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Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 00:06 UK

Bedser recalls the private Bradman

By Oliver Brett

Don Bradman
Crowds came in their thousands just to get a glimpse of Bradman in action

An audience with Sir Alec Bedser, the last living man to dismiss Sir Don Bradman in a Test match, is a rare link to cricket's golden age.

Bradman, or "Donnie" as Bedser knew him, would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday. He is universally recognised as the finest batsman to have graced the game.

While praising the Australian's unique qualities as a cricketer, Bedser has also told BBC Sport in an exclusive interview how Bradman was a fiercely private man who hated publicity.

And, says the former Surrey hero, he would have disowned the friends who auctioned off memorabilia and letters.

The pair exchanged a series of intimate letters when Bradman's wife Jessie was dying. She lost her battle against cancer in 1997, aged 88, and Bradman himself lived for only four more years.

The man born in Cootamundra, New South Wales, needed four runs in his final Test innings - in itself a landmark from almost exactly 60 years ago - to end with an astonishing average of 100.

As many cricket fans can recount, he was dismissed by Eric Hollies for a duck, but Bedser - who took Bradman's wicket six times in Tests - has no doubt that he was easily the best batsman he saw.

The 90-year-old, whose memory remains astonishingly vivid, says: "Bradman was distinct from anyone else. His concentration was the great thing with him, I suppose, and hard work. He had the will to do it, and of course he was a fine player.

"He used his feet and despatched the bad ball, for four usually, on the ground, not in the air. He wouldn't have been caught out at deep square leg, I'll tell you that much."

He wouldn't think much of some of the people who have tried to sell letters he wrote to them. It's terrible, I think, and that was his point immediately

Sir Alec Bedser

The Second World War came at a time when Bradman was at his peak as a player, while Bedser had yet to taste the intensity of Test cricket.

But before then, like many boys in England, Bedser had already become aware of the extraordinary talents of the Australian batsman, who hit 300 in a day in the Leeds Test of 1930.

Bedser, who remembers a photograph in a newspaper from that day, played his first Test in 1946, in a home series against India. He took 11 wickets in a remarkable debut with his accurate medium-fast seam bowling that would eventually lead him on a productive path - becoming the first Englishman to take 200 Test wickets.

But that winter, he toured Australia and played against Bradman for the first time.

"It was bloody hard work. People don't realise the side that went to Australia were all elderly because of the war, there was nobody else. Myself, Godfrey Evans and Jack Ikin were the only three under 30, so it was pretty hard work and I had to do all the bowling. It was difficult to get [Bradman] out alright. He was a bloody fine player I mean and that's the end of it."

Australia won the series by a comfortable margin, 3-0. Bradman, typically, cashed in with some big scores, but Bedser bowled him for a duck in the drawn match at Adelaide with the delivery that made him so dangerous, the fast leg-cutter.

"I started to learn it then. If you can pitch it on the leg-stump and make it hit off, it's a good ball, don't matter who's batting."

Sir Alec Bedser
Sir Alec Bedser said Bradman was "distinct from anyone else"

When the teams reconvened in the English summer of 1948, it was to be Bradman's final Test series as he led a team who would become known as The Invincibles. The Australians went through the summer unbeaten in every match, including the contests against all the county sides, who fielded full-strength XIs.

Bradman's first four scores in the series were 138, 0, 38 and 89 - a fine return for anyone, though perhaps by the Don's exceptional standards slightly below par. Bedser was the man who got him on all four occasions.

Three times, he was caught by Len Hutton at leg gully off the famous Bedser inswinger.

"When you try to swing it it doesn't always swing, but it did when I got him out," he says. "They had to go late, no good swinging it all the way, otherwise any good player would see it. Naturally, I made it go late."

The series, and Bradman's career, ended with the famous match at The Oval. The Aussies had already won three and drawn one of the first four Tests, so there was little for either side to play for.

The wicket was at that time generally "very cushty" [good], recalls Bedser, but the day Bradman played his final Test innings it was wet. Only two balls into it, the great man missed a googly from Warwickshire leg-spinner Hollies, and was bowled.

"Eric never did much in his life but he just went up and bowled him," says Bedser. "He pitched it dead right second ball.

Don Bradman
Bradman hit a remarkable 29 Test centuries in just 52 Test matches

"[Bradman] hadn't had time to adjust himself to the light or anything, but that's what the game's all about. When a new batsman comes in, bowl it straight. But Eric was no good in Australia, he was terrible."

Bedser says that if he was bowling, and had known Bradman needed just four to end with that elusive average of 100, he would have bowled him an easy ball to hit to the boundary.

"We had lost the series hopelessly already, what did it matter? It matters a lot now though, no-one else will do it [finish with a 100 average]."

Not only did Bedser and Bradman become firm friends after that series, Bedser remained close to other members of "The Invincibles" - like Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey who travelled over from Australia in July to help Bedser celebrate his 90th birthday.

"I was friendly with them all," says Bedser. "We were friends. I don't see no reason not to be. I found them all a good lot of blokes.

"But Donnie didn't go into social circles. He stayed away from that. I was friendly with him more because I was involved in management and on the committees as he was, so I got to know him better then.

"I got to know him well. He kept himself to himself most of the time. He didn't make friends easy. He lived in a diffferent world. Everyone always wanted him to do something. And the letters he got... he said he replied to every single one. He was conscious about cricket."

Sir Don Bradman
Born: 27 August 1908, New South Wales
Died: 25 February 2001, South Australia
Test record: 6,996 runs from 80 innings at average of 99.94

Did fame affect him? "I suppose it did. He was brought up in the country. You've got to imagine someone who was brought up in the outback, who had never been anywhere, it took him a while [to adjust], but it didn't do too much for [affect] his batting.

"I could talk to him about anything, I just never told anyone about anything he said, never wrote a word about it.

"He used to write me letters. Some people would try to sell them, but I never could betray a confidence and never told anyone what he said.

"I know Donnie. He wouldn't think much of some of the people who have tried to sell letters he wrote to them. It's terrible, I think, and that was his point immediately. He says 'I've finished with you', that's what his reaction would be, unless they sold them for charity. He wouldn't have minded that so much.

Don Bradman and Jessie Bradman
Sir Don Bradman and his wife Jessie pictured during the 1938 tour

"I've got some letters he wrote to me about when Jessie was dying. I wouldn't tell people about them, I've kept three or four. She was a lovely person his wife, charming. She was brought up in the country, not far from him."

Bradman's career ended long before the advent of one-day internationals in the 1970s, while the current fad for Twenty20 cricket had still not started when he died in 2001.

Bedser, unsurprisingly, believes Bradman would have been brilliant at either.

"How do you judge a player? By how many runs he gets? That's what the game's about. You talk about stylish cricketers and he wasn't a stylish batsman. But you look at tonnes of people who are stylish batsmen and they didn't get so many runs.

"He was very broad-minded when limited-overs matches came. He didn't decry them, not the 50-overs cricket. He would have scored anywhere. He averaged about 40 runs an hour in Test cricket and that's bloody quick."

Clearly, if Sir Don Bradman was playing today, the most money-laden Indian Premier League teams would have indulged in a furious bidding war to book his talents.

But the modest, unassuming man from rural New South Wales would have hated all the fuss and attention.

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see also
Ashes Legends XI - Sir Donald Bradman
21 Sep 06 |  England
Bradman family slams biscuit plan
14 Oct 05 |  Cricket
Bradman letters go on sale
10 Sep 03 |  Cricket
Bradman's last Test cap sold
30 Jun 03 |  Cricket
Bradman dies at 92
26 Feb 01 |  Death of Don Bradman

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