August 14, 1948. England were skittled out for 52 by a lethal Ray Lindwall, following which Don Bradman fell for the most infamous duck in the history of cricket. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the day when the great man played his last Test innings, stopping short of 7,000 Test runs and an average of 100 by four runs.
Arthur Morris ended the day on 77. After the sun had worked its magic on the rest day rendering it ideal for batting, the left handed Australian opener carried his score to 196.
On the first day, Eric Hollies bowled perhaps the best delivery of his life — a googly.
However, in spite of their commendable deeds, the applause of the match was reserved for the most famous duck of all time. And the best innings was played not by Morris but the man to whom Don Bradman passed his mantle of the best batsman of the world. Len Hutton was exceptional as he scored 30 in the paltry England total of 52.
As he went out to toss, Bradman averaged 101.39. His previous Test innings at The Oval fetched him 232, 244 and 77. In 1948, he had already batted twice on the ground against Surrey, and had scored 146 and 128. All he needed was four runs to complete 7000 Test runs and end with a career batting average of 100. Sadly, he finished four short. As Jack Fingleton later observed: “The game that had given him so much had denied him at the very last Test appearance.”
The Lindwall spell
On that Saturday, Bradman lost the flip of the coin and Norman Yardley decided to bat. The wicket was saturated with overnight rain, but the England captain was not really left with an option. With more rain in the air and uncertainty surrounding the conditions, the decision was inevitable.
And on that sodden wicket, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston maintained a stranglehold on the English batsmen for 42 overs and one ball before the pitiful innings ended for a miserable 52. It was England’s lowest total since they had been routed for 45 by Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris at Sydney in 1887. England had ended up winning that Test by 13 runs. Nothing of that sort was about to happen in this one.
Lindwall varied his pace superbly, mixing it up with his occasional express delivery. The ball rose to different heights while seldom deviating from the line of the stumps. Norman Yardley, Godfrey Evans, Alec Bedser and Jack Young were bowled, all gingerly hesitant to come forward. Allan Watkins was struck on the shoulder and his abilities as a bowler was taken out of the equation for the Test match. After lunch Lindwall’s figures read 8.1-4-8-5.
And all through this tale of plight, Hutton demonstrated absolute mastery. With class written over each and every stroke, he proceeded untroubled to 30. And then, with the last man at the other end, he essayed a perfectly genuine leg-glance off an express Lindwall delivery down the leg side. Behind the wicket Don Tallon took off in a spectacular dive and took the ball at full stretch with his left glove. “A great finish to Australia’s splendid performance,” wrote Wisden. Hutton scored just 30, but it must rank as one of the very best innings he ever played in his illustrious career.
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