Saturday, February 23, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 8 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (8. Wally Hammond)

Almost through his Test career, Bradman’s great English rival was Walter Hammond. Wyatt in one of his letters to me wrote, “Hammond I put down as the greatest player on the off-side.” In Bradman’s debut series in 1928-29, Hammond struck a record 905 runs in the five Tests at an average of 113.12. When the two teams met again in 1930, Bradman not only logged up 974 runs, a mark never to be beaten, averaging 139.14, but also hit up the highest Test score of 334 at Leeds.

Hammond then took away the Test record with his unbeaten 336 against New Zealand at Auckland just after the Bodyline series in 1932-33. New Zealand were a very weak side then and many did not give much credence to this record, rating only the Ashes clashes as the real contests. So when Len Hutton took the record at the Oval in 1938, some were still under the impression that he had surpassed Bradman’s Test best. This illusion came into sharper focus as Bradman was the first to congratulate Hutton on achieving the feat. Nevertheless, Hammond had the highest score in Tests, and went on to become the leading rungetter at that level with 7249 runs at an average of 58.45 until Colin Cowdrey and Gary Sobers set new marks in the 1970s.

Hammond, though, could never emulate Bradman’s prolific rungetting - nobody could - a fact he was quick to acknowledge. Hammond has often been described as a majestic batsman. He would, however, be tied down by the great leg-spinners Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett, particularly on the leg-stump. E.W. Swanton also observed his difficulty against fast bowling, pointing to his lacklustre show against the West Indies. In fact Manny Martindale, Learie Constantine’s fearsome new-ball partner, split open his chin at Old Trafford in 1933.  Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas was similarly brilliant on the off-side in another era, one of the finest drivers off the back foot and very stylish. He also had his problems against genuine fast bowling, but revelled in English conditions. What can never be disputed is the fact that Hammond was England’s mainstay for the best part of a decade.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

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