery. Thus, I conclude that Bradman had decided where he was going to intersect the ball and when he'd made that decision, then his bat started moving down in the shortest possible way to intersect the delivery. Again, I mention that the reason why I know he knew where he was going to intersect the ball was because his movement was different depending on the nature of the delivery. When the ball was short on the leg side, he would of course, play with a cross bat and he would move the bat to intersect the ball with the shortest possible movement. In contrast, if he was shaping to drive, the bat would move towards leg and would come down in a straight line to where he wished the ball to finish up.
"This realization has made me understand Bradman much more effectively and I've become a very strong proponent of this technique."
3. 20th January 2007
"I managed to track down the DVD of the Bradman coaching video that you kindly sent me. This has been particularly helpful because it now allows one to extract segments of that video or DVD for presentation when one wants to make certain points. Indeed, I was able to show it to Barry Richards and he was astonished at what he saw. Clearly he had never before seen a video of Bradman or understood why he was different.
"The other good news is that I have managed to ensure that Bob's book includes a long section on Bradman's technique. As you know, I have referred directly to your own work so this book, for the first time, will be widely exposed in a coaching textbook."
4. 5th July 2007
"All I can say is that as a scientist, I have observed the evidence and the evidence is overwhelming that you are absolutely correct in all your conclusions and it will be only a matter of time before it is proven absolutely that you are correct."
5. 20th June 2008
"In Bob Woolmer's coaching book which will be released in about two month's time, there is an extensive section on Don Bradman's technique. Tragically, the last time I ever spoke to Bob I showed him all the evidence that we had collected that Bradman was special and that Tony Shillinglaw's ideas would appear to be completely correct. Almost his final words to me were:- "Well, this is fantastic and we are really going to have to work on it for the next edition of the book."
Bob Woolmer's 'Art and Science of Cricket', co-written by Professor Timothy Noakes and Dr Helen Moffett, with foreword by Richie Benaud, has now been published, 2008 and Brian and I were delighted to each receive signed copies from Tim. As promised, under the heading:- "Bradman's Unrecognized Legacy: His 'Rotary' Batting Method", pages 172-183 are given to our ideas as they were at the time.
The book includes:- "Why has recognized orthodoxy survived in the modern coaching manuals whereas no mention is made of Bradman's technique and how it fails to conform to this orthodoxy? It is imperative that we investigate why one individual was able to have a 'Test' average 30% better than the next best average in the history of the game. Biological factors alone cannot explain this significant a difference - they do not differ by 30% between the very best and the next best human in any particular activity.
"In fact, a fundamental teaching in science is that it is dangerous to presume a cause unless it has been proven. Since we have no evidence that Bradman was biologically superior, we must entertain the possibility that Bradman's brilliance might have been the result of his superior and unorthodox batting technique."
Given such reasoning there has to be an answer because the runs are in the scorebook and Don Bradman put them there.
We are extremely grateful to Professor Noakes for the considerable interest and expertise he has injected into our project, as we are to Richard Mulvaney and David Wells for the important rolls they too have played. Just as when contesting a tightly fought game of cricket, a bit of luck and the unexpected can determine the final result.
These timely interventions during August 2004 have offered a very welcome and authoritative boost of encouragement towards recognition of Bradman's batting style. On one hand, providing affirmation to our thinking on 'Rotation', and on the other, through Arthur Morris stressing the need to differentiate between Don Bradman's subconscious, unconscious mode of concentration and that of other batsmen which is both liable to break down and tiring.
As a result of my Australian trip, Richard Mulvaney requested a brief with a view to assisting in a feasibility study into the question of Bradman's batting, with the proviso "This should be done sooner rather than later." We trust "Better late than never" is acceptable.
"If somebody in my line of business was performing 66% better than the rest, I should want to know what they were doing and how they did so." (Peter Booth - Bootle CC)
a The Bradman Phenomenon
b Tendulkar - Bradman: A Clear Distinction of Method
c The Weight of Bats
d Don Bradman's ability to bat on and on
2 Mind Game
3 Greg Chappell
4 Rotary Style
5 Why Misunderstood?
6 Continuous Rotary Batting Process
7 Final Chapter 2 - Nature's Way of Batting
8 The Essence of Don Bradman's Batting
Acknowledgements and Bibliography