Unlocking the secrets of batting like Bradman

Sir Donald famously grew up hitting a golf ball off a water tank and is the greatest batsman ever ... so why isn't everyone doing that?

Cricket Network

24 July 2017, 11:24 PM AEST

At first glance, England may not have been too impressed by the 124th man to represent Australia in Test cricket.

After all, the diminutive right-handed middle-order batsman with the unorthodox technique made just 18 and 1 batting at No.7 in the opening Test of the 1928-29 Ashes. Donald Bradman was promptly dropped for the second Test.

Hundreds turned out to watch Bradman net // Getty
Hundreds turned out to watch Bradman net // Getty

By series end he had two centuries and two other fifties but didn't even rate a mention in the Wisden report of England's tour where all the spotlight was on Wally Hammond's batting in a 4-1 series win for the visitors.

Some 18 months later, however, the boy from Bowral's name was on every Englishman's lips as he eclipsed Hammond and scored 974 runs in seven Test innings at a tick above 139 – a record for the most runs in a Test series that still stands 87 years later.

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It was an iconic early chapter in the Bradman tale. Now, there's not a person alive with a passing interest in cricket who doesn't know the story of that final-innings duck that secured the 99.94 average, or the tale of the young boy hitting a golf ball against the water tank with a single stump.

Much of The Don's mythical qualities come from that batting average, a statistical representation of how far over and above every other player to play the game he has been.

Bradman has become an obsession for Englishman Tony Shillinglaw, who has spent the past 30 years attempting to unlock the secret of what made Bradman so far above anyone before or since.

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"Here's a man who was 66 per cent better than anyone who has played. I wanted to find out how he did it," Shillinglaw told ABC's Lateline.

Shillinglaw, 80, began his Bradman obsession in his 50s, reportedly inspired by his own shortcomings as a cricketer, and started his quest to understand Bradman's method.

Bradman late cuts past slip in a 1948 Ashes tour match // Getty
Bradman late cuts past slip in a 1948 Ashes tour match // Getty

Having studied Bradman's grip, back lift and technique in perhaps more forensic details than anyone previously, Shillingham is at a loss as to why The Don's style or fabled boyhood training method isn't more widely adopted.

"We found out that the key was the golf ball and stump — the ability to hit it and control it," Shillinglaw said.

"Bradman learned to control a fast, erratic, moving ball better than anyone else has ever done, and all I've discovered is you can't do it from an orthodox style.

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"We were trying to locate the cause and the cause is the water tank and stand —  an eight-foot space, golf ball and stump at Shepherd Street (Bradman's childhood home).

"That's where Don Bradman got his skill from."

Lyon and Maxwell's tour of the Bradman Museum

The origin of the method may have been unorthodox but Shillingham says there could be merit in allowing Bradman's technique to be taught rather than more classical strokeplay.

"We feel it's our duty that Bradman's method should be made available to cricket generally, and anyone with the aptitude or the will to do it should be able to do it," he said.

"Because it's not an idea that we've had, it's proven; the runs are in the book — Don Bradman put them there."

Shillinglaw first labelled Bradman's technique that landed him 6996 Test runs and more than 28,000 in first-class cricket, the "rotary method" in his 2003 book, Bradman Revisited.