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The Bradman Oration and assessing 'ruthless' England

The Bradman Oration and assessing 'ruthless' England

It was a pleasant surprise to be asked to deliver the 11th Bradman Oration in Melbourne on 23 October. I was honoured and pleased to be asked - particularly as it falls between two Ashes series.

I met Sir Don Bradman on a couple of occasions. One was in Adelaide in 1978 when we had Lunch with Doug Insole and, I think, Bob Willis. I recall him saying that Frank Tyson was the fastest bowler he’d ever seen - faster than Harold Larwood - and also describing Rodney Hogg as ‘a bit slippery!’

He came across as shrewd and wry and immensely experienced as an administrator as well (of course) as the great player he had been. As an eminence of Australian cricket for many years I see him as comparable to former England captain and MCC Secretary Gubby Allen in terms of the behind the scenes work he undertook.

I’ve known I’ll be delivering the Oration for about two or three weeks and have already begun giving some thought about what I might discuss.

There are so many things which I’d like to talk about relating to what might be called, broadly, the politics of cricket; how it’s organised, how it’s run, conflicts and potential conflicts relating to t20 and Test cricket, the value of t20 cricket, the umpire review system, the power of India in modern cricket, so-on and so-forth. These are topics which we frequently debate in the MCC World Cricket committee.

However it’s very much an invitation to discuss any area or current or general cricketing interest, and there are other things which I’d like to consider.

There’s the Ashes - both now and in the past. Given the timing of the Oration and the huge interest in the series I could discuss my personal memories and reflect on what the Ashes has become today.

And there’s also the psychology of cricket - things that make the game unique - which would bring in aspects of my career after cricket as a psychoanalyst and which I may choose to explore. But it’s a long time until October 23 and plenty of time to change my mind!

I was sorry to see that the Sri Lanka Cricket Board had rejected an offer by the Pakistan Cricket Board to play a first day/night Test Match during their upcoming series in the UAE. I think everyone is ready for it.

The irony of course, is that it happened shortly before the controversy surrounding the light levels in the final Test of the Ashes series at the Oval.

That situation made me consider that it might also be worth experimenting with a pink ball in a Test match played under normal conditions, but where there is a high chance of the floodlights being used.

Rahul Dravid played for MCC in the Champion County match in 2011 with the pink ball. He scored a duck in the first innings and a century in the second and reported that batting against the pink ball was perfectly feasible in daylight, under lights when it is dark, and at the more controversial dusk time. There can only have been improvements to the ball in the past two years and I think it’s worth a try.

England have been criticised by some in the aftermath of their Ashes series victory for being perceived as cold and somewhat unlikeable.

I have two thoughts on it. One is that if you’re successful, you have to be ruthless to avoid complacency. Douglas Jardine once said to Harold Larwood: “when they’re down we must tread on them.” That’s crude way of putting it, but it’s an maintaining standards and keeping ahead of the pack does involve being ruthless, not coasting.

If a team like England are properly ruthless, in the same way that the West Indies teams of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, and the Australia team of the ‘90s and 2000s were, they are likely to be unpopular, especially with opponents.

On the other hand, I think there’s still some truth in the accusations. Mike Atherton wrote an interesting piece in The Times where he describes the whole England set-up as being ‘one-eyed’ in their approach. It’s a bit like a football manager who complains about every refereeing decision that goes against his side. It can be slightly blinkered and ungenerous.

But the England side of the past three of four years has been doing extremely well. They held their nerve and came out on top of all the crucial moments this summer. Like most other Englishmen and women, I’m delighted to see it!

It’s a fine line between the two, but a healthy ruthlessness should be respected and admired. As Fred Titmus once said: “it’s harder to stay at the top than to get there.”

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