If a time machine took you back to watch a Don Bradman innings how many would you expect him to score? 99.94, meaning a 100? Suggestions that batting averages at times are over relied on are not new, but this one is iconic, a number to end arguments: ‘The Don’s’ average is almost 40 more than George Headley, Graeme Pollock and Steve Smith, the three closest to him in the history of the game.
Yet in his 80 Test innings he made 100+/-50 in just 24 of them and if batting careers are made from a relatively small number of really good days, a larger number that aren’t, what of such an elevated average as his? It’s a big compromise but it gets the right man as the greatest?
Bradman made big hundreds, 150+, 18 times; more than Headley, Pollock and (to date) Smith together in less than half their combined number of innings. His 334 at Headingley in 1930, his 13th innings, took his career average to 99.67 from which there were not later big variations.
This suggests consistency, yet one run short of making three 300’s, one four short of another .06. the average variation of his scores was more than 70; the experience of those watching a ‘day at the Test’ different day-to day. This applies to others of course, Steve Smith, with a current average of 61.8 has made scores within +/- 30 around one innings in three, something similar or more so, with Graeme Pollock and George Headley.
Bradman b Hollies 4 at the Oval? If one ball in cricket history could be changed his last would surely have made for a happier ending, although from the standpoint of 2021 99.94 has its charm, mystique as well maybe. It’s a marker of DGB’s greatness of course, but not very far away from this statistic are also markers for how much the experience of watching is personal; that greatness is in the eye of the beholder, a matter of aesthetic pleasure as well as the numbers.
Given the chance to see one innings from the past, personally DGB would be one contender but so would several others, including George Headley, ‘the black Bradman’, who from accounts of his time was arguably more stylish and Graeme Pollock, and the ‘golden hour’ of South African cricket complete with a century from Barry Richards at the other end.