Bygones: When Don Bradman turned the Ashes series for Australia off his own bat

IT REMAINS the only five-match Test series won by a team that were 2-0 down.

Maurice Leyland

Inspired by the legendary Don Bradman, Australia came back to beat England 3-2 in the 1936-37 Ashes.

For Australia, it was a cathartic comeback after they had been trounced 4-1 when England previously toured in 1932-33.

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Unlike on that occasion, there was no Harold Larwood to terrorise the Australia batsmen, with the Notts pace bowler having successfully tamed Bradman and company during what became known as the ‘Bodyline’ series.

THE MAN WHO TURNED A SEREIS: Australias Don Bradman

Bradman, whose average during the 1932-33 Tests near-halved from his final career figure of 99.94, had already exacted personal revenge during the 1934 return series with scores of 304 at Headingley and 244 at The Oval in a 2-1 win.

Now he near single-handed plucked victory from the jaws of defeat to prevent England from regaining the Ashes Down Under after Gubby Allen’s men won the opening two Tests.

England were rampant in both games, winning by 322 runs in Brisbane (Bradman 38 and 0) and by an innings and 22 runs in Sydney (Bradman 0 and 82).

Captaining his country for the first time, Bradman had seen his side caught on two rain-affected pitches after losing the toss and looked on as his arch-rival, Wally Hammond, struck a match-winning 231 not out at Sydney.

THE MAN WHO TURNED A SEREIS: Australias Don Bradman

Those fearing a backlash from ‘The Don’ were quickly provided right, however, as Bradman turned the series on its head.

Despite a remarkable track record, which also included an earlier triple hundred at Headingley in 1930, there was pressure on the 28-year-old Bradman going into the third Test in Melbourne.

This only intensified when he fell cheaply after winning the first of three successive tosses, caught by Walter Robins off Hedley Verity as Australia fell to 130-6 on a blameless pitch.

Verity, the left-arm spin bowler, was one of two Yorkshiremen in the touring party along with Maurice Leyland, who had hit 126 in the victory at Brisbane.

But in the days of uncovered pitches, rain came to Australia’s aid and enabled Bradman to declare on 200-9, leaving England suddenly exposed to worsening conditions.

On a fiendish surface, with some balls rearing up and others shooting low, the tourists imploded, with just Leyland, Hammond and Charles Barnett reaching double figures in impressive, backs-to-the-wall efforts under the circumstances.

“The behaviour of the ball on this terrible Saturday went beyond all I had expected,” observed the writer Neville Cardus. “I could scarcely believe my eyesight. The pitch grew fiercer by the over.”

Allen declared England’s reply on 76-9, with many – Cardus among them – contending that the captain should have bailed out even earlier to get Australia in for a second time on the gluepot surface.

“The chance was there to get Bradman out for next to nothing,” insisted Cardus. “I doubt if any Australian batsman could have stayed in ten minutes.”

As it was, following a rest day that allowed the pitch to recover, and with Bradman having sent in his tail-enders first to combat the most difficult conditions, the captain took full advantage as the weather and surface markedly improved.

In partnership with Jack Fingleton, with whom he added 346, still a sixth-wicket record for Australia in Tests, Bradman put the game out of England’s reach as the series underwent a seismic shift.

‘The Don’ scored 270 out of 564, Fingleton made 136, and England were left a chimerical 689 for victory.

Leyland maintained his good form with an unbeaten 111, but the tourists were dismissed for 323 to lose by 365 runs.

“It was inevitable that Bradman should find his form soon,” commented Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, “and he chose the moment of his country’s greatest need to do so.

“Eschewing the off-drive, he thrilled the crowd and subdued the bowlers. Scoring 270, he played his highest innings against England in Australia.”

Only later did it become public knowledge that Bradman was batting with a severe chill brought about by mild influenza.

That the Australian public had faith in the capacity of Bradman and his colleagues to battle back into the series was evidenced by the large attendance and takings.

The aggregate attendance was 350,534, while the full receipts were £30,124 – a record in both cases.

The fourth Test was staged in Adelaide, where Verity – usually a tailend batsman for Yorkshire – was pressed into service as an emergency opener.

He shared in stands of 53 and 45 with his great friend Charles Barnett, who made a century in the first innings, but the outstanding batting again came from Bradman, who scored successive double hundreds against England for the third time.

His second innings 212 enabled Australia to set a target of 392, and they dismissed England for 243 to leave the series all square.

According to Wisden, England’s batting was, at times, “deplorable”, the almanack adding that Bradman was “in his most dangerous mood” and insisting that he had “never looked more sure of himself”.

The teams returned to Melbourne for the final Test, where Australia were on the front foot right from the start.

Bradman led the way with 169 as the home side scored 604, England managing only 239 in reply and, following-on, 165 on another rain-affected pitch.

Wisden described Bradman’s innings as “a brilliant display… one of the finest of his career” as Australia amazingly retained the Ashes.

It left him with 810 runs for the series at an average of 90; the next-highest return was team-mate Stan McCabe’s 491 at 54.55.

The five Tests were watched by an aggregate of 943,000 spectators, and as soon as the action concluded Bradman appeared on the pavilion balcony to address the cheering throngs gathered in Melbourne.

“Rain dealt England a very clear blow,” he said modestly in his summing up of the series, “but I have yet to hear one word of complaint from any one of the players.”

In reply, Gubby Allen said how much Australia owed to their captain, “who has shown magnificent form, first with the bat and then with that infernal coin”.

As soon as the result of the rubber was known, the King sent a message of congratulation to Bradman and his victorious team.

In the opinion of Wisden, “although the MCC team failed in their quest to regain the mythical ‘Ashes’, it is probable that they would have achieved their objective had it not been for some wonderful batting feats by Bradman”.

It was the sort of sentiment expressed many times during the career of the greatest batsman that cricket has known.