BOOK OF THE WEEK; Bradman's practice with a water tank

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The Independent Online

by Charles Williams

(Little, Brown and Company,

pounds 20.00)

There are 18 books either by Sir Donald , or about him, that have been published in Britain. Lord Williams provides a fresh account of an astonishing career and life. The author is a Labour life peer who made his reputation as a biographer of Charles de Gaulle and who was captain of Oxford University between Colin Cowdrey and Mike Smith.

If the subject's name is a little fuzzy for younger readers, Charles Williams records one of Nelson Mandela's first questions on his release from prison: "Is still alive?"

The family originated in Suffolk. His grandfather Charles emigrated to Australia in the 1850s to escape the poverty of rural England. The boy developed his batting technique by holding a cricket stump in his left hand and throwing a golf ball at the base of a water tank in the back yard. The ball would fly off at an unpredictable angle and he would try to drive the ball, gripping the stump two-handed, before it passed him. As an exercise in developing the co-ordination of hand, eye and footwork it is too difficult to contemplate and it is probable that he was the only eight-year-old on the planet who could master it. He hit the ball, he would say later, "more often than not".

At 12 he scored 115 not out in a total of 156 for Bowral High School. He made 118 on his debut for New South Wales in 1927, and by 21 he had registered a career best of 452. He began in Britain with 236 on a cold day in Worcester in 1930, following with 185 not out against Leicestershire and 252 not out against Surrey where Percy Fender, the county captain, had been unwise enough to criticise the new wonder's technique. England, it was said, was in state of "catatonic shock".

All this will be known to enthusiasts, as will England's development of the bodyline tactics just to contain him in the 1932-33 series. The author also presents as the icon that a young, thrusting country needed so desperately in the great depression of that era.

For was the great star in the Southern Cross. It was the adulation of the Australian public, and the admiration world-wide, heaped upon a man who was basically shy and reclusive - a teetotaller who usually preferred his own company of an evening - that brought so much difficulty in later life, from team-mates resentful, from administrators intent on reducing him to human proportions.

He is Tendulkar size, but lean, and as a player his strength and purpose was always evident. At the Leeds Test, in 1930, just short of 22, he scored 105 in the morning, 115 in the afternoon and another 89 by the close, 309 not out in 383 minutes.

If ever there was a subject for investigation by the X-Files team it was Donald George . To nit-pick, the reference to Bill Bowes as "dour and humourless" will raise a few eyebrows.