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‘How can he ever be out?’

Today is donald bradman’s 100th birth anniversary. The great batsman never played a match in india. But it is here that he has his most dedicated fans, writes Gulu Ezekiel.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2008 21:52 IST

Don Bradman never played a match in India. Yet, after his beloved Australia where he was revered as a national hero, it was in India that he had the most dedicated fan following.

Right through his life Bradman responded to every single letter sent to him from around the world and he revealed in a TV interview on his 87th birthday that after Australia, he received the most from India. “Indians are mad about the game,” he told a close friend. “Their unbridled passion is infectious.”

It is estimated that Bradman signed his name more often than any person in history. He never refused an autograph request and wrote thousands of letters. But he stopped this practice after his 90th birthday due to poor health.

In a country where cricket is like a religion, Bradman was considered the God of the game. The Indian cricket fan’s obsession with statistics meant Bradman’s awesome Test average of 99.94 has always been looked upon with special reverence.

When he died in February 2001 at the age of 92, I was struck by the emotion displayed by Indian cricketers who had the good fortune to meet and play against him. Bishan Bedi was choking back tears as he spoke to me about his many meetings with ‘The Don’ in Australia. C.S. Nayudu, who was part of the first Indian team to tour Australia in 1947-48 said: “I have never cried in my life, but today the tears just won’t stop. I still can’t believe he is no more. How can he ever be out?”
That first series in which Australia won four of the five Tests (one was drawn thanks to rain) was described by one of

Bradman’s biographers as perhaps “the happiest and most pleasant Test tour in the history of cricket.” It established a deep bond between Bradman and Indian cricket which lasted his lifetime.

When the captain of that Indian side, Lala Amarnath, passed away in New Delhi in August 2000 — just six months before Don’s own death — a message of condolence issued through the Bradman Foundation (of which I was a member) landed in my inbox. It referred to “my old cricketing foe” as “absolutely charming and a wonderful ambassador for the game.” He described the series as “one of my pleasantest. There was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie amongst the players on both sides.”

The India link was cemented in 1996 when he anointed Sachin Tendulkar as his spiritual heir, claiming the young Indian master displayed batting technique that reminded him of his own.

Two years later, on his 90th birthday, he invited Sachin and Shane Warne to meet him at his home in Adelaide. And shortly after his death it was revealed that Tendulkar was the only current cricketer whom Bradman had selected in his all-time World XI.

Just once did Bradman set foot on Indian soil. That was in 1953 when his flight made a brief stopover at the Calcutta airport en-route to England. Thousands turned up to catch a glimpse of him and his beloved wife, Lady Jessie.

Bradman’s memorial service was held in an Adelaide cathedral a month after his death. At the end of it a letter from a fan from Lucknow was read out.

“God could have made a better berry than the strawberry, but he didn’t; God could have made a better cricketer than Don Bradman, but he wouldn’t.”

(Gulu Ezekiel is a Delhi-based sports writer)