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4 players who were supposedly better than Sir Donald Bradman

George Headley batting against Surrey, 1939

Let me begin this article apologizing to all cricket devotees who would consider questioning Bradman’s forte a blasphemy. But I indulge myself in questioning percepts and I am a proud adherent of “Socratic questioning”.Though, the belief world over is that Bradman is the greatest ever cricketer of all time, there have been nonconformists who have questioned such an Apocrypha.This article is not intended to draw comparisons between Bradman and those who were considered to be better. Instead, this is just a compilation of all those who were considered to be better than Bradman at one time or another.

#1 George Headley

George Headley batting against Surrey, 1939

Perhaps, the first in the pedigree of swashbuckling stroke makers from West Indies, George Headley was known as the Black Bradman. But the West Indians were content in calling Don Bradman, the white George Headley.

Born in the non-cricketing country of Panama, Headley’s father was involved in the building of the Panama Canal. Legend has it that when the eight year old Headley was gawking at a game of rounders in a nondescript village, a ball flew by his way which he plucked out of the air with his body flung up. The crowd went into raptures as the team approached the kid to play in the big match due the following Sunday. On Sunday evening he would be carried to his home on the shoulders of the other players as the eight year old took a match winning blinder at a crunch stage of the game.

Coming from a Spanish speaking family, Headley’s parents wanted him to be a dentist in the USA. Hence, he was sent to Jamaica to learn English, throwing him into the arms of cricket.

His inherent batting skills became apparent as he snowballed into a prodigy batsman, capable of outclassing the senior pros. Barely 19, the lean right hander was picked for the Jamaican side to play against Hon. LH Tennyson’s XI. Braving the pace of Nobby Clark and co. the Black Bradman scored 16, 71, 211, 40, and 71.

George’s parents had already migrated to the States by then and had it not been for the delayed post that was bearing his travel documents, Headley would not have played that match and cricket would have lost its gem.

Colour discrimination, racism and politics made sure the talented teenager could not find himself a place in the West Indies side that toured England in 1928. However, he was too talented to be kept out of the side for too long. He was in the team when England toured the West Indies 1929 and amassed 703 runs in eight test innings with an average of 87.80. He scored 176 in the first test, 114 and 112 in the third and 223 in the fourth. His 223 in the fourth innings of the fourth test is still the highest score made by any batsman in the fourth innings of a game.

In the tour of Australia in 1930/31 he plundered a thousand runs with two centuries. The only other batsman to score in excess of 1000 in that season was Bradman himself. With the cadaverous marauder socking bowlers around, soon news spread that Headley was invincible on the off side. Clarrie Grimmett, an Australian leg-break bowler countered it by bowling leg side to the West Indian batsman. George Headley initially struggled. But he went back to the nets practiced his leg side shots, came back and took Grimmett on in the leg side. Grimmett, who had bowled to most prolific batsmen of his time including Bradman, proclaimed he was the best he had ever bowled to, and irony be, Grimmett was a tormentor for Bradman.

In 1932, against a touring English first class team he hit 344 not out which according to the observers was the perfect innings. Against Tennyson’s England, Headley amassed 723 runs being dismissed only twice. His lowest score was 84 and his average was a Himalayan 361.5. Those were innings of perfection replete with variety of strokes. In that year, he never looked like getting out.

Don Bradman described him as a batsman “predominantly strong on leg side”. “I rate him very highly”, was his words on Headley.

Jack Egan, a cricket historian, opines that George Headley was similar in demeanor to Bradman at the crease, and was more stylish, graceful and attractive than Bradman. George was the only proper batsman in the West Indian team. The fact that out of the 22 centuries scored for West Indies until 1939, 10 of them were scored by Headley, shows that how much the team was dependent on him. For this very reason, Headley was called The Atlas, for single handedly carrying West Indies on his shoulders.

In 1935, when England toured West Indies, Headley flourished on wet wickets. Observers state that Headley was the best ever wet wicket batsman, a feat that is accentuated by the fact that Bradman wasn’t a prolific scorer on wet wickets. In the last Test of that 1935 series, the Black Bradman notched 270 not out to help West Indies win its first series against England.

He is known to be a sharp-thinking, astute, graceful and intelligent cricketer. He is told to have had a sparkle in his eyes which was the hallmark of many great batsmen. Eminent journalists describes him as a working man’s hero. He was the first cricket superstar of the black lower class of Jamaica.

For the Jamaican youths who were desperate to make a mark for themselves in the society, Headley was a beacon. He was an icon and inspiration for his people. Michael Holding states that, being a black Jamaican to have travelled world over and achieved so much when blacks were being treated as second class citizens, Headley was a game changer to the doomed black youths. The amount of knowledge he possessed about cricket should have made him a captain in 1939. But the color of his skin denied him of such a privilege.

By that time, the world was at war and Headley was at his peak. Sadly, the world war halted cricket. When peace resumed, Headley had passed him prime. In 1948, he was made West Indies captain, an honour for the blacks as a whole. While aged 45, the West Indians wanted Headley to be back in the Test team in 1954, so that the youths could motivate themselves watching the game’s greatest.

A modest, shrewd cricketer, laid the foundation for the thriving of Caribbean cricket. He was a hope for the blacks. He made them believe, despite the myths surrounding the blacks that they are inept, that they can conquer the world – which culminated in the Invincibles of the 1970’s and 80’s. With a better team and matches during the peak of his career he could have achieved much more than what Bradman did.

George Headley averages 60.83 in 22 matches with 10 centuries. Though the numbers don’t do justice to his ability, the observers of his time rate him as highly as Bradman, if not higher.

#2 Sir Jack Hobbs

Jack Hobbs batting in 1926

The greatest of all opening batsmen, Jack Hobbs’ records are startling. He played a whopping 834 first class games, scoring an out-worldly 61,760 runs at an average of 50.70. In international circuit, Hobbs scored 5410 runs at an average 0f 56.94. Even though his average is nowhere near that of Don Bradman, critics rate him as a better batsman than the Don, since his runs came on tough tracks.

Jack Hobbs was born in 1882 as the first of 12 children. Struck by famine and poverty from a very young age, Jack Hobbs was smitten by the game of cricket and played whenever he could. He was not a professional cricketer to begin with and remained an amateur for most of his early life. The facilities and privileges available to other professional cricketers were not accessible to him. He was lackadaisical as a cricketer during his nascent years and no club or coaches approached him.

But, beginning in 1901 his batting started improving and since then it seldom sojourned. Much like Bradman, he had his own quirky way of practicing. He used a stump as a bat and practiced with tennis ball on a gravel pitch. He was self-taught and self-coached.

In 1903, he moved to Surrey to play cricket for that county club. But his performance for Surrey’s Colts side club was satisfactory “without doing anything startling”. In 1905, Hobbs was chosen to open the batting for the main team and immediately impressed the Surrey team committee.

But the golden part of Hobbs cricket didn’t come until he was forty. 98 of his 197 first class centuries came after the age of forty. His century against Australia as a 46 year old makes him the oldest player to have scored a Test century.

He sustained his stellar performance for a marathon 30 years. In winning causes he averaged in excess of 96. Warwickshire all-rounder Bob Wyatt once said that considering the art of batsmanship on every department, Hobbs was better than Bradman. He went on to say, that during Jack Hobbs peak, it was impossible to stop him on any wicket whereas Bradman, whenever he came across a sticky wicket was in shambles.

Bert Oldfield, an Australian wicket keeper when speaking about Jack Hobbs stated that under all types of conditions, on fast, rain-affected or crumbling wickets, against the swinging ball or the turning old ball, Jack Hobbs was the cleverest batsman he had ever seen.

Sir Geoff Boycott pontificated that on all kinds of pitches, Jacks Hobbs was the best the world has ever seen.

#3 Archie Jackson

Archie Jackson(right) with Australian opening batting partner Bill Woodfull

Cricket is a cruel game. Death is crueler. When they combine together, they become even crueler. It becomes the cruelest when death filches a 23 year old. English grammar doesn’t allow me to go any further to state how cruel when death takes away a dotting, humble, graceful young cricketer besotted with sportsmanship.

Many believe that Archie Jackson, had he continued to live, would have become the best Test batsman of all time. But the cruel god picks the most beautiful flowers first in his garden.

Archibald Jackson was a Scottish born Australian cricketer who made his debut for Australia at the green age of 19 in 1929. Faced up with the pace of Harold Larwood, the young Jackson scored 164 in the first innings, becoming the youngest Australian to score a century on debut. Don Bradman batting beside Archie advised him to be careful as he closed in on a century, but Archie didn’t want to let go off his gracefulness as he drove Larwood drove through the covers.

Larwood would later write, “He cover-drove me to bring up his hundred… That ball was delivered as fast as any I had ever bowled previously. That glorious stroke has lived in my memory to this day for its ease and perfect timing. I am sure that few among the many thousands present sighted the ball as it raced to the boundary.”

However, tuberculosis clutched him firmly, as the deteriorating health made him renege on various matches. His poor health never allowed him to deliver his best. But his gracefulness and swashbuckling stroke making defied to evaporate.

In the 1930 Bodyline series, the youngster had to sit out for most part of the series. He managed to make it into the XI during the fifth test and compiled a spunky 73 facing the ballistic Bodyline bowling.

He was beaten and bruised. But Archie Jackson insists on good sportsmanship. Harold Larwood, when writing about the youngster, wrote that the Poms considered Jackson as one of them and the young Aussie was never shy to pass words of appreciation when the oppositions bowled or fielded well. Even after being struck by the soaring balls, Jackson uttered to Larwood, “Well, Harold, it's only a game, but what a grand one we're having today! I hope you're enjoying our battle as much as those spectators seem to be. You know, you've hit me almost as many times as I've hit you! I wish you'd drop one a little off line occasionally.”

But those were the highlights of a promising career cut short by the hastened messenger from the heavens as Archibald Jackson succumbed to his disease in 1933 aged 23 and 164 days. Many believed that Archie was better than Bradman, but a premature death helped Bradman win that rivalry and elope with the sobriquet of the best batter ever.

#4 Mahadevan Sathasivam

Sathasivam with Don Bradman

Mahadevan Sathasivam, a batsman, unfortunate enough to have been born during the pre-Test era of Sri Lanka, has forever been thrown into limbo, despite his being one of the best batsmen to have ever played cricket.

Dotingly called Satha, Sathasivam hardly played any first-class matches, let alone Test matches. All that is known about his batting prowess are from the mouths of all those who have played cricket alongside him or against him.

The very first memories of Satha was about his knock in Chepauk in Chennai in 1947. He hit a bellicose 215 against South India which was described as the best ever innings played at Chepauk. And Chepauk had already seen innings from Jack Hobbs, Charlie Macartney, Jo Hardstaff, Dennis Compton, Lindsay Hassett, Garry Sobers, C.K. Nayudu, Vijay Hazare and Ren Nailer.

In 1950, he scored 96 out of his team’s 153 against the Commonwealth XI and Frank Worrell, one of the three W’s lead the applause of his team as Satha walked out to the pavilion.

Later, he played against India led by Vijay Merchant, where he amassed 111, enthralling the crowd against bowlers like Amarnath, Banerjee, Mankad, CS Nayudu, Hazare and Modi. At the end of the match, Vijay Merchant paid a visit to the Ceylon dressing room and gifted Satha a stump saying “in appreciation for a really fine innings”.

Vinoo Mankad, who had also bowled against Bradman, in a BBC radio interview said that Sathasivam was the most difficult batsman he had ever bowled to.

The West Indian Frank Worrell also regarded him highly. He once said that if he were to pick a world XI, Sathasivam would be the first choice. Sir Gary Sobers would soon call Satha “the greatest batsman ever on earth”.

But his career hit its end when he was accused of murdering his wife. The lawsuit that gripped the entire nation saw Sathasivam being acquitted. Later, Sathasivam, who had the eyes of a hawk, wrists of a fencer and feet of a dancer, migrated to Malaysia and went on to captain both Malaysia and Singapore.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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