The Bradman Phenomenon
by Tony Shillinglaw and Brian Hale

3 - Greg Chappell

We believe there are fundamental differences of technique between accepted orthodoxy and our understanding of Bradman which have neither been understood nor properly explored. With this in mind, we offer the reader some conclusions following study of the book "Greg Chappell on Coaching" in which he submits a revolutionary approach to cricket. Before doing so, it is worth bearing in mind the merits of two contrasting beliefs taken from their own batting philosophies.

1. Chappell:- "In my experience the overwhelming majority of top batsmen over the history of 'Test' cricket prepare to go forward, so automatically adopting an ideal position of readiness."

2. Bradman:- "I am a great believer in back play providing the player will look upon it as an offensive as well as a defensive medium. History shows that the outstanding batsmen were mostly strong off the back foot. They could drive, of course, but their initial protective movement was back rather than forward."

These differences should be appreciated and deserve a separate study all its own. They are, however, central to our research.

Following study of Chappell's book, it is worth establishing some differences between his revised formula to orthodoxy and Bradman's "Continuous Rotary Batting Process". Chappell poses the question:- "Have we discovered Bradman's secret?" Despite his new approach the question is left unanswered. Our conclusion is that differences between Bradman's method and the technique which is explored and presented in his admirable book are of a fundamental nature.

From a chapter headed 'Learning from the champions' under the caption 'The great cricketers we learnt from' are listed 23 players of whom about half are batsmen. Bradman alone is the only one who grew up in the early part of the 20th century. By contrast, the other players under study developed in an age increasingly influenced by a television driven media and a coaching ethic which was becoming ever more centralised and controlled. Although many of these players, when boys, had their own versions of 'back yard' cricket they would, nevertheless, still be open to traditional influences in a manner not applicable to Bradman, who brought to cricket a technique entirely his own based solely on practical experience.

Chappell states:- "The brain is a better cricketer than you will ever be. Don't try to teach cricket, it's too difficult to teach, each individual has to learn it." We found his approach very refreshing with its emphasis on natural development and balance, and cricket can only benefit by escaping from some long established dogmas. For example, on page 38 he writes:- "The straight backlift - one of the worst mistakes a batsman can make and is one of the great myths of cricket." However, our purpose here is to go the extra mile and show how and why Bradman's rotary process differed again from that recommended in Chappell's book.


Balance and timing are key elements in Bradman's stroke production and once started the rotary batting mechanism becomes continuous and fluid. This does not appear to be so with the Chappell formula, which possesses the premeditated intention to move forward, together with two distinct batting movements. The first being an 'unweighting pose', which is followed separately by response to the ball. This unweighting process includes such technicalities as:-

(a)   "Top hand levers the bat with semi-wrist cock."

(b)   "Flexing the front elbow."

(c)   "Locks the muscle group around the front shoulder."

Combined with 'loading on the ball of the rear foot' each of these tensions suggest a subtle, yet automatic restriction of mobility and therefore reduction in scoring possibilities, while a batsman set to move forward in this manner will accordingly suffer a corresponding restriction to any back foot play. I have also found even the slightest break in motion is detrimental to the rhythm and flow of a stroke so affecting and increasing any vulnerability.

When stating, "Cricket is the only sport where you play with a vertical bat close to your body, in other sports the bat or racquet is swung more naturally at waist height and away from the body." Chappell is expressing an orthodox appreciation of how batting is generally taught, played and indeed thought about. However, this does not apply to Bradman whose initial batting motion flows naturally away from the body. As Philip Derriman so aptly wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald:- "It is not as if Bradman was better than other people at doing the same thing." 

Clearly he did a very different thing!

In another Derriman article of the 28th April 2000, Chappell was quoted as follows:- "The need for a backlift is a fallacy. You don't need a backlift. All you need to do is get the bat into a neutral position so you can move quickly to play the ball, both forwards and back." This suggests confirmation of a belief in the need for two separate batting movements and is contrary to our understanding of Bradman. Importantly, in the same article, Chappell drew attention to the reality of a batsman's height when considering the possible full adoption of Bradman's style as follows:- "The taller you are, the harder it is to get into the position of balance that he was in. I would've had to stand straight up to be in the same position. I didn't do that - I did what everyone else did: leaned over and tapped the bat on the ground. If I was starting out now, I'd probably adopt a more upright stance."      

Greg Chappell's interpretation of modern batsmanship in regard to predelivery intentions, trigger movements and the adoption of two part techniques, clearly differs from Bradman's initial balanced stillness and the continuous nature of his play. Regardless of technique, batsmen should be balanced and able to react as freely as possible at the instant of shot selection.  

At ease at the crease, bat closed face between the feet, ideally balanced and head still. With the bowler in delivery stride, bat and shoulders commence their smooth rotation in a natural flow away from the body with balance still uncommitted but tilting evenly towards the toes of each foot. From this poised position of motion and readiness, in Bradman's words:- "The sight of the ball seems to trigger off a corresponding reaction so that movement becomes almost a habit." Because there is no pre-committed foot movement or counterbalancing to confuse the mind or clutter the mechanism, the continuous flow functions through the instinctive judgement of a positive stroke which is fashioned as a separate entity and played off either back or front foot with equal facility. Just as the still head and the shoulders, arms and feet of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly respond to music, so do the bat, shoulders, arms and feet of Don Bradman respond to the ball.

In the Chappell formula, unweighting takes place as a separate mechanical exercise prior to any reaction to the ball. With the Bradman formula however, bat and body are weightless but in motion at the instant of delivery and during the process of shot selection. The flow and all subsequent movement is continuous and functions in direct response to the ball alone. If asked to highlight any special aspect which assisted his free scoring capability, it would be the wrist play which, as an integral part of the rotary process, offers a flexibility and range of stroke not available to the 'cock-wristed' batsman. Bradman wrote:- "I was never conscious that either hand was playing any special part in the initial movement. It was just a natural process."

In summary there is a crucial difference between a batsman who offers a preconceived and structured stroke to the ball and a player who fashions his strokes to the ball he is receiving.

Orthodox batsmen tend to be taught and ingrain a series of strokes which are selected and applied so can be termed 'Shot Makers'. However, being already structured, such shots tend to be vulnerable to any misjudgement of selection or to any swing or deviation of the ball, all the more so when a player is encouraged to continue the shot with the full face of the blade continuing upwards following contact.

Batting the 'Bradman Way' I have found a stroke is only formed following the ball's release. The continuous process then provides the freedom and flexibility necessary for the bat to manipulate and control the ball with a technique which automatically closes and plays it to ground.

The Moving Bat

In conclusion Greg Chappell states:- Understanding and perfecting the core principles of motion as they apply to natural human movement, not technique, is what makes successful cricketers." For reasons outlined, these ideals better reflect the natural flow of Bradman's continuous style, rather than the modern batting formula described earlier. On the theme of coaching Chappell elaborates:- "Timing, not technique, is what makes successful cricketers. I simply get youngsters to watch the ball and move. If we try to teach kids by rote we are likely to destroy their confidence and lots of kids will lose interest."

Don Bradman was not taught nor did he learn to bat as such. From 'Test Match' games in an 8 foot space through evolution to "Continuous Rotary Batting Process" he assimilated the core principles of motion and, in batting terms, he advanced natural human movement a stage further to an optimum conclusion. The core principles of motion had been harnessed in such a way as to stretch 'The Art of Batsmanship' to a new dimension, as did Dick Fosbury with 'High Jumping'.

('Greg Chappell on Coaching' shows 'Bradman Revisited' alongside Bradman's 'The Art of Cricket' in the batting section of the book's bibliography.)


Some thoughts

Greg Chappell's statement regarding the core principles is fundamental to our thesis and raises some interesting aspects. Cricketers readily recognise the need for bowlers to develop 'Complete Actions' which are rhythmical, continuous and above all repetitive. It is also an agreed necessity for out fielders to be moving positively and smoothly as the ball is being struck. Why should it be thought beneficial to encourage batsmen towards a two part batting action, first a committed movement and back lift to be followed separately by the stroke, in this way sacrificing both the mental and physical advantages of continuous motion?

Considering Chappell recommends forward play and Bradman back play. It is interesting hearing one commentator beseeching batsmen to get forward to play the bowling, while his colleague then takes the microphone encouraging the bowler to entice the batsman forward to get him out.

Cricket author CLR James wrote:- "I knew (Leary) Constantine and (George) 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."

When in conversation with George Headley's son Ronald following his address to the "Merseyside Cricket Society" at Sefton Park Cricket Club on Thursday 15th March 2001, it was interesting to learn that up to the age of nine his father had lived in Panama playing baseball before moving to Kingston, Jamaica, and being introduced to cricket. From such a start, I was intrigued to discover George Headley had completed 1,000 'Test Match' runs by the age of 21 years 280 days, which was 38 days quicker than Don Bradman during his 'famous' year of 1930. To this day, Headley's 25% ratio of centuries per 'Test' innings is second only to Bradman's 36-25%.

It is worth considering why two men from such diverse backgrounds as George Headley and Don Bradman should arrive at batting styles which appear so similar as the pictures below indicate. It seems nature and human instinct led the way with Headley, just as we contend they did with Bradman. As the highly successful batting styles of Bradman, Headley and other stars conflict with modern coaching, surely the lessons of 'Continuous Motion' are there to be learned for the benefit of players generally! To quote Professor Timothy Noakes:- "Our observation is that batting is rapidly moving towards the direction of the way in which Bradman batted. This is now so obvious that it is surprising that more people haven't noticed it."

"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)

see also:


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

1  Bradman Revisited 2nd Edition - The Simplicity of Nature

2  Mind Game

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

9  Acknowledgements and Bibliography