Langer's Bradman letter leads to new Art of Cricket
New books reveals a young Justin Langer's letter to Sir Donald Bradman (and the legend's response) as well as never-before-seem images of The Don and Australia's women's cricketers
18 November 2020, 02:46 PM AEST
In addition to being devout Western Australians whose left-handed batting exploits led them to open for Australia in Test cricket, Wally Edwards and Justin Langer have learned they share another strong historical bond.
And, perhaps not surprisingly given his primacy in the nation's cricket narrative, that link is Sir Donald Bradman.
As a schoolboy growing up in rural isolation north of Perth in the early 1960s, Edwards' guide to the game was Bradman's totemic book 'The Art of Cricket', penned in 1958 after the greatest-ever's retirement and still regarded among the most influential coaching manuals.
"That was all I had as a country boy to learn the game," Edwards told cricket.com.au this week.
"My mum and dad gave it to me when I first started playing seriously as a kid.
"I didn't have any friends to play with or against, so I learned by hitting a ball on a string."
It set him on a journey that included selection in the famous home Ashes series of 1974-75, as well as chair of the WA and Australia cricket boards, and an ongoing directorship of the Bradman Foundation.
Langer's connection with Bradman came more than three decades later, and was even more direct.
From an early age, Langer had toyed with the idea of writing to Australia's most famous sportsman for advice on how he might best fulfil his cricket potential, but it was not until he was 23 and had already earned a Baggy Green Cap that he summoned the courage.
"As I am predominantly a back-foot player I wonder if you have any ideas on playing medium-pace bowlers," Langer wrote in a letter addressed 'Dear Sir Don' and which also sought insights on how Bradman prepared himself mentally for Test cricket.
Bradman's reply, typed within a day of receiving Langer's missive in August 1994, began with the Don's self-deprecatory "you flatter me by suggesting that an old octogenarian like me can help with your cricket".
Among the other advice contained within Bradman's single-page response was his physical fitness regime ("I did not take any measures … other than live a normal and sensible non-smoking and non-drinking career") and a recommendation that Langer consult 'The Art of Cricket'.
Almost 20 years after Bradman's death, Edwards and Langer have re-imagined that seminal text with the Australia men's team coach today launching 'Cricket – The Aussie Way!' which takes the essentials of coaching and weaves them into a story about fair play aimed at aspiring youngsters.
"As well as giving me valuable technical advice, Sir Donald told me he always played to have fun because he loved cricket," Langer said in explaining the book's core message.
"His letter to me is a treasured memory on my study wall. I see it every day when I'm at home".
As Edwards noted, the new iteration aims to do more than introduce young cricketers to the sport's fundamentals.
"The book encompasses some of the other elements of cricket – team spirit, helping your mates, playing to the rules and accepting the umpire's decision, all of that is woven in because it's something Bradman very strongly stood for," he said.
"JL (Langer) has put a lot of energy into it and done a fantastic job.
"It's got a lot of passion and compassion, plus there's a bit of philosophy and a bit of history about Bradman so the kids of today learn a bit about him."
The idea for 'Cricket – The Aussie Way!', which follows a struggling fictional junior team to highlight how winning isn't everything, stemmed from Edwards' involvement with the Bradman Foundation and the discovery of a cache of historic Australian cricket photos languishing in the United States.
The former member of Ian Chappell's Ashes-winning outfit had just finished his term as Cricket Australia chair in 2015 and joined the Foundation when he learned of the historical treasures that might be lost to the game altogether.
Edwards believes the photographs were part of the former Fairfax Media archive that was to be digitised under an agreement with a US-based company that was subsequently investigated for fraud and placed into administration.
A tranche of more than 40,000 cricket-related photos were offered to the Bradman Foundation by a seller in the US for $42,000, but the not-for-profit charitable trust – which operates the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral – could not afford them.
"We debated it, and the Bradman Foundation doesn't have unlimited funds unfortunately … so the reality was we didn't think we could afford the $42,000," Edwards told cricket.com.au.
"So I said 'I'll buy them, we can't let these things go and they should be in the Bradman'.
"I was lucky to be in a position to do that, and donated them to the Bradman Museum.
"Then I thought we've got to do something with them because they shouldn't just stay in a cupboard or a climate-controlled storage room."
Edwards has since personally bankrolled the production and publication of a series of books that, unlike 'Cricket – The Aussie Way!' which is hand-illustrated, showcase a number of the archival photographs that document epochs of the game's growth in Australia rarely before seen publicly.
Among the images that set the successful civil engineer-turned truffle farmer on his new path in publishing was a deeply personal shot of his two aunts opening the batting for WA against England at the WACA Ground in 1934, the first international women's match played on Australian soil.
"I had never seen it before, and we'd never seen it as a family." Edwards said of the photo of his dad's sisters Irene and Lola that was unearthed in the WA Newspapers library during research for a 2017 book on the WACA's history that he also underpinned.
"A lot of these photos, nobody would have seen.
"And that photograph made me realise that one of the most significant elements missing from Australian cricket history is documentation of the women's game, particularly in photographic form."
As a result, Edwards and Perth-based designer and publisher Phil Bonser have spent the past few years pulling together 'Clearing Boundaries – The Rise of Australian Women's Cricket' that is slated for release later this month to coincide with the Rebel WBBL|06 final.
It was stories gleaned from his aunts that had initially ignited Edwards' interest in the women's game and its history, a passion he took to the women's sub-committee when he first joined the WACA and then to CA where he was involved in its integration with Women's Cricket Australia in 2000.
"They spoke to me quite a bit about cricket when I was young," he recalled of his dad's sisters.
"They didn't play a lot of cricket even though, up until World War Two, the competition was quite strong.
"I remember Auntie Irene (the younger of the sisters) telling me how most country towns in WA had a women's cricket team and there was a vibrant competition in Perth, but I think the War killed it off for quite a while."
While not claiming to be a definitive history of the women's game here, 'Clearing Boundaries – The Rise of Australian Women's Cricket' contains more than 220 photos spanning its early days through to this year's record-breaking T20 World Cup final at the MCG.
It also includes the playing records of all women who have represented their country to this point.
"It's an epic effort that's been going on for years," Edwards said.
Another project nearing completion is 'India's 71-Year Test', a coffee-table book also containing more than 200 photos that chronicles India's Test battles in Australia that began against Bradman in 1947 and culminated in their first series victory here under Virat Kohli in 2018-19.
That book is expected to be launched during the upcoming Vodafone Test series between Australia and India starting next month, with a proportion of money raised going to the Bradman Museum.
And esteemed cricket journalist and author Mike Coward's 'Warne Worn – The Baggy Green That Rallied Australia' documenting how Shane Warne's Test cap helped raise more than $1 million for last summer's bushfire appeal rounds out the suite of Churchill Press-Bradman Foundation publications.
Edwards, now aged 70, admits his introduction to the world of book publishing has opened his eyes to the commercial hardships that and other creative industries currently face.
And while declining to comment on how much he's spent bringing these projects to market in a bid to raise awareness of cricket and the Bradman Foundation's place within it, he considers himself fortunate to be in a position to support such endeavours.
"It's a labour of love," he said.
"Cricket has been very good to me, and I'm in a fortunate position that I make a contribution back to the wellbeing of the game.
"I've had a lucky life in cricket so it's a small thing for me to do."
Books mentioned above are due for release this summer and will be available at book stores Australia-wide as well as online at www.bradman.com.au