The Bradman Phenomenon
Brian Hale and Tony Shillinglaw - Sunday 13th January 2008

Having been laid up following a hip operation, I watched most of the recent Sri Lankan series and listened to comments made. Much discussion centred upon an inability to make high scores once well set. Commentators who had failed to do so on a regular basis during their own careers were often imploring today's batsmen to do what they themselves could not.

This capacity to carry on and on and make big scores was the one area more than any other, which separated Don Bradman from the rest. In 117 first class innings of 100 and over his average score was 173 and on only 15 occasions was he dismissed between  80-100. While in 'Test Match' cricket he was never dismissed in the 90s, only twice in the 80s and while scoring 29 centuries he averaged 185.

The 27th August 2008 is the Centenary of his birth and following years of study and much experimentation, colleague Brian Hale and I offer the following 'Thesis', which, if published, will hopefully throw open a debate which can lead to the solving of the 'Bradman Phenomenon' once and for all.

Don Bradman's 'Continuous 'Rotary' Batting Process'

Of late there has been much discussion as to why some batsmen are able to develop and play long innings, yet most are unable to do so on a regular basis.  A clue perhaps lies in that many are taught batting techniques, which are then applied at the crease almost as a mental exercise. Ball by ball attempt is made to fit drilled and practiced strokes with each delivery faced. C.B. Fry viewed the type of concentration required to play in this manner as both liable to break down and tiring, while going on to suggest batting should become more a subconscious, unconscious habit. Following in depth study, Greg Chappell also challenges the over-technical approach when concluding:- "Understanding and perfecting the core principles of motion as they apply to natural human movement, not technique, is what makes successful cricketers."

However gifted, the English technical type of player has traditionally found difficulty developing a 'Test Match' career average beyond the 40s, which suggests an inherent restriction of movement so reducing full versatility of stroke. The higher scoring batsmen appear to be those who develop a more natural and repetitive style of their own, with self taught Jack Hobbs ('Test Match' average 56-94) proving a fine example:- "I learned to appreciate the grace, beauty, swing and rhythm of stroke play and, above all, balance."

The batsman with by far the game's best conversion rate to high scores is the epitome of the uncoached, untaught natural cricketer. Don Bradman evolved for himself a 'Rotary' style of batting by which he produced the following results. Of 338 first class innings, 117 were centuries, 37 of which were turned into scores of over 200 and often many more.

Second to Bradman's 36-25% 'Test Match' century conversion rate with an outstanding 25%, is West Indian George Headley ('Test' average 60-83) described as follows by cricket writer C.L.R. James:- "I knew Constantine and Headley pretty well as cricketers and human beings. Contrary to all belief, popular and learned, Constantine the magician is the product of tradition and learning. It is George the maestro who is an absolutely natural cricketer."

By what means did Bradman produce such figures during the days of uncovered wickets and large boundaries? Quote from a Bradman letter:- "In general I think many coaches stifle the natural abilities of young players by rigidly insisting that they do not move until the ball is delivered and that they adhere to a perpendicular bat with left hand control. Movie strips of me batting indicate that I started my back lift before the ball was delivered and that the bottom of my bat was approximately level with the tops of the stumps at the instant of delivery. But let me hasten to say my back lift was rather towards second slip - not point as some suggest. The perpendicular bat theory virtually eliminates pull shots (which can only be played with a cross bat) and square cuts (except by angling the blade which, in turn, is a recipe for giving catches in the slips)."

As a result of early development with golf ball and stump, and in particular the playing of his solitary boyhood 'Test Matches', in the 8 foot space beside the Bowral family home and in direct response to the erratic fast moving golf ball. Through the forward 'Rotation' of the shoulders, the young Bradman evolved a natural and continuous method of control, which co-ordinates and induces brain, eye and muscle to function as 'One'. Having harnessed and assimilated these faculties into an instinctive, co-ordinated and effective action and to meet the needs of cricket at 22 yards, the forward movement of the shoulders requires reversal  to a wider backward motion, which commences as the back lift and continues in fluid 'Rotary' form through to the completion of each stroke. Bradman quote:- "I was never conscious that either hand was playing any special part in the initial movement, it was just a natural process."

'The Rotary Process'

1.   Adopting an ideally balanced, closed face between the feet grip and stance, Bradman stood still as the bowler approached.   

2.   With the bowler in delivery stride, his light bat would commence its 'Rotation', ready to react, while maintaining the balance and capacity to play off back or front foot with equal facility.

3.   On sighting the ball from the bowler's hand, the continuing motion of the bat causes the automatic lifting of the rear foot so allowing feet and body to flow freely in direct response to the ball. The only premeditated commitment being the uplift of the bat in 2.

4.   At this point the chosen stroke would be fashioned. However, crucially, the co-ordinated rotation and continuous motion of the action would provide the flexibility to adjust all stokes right up to the very moment of either playing or leaving the ball. In this way each delivery would be treated and played as an entity in itself. (No drilled regulation shots)

5.   This same flexibility allows the wrists, hands and fingers to manipulate and fine-tune the stroke 'as it is being played'.

6.   Following the action of hitting, the bat turns over while continuing its natural path to completion of a distinctive full follow through. 

Through observation and practical experience, and given the habitual timing and speed of the back lift necessary to activate the process, it appears Don Bradman fell into a repetitive 'Batting Formula' which became purely an instinctive response to the ball alone.   

(Bradman quote:- "The sight of the ball seems to trigger off a corresponding reaction so that movement becomes almost a habit." ). I have found this spontaneous type of reaction to be so. Using the technique, head, bat and body close on the ball in 'oyster' like fashion, and following full contact, the automatic turning of the wrists reverse the loop of the bat, so playing the ball to ground, as the bat flows to completion of a distinctive 'Bradmanlike' full follow through. Anybody wishing to consider batting in this fashion must be prepared to 'Give In' to the different and very natural 'Feel' of an alternative style of play.

The two most important pieces of advice Bradman passed on to aspiring batsmen were (a) concentrate and (b) watch the ball. Through his method, the intrinsic linking of these twin essentials would produce the instinctive and automatic type of  concentration, which is relatively free from mental or physical strain.  

In view of the importance attached to a rare ability to concentrate, it is revealing to consider Bradman's response to the age old question:-  "How much of cricket is physical and how much mental?"                       

Quote:- "I suppose a lot of it is mental, although that never intruded in my particular play. In other words, I didn't let the mental side of it worry me. I always had confidence in my own ability. If I made a mistake, I felt nine times out of ten it was a physical mistake and I tried to do something and I didn't get there in time. I was too slow or something like that. I am sure with a lot of players their mental attitude is terribly important. They imagine there are difficulties that are not really there." (In 117 first class innings of 100 and over Bradman's average score was 173 and on only 15 occasions was he dismissed between 80-100.)

It can be said there are two fundamental considerations and approaches to becoming a batsman:-

1.   The teaching of technique.

2.   Learning and applying the core principles of motion as they apply to natural human movement.

The consistent higher scoring batsmen appear to marry the two successfully, while tending towards the latter. Experience and observation tells of the more fluent players being better able to manipulate the ball in order to keep the scoreboard ticking over. In this way the 'easier' and safer type runs are made which produce bigger scores and averages, particularly when well set. On the other hand, it is more straight forward setting fields and bowling to the more technical type of player. Such batsmen tend to hit the fielder while generally having difficulty altering the tempo of their innings. When attempting to up the pace they invariably become more vulnerable to dismissal.

When 'The Boy from Bowral' arrived in the City with a high scoring record behind him, there was no shortage of 'experts' suggesting he conform to the batting tenets of the day.Fortunately for the game of cricket, the young Bradman possessed both the confidence and personality to withstand this advice, but not before experimenting in the nets, with both his own style and the recommended methods, which he found: "Had greater limitations in versatile stroke making." Bradman's 'Secret' being, he had unwittingly, fused brain, eye and muscle into 'One' instinctive and continuous way of gaining control over a moving ball. Having adapted the skill to the requirements of batsmanship, once established at the crease, to score runs would become as natural as walking down the road on a summer's day. This he did in profusion, as highlighted by Melbourne Scientist, Charles Davies when he wrote:- "Bradman's likelihood of getting out changed in an unusual way as his innings progressed, quite different from any other batsman. For scores below about 15, even though Bradman was very good at avoiding dismissal, his chances of dismissal were still within the range of other great batsmen. Hobbs for example was more reliable at reaching double figures. Once set, however, Bradman's chance of dismissal plummeted to only one-third of other leading batsmen and above a score of 50 he is way ahead of anyone else in 'Test' history." (In 'Test Match' cricket Bradman was never dismissed in the 90s, only twice in the 80s and while scoring 29 centuries he averaged 185.)

During the years since Don Bradman retired from 'Test Match' cricket in 1948, the technique by which he made all those runs has lain dormant and largely ignored. Also, the reasons given for his success, 'One-off Genius', 'It's in the mind' and 'Concentration' (but what kind of concentration?) now appear trite. The runs are in the book and they were crafted under all conditions in the days of uncovered pitches. Whatever the state of the game and however he felt, like the rest of us, Bradman still had to walk out to the middle and face those first uncertain overs, each ball to be treated on its merits and a proper judgement and response made. As a 5 foot 7 inch man, possessing below average eyesight reaction and often indifferent health, it becomes apparent his scoring feats stemmed directly from the batting technique he first evolved and then utilised at the crease throughout a long career. When questioned as to why others do not adopt his style of play, Bradman's simple response:- "I think it's because they are coached not to do it. It's a different technique." is, we feel, worthy of full consideration.

Given the will and today's high technology, surely the continuous timing, motion and workings of this "Different Technique" can and should be harnessed and established for the benefit of all cricketers just as any other technique. What better way to celebrate the Centenary of the 'Don's' birth on the 27th August 2008?

We look forward to your response.

Brian Hale and Tony Shillinglaw

see also Former Aussie captain backs Shilly's theory

additional data supplied by the webmaster

Performance in all matches

  Innings Not Out Highest Aggregate Average 100s 100s/inns
Ashes Tests 63   7     334 5,028   89.78   19   30.16%
All Tests 80   10     334 6,996   99.94   29   36.25%
Sheffield Shield 96   15     452* 8,926   110.19   36   37.50%
All First Class 338   43     452* 28,067   95.10   117   34.62%
Grade 93   17     303 6,598   86.80   28   30.11%
All Second Class 331   64     320* 22,664   84.80   94   28.40%
Grand Total 669   107     452* 50,731   90.27   211   31.54%

Test records extant

Bradman still holds the following significant records for Test match cricket:

  • Highest career batting average (minimum 15 innings): 99.94

  • Highest series batting average (5-Test series): 201.50 (1931–32)

  • Highest % of centuries in innings played: 36.25%

  • Highest 5th wicket partnership: 405 (with Sid Barnes, 1946–47)

  • Highest 6th wicket partnership: 346 (with Jack Fingleton, 1936–37)

  • Highest score by a number 5 batsman: 304 (1934)

  • Highest score by a number 7 batsman: 270 (1936–37)

  • Most runs against one opponent: 5,028 (v England)

  • Most runs in one series: 974 (1930)

  • Most centuries scored in a single session of play: 6 (1 pre lunch, 2 lunch-tea, 3 tea-stumps)

  • Most runs in one day’s play: 309 (1930)

  • Most double centuries: 12

  • Most double centuries in a series: 3 (1930)

  • Most triple centuries: 2 (equal with Brian Lara)

  • Most consecutive matches to have made a century: 6 (last 3 in 1936–37, first 3 in 1938)

Cricket context

Bradman's Test batting average of 99.94 has become one of cricket's most famous, iconic statistics. No other player who has played more than 20 Test match innings has finished with a Test average of more than 61. Bradman scored centuries at a rate better than one every three innings — in 80 Test innings, Bradman scored 29 centuries.Only five players have surpassed his total, all at a much lower rate: Sachin Tendulkar (who required 159 innings to do so), Ricky Ponting (170 innings), Sunil Gavaskar (174 innings), Brian Lara (205 innings) and Steve Waugh (247 innings). He converted 41.4% of his centuries into double centuries. His total of 12 Test double hundreds (in 15% of his innings) is the most achieved by any batsman. Next best is Brian Lara with 9 in 232 innings (3.9%), Walter Hammond with 7 in 140 innings (5%) and Kumar Sangakkara 6 in 110 innings (5.45%).


Completed Test Career Batting Averages

Donald Bradman (AUS)
Graeme Pollock (SAF)
George Headley (WI)
Herbert Sutcliffe (ENG)
Eddie |Paynter (ENG)
Ken Barrington (ENG)
Everton Weekes (ENG)
Wally Hammond (ENG)
Garfield Sobers (WI)
Jack Hobbs (ENG)
Clyde Walcott (WI)
Len Hutton (ENG)
Ernest Tyldesley (ENG)
Charlie Davis (WI)
Vinod Kambli (IND)

Qualification: 20 completed innings,
career completed.