Hammond scores 240 against Australia

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In almost any other age, Walter Hammond would have been acknowledged as the greatest batsman of his generation.

Nothing seemed more certain than that he would dominate cricket for a decade after he scored 905 Test runs at an average of 113.12 on England’s 1928-29 tour of Australia. It was a new world record aggregate for a Test series, obliterating the 734 set by Herbert Sutcliffe four years earlier. But Hammond’s seemingly unbeatable record would last little more than a year. The very next Ashes series, in 1930, marked the emergence of Don Bradman. The Boy from Bowral scored 934 runs at 139.14. No-one, not even Hammond or Bradman themselves, not even in series consisting of six matches, would come close to reaching these heights of run-scoring. Were it not for the miracle that was Bradman, Hammond’s record would stand unbroken to this day. The rivalry between the two batsmen was to overshadow the rest of Hammond’s career. Determined as he was to be the best, who could out-bat Bradman? Off the cricket field they did not particularly get on. Yet the rivalry also pushed Hammond to new heights, and passing Bradman’s Test record innings of 334 with 336 not out against New Zealand in 1933 was especially sweet.

Australia’s tour of England in 1938 gave their rivalry a new dimension. Bradman arrived as captain of his team and Hammond had sacrificed his professional status to take up the role of England skipper. England had the better of a drawn opener at Trent Bridge, but Bradman won the battle of the two great batsmen, his innings of 144 not out staving off defeat after Australia were forced to follow-on. But at Lord’s it was Hammond at his most peerless; Bradman might surpass his feats of run-scoring but he couldn’t match Hammond for style.

He strode to the wicket – “Hammond never walked to the wicket, he strode,” wrote Denzil Batchelor - with England struggling at 31 for 3. By the time he left it, they were 457 for 6. His 240 occupied 394 balls, 32 of which were thumped to the boundary with Hammond’s characteristic blend of power and grace. Neville Cardus called it “a throne room innings.” It was an innings that should have set up an England win, but inevitably another Bradman hundred secured Australia a draw.

Hammond’s captaincy that year was widely criticised for creating a dull series, lacking the spirit of enterprise that would delight a crowd. It was said that he set out solely to defeat Bradman, not the Australian team. Why else would he prolong England’s innings at the Oval into a third day if not to let young Len Hutton go past Bradman’s 334, no longer a Test record, but still an Ashes one? But here at Lord’s, at least, he had given the crowd a feast for the senses, an innings to rank with any other he made in his career and among the finest ever seen at Lord’s. It was a glimpse of the miracle of Hammond.