Hedley Verity - The Bowler Who Kept Bradman Under Control
by Vijay Jeedigunta

Player:DG Bradman, H Verity

DateLine: 28th August 2006


Enough has been written about the indomitable Sir Donald George Bradman and his 309 runs scored in a single day’s play. On July 11th 1930, playing in seventh test of his seven month old test career, Bradman made 105 runs before lunch, 115 between lunch and tea and added 89 more runs from tea till the end of first day’s play of the 3rd Test at Leeds. In the process, he completed 1000 runs in test cricket in just his 13th test innings when he reached the 138 run mark. He also completed 2000 runs for the season. At 21 years 318 days he became the youngest ever to reach 1000 test runs and also score a triple hundred in test cricket. Both those records were later obliterated. Sachin Tendulkar is the current record holder of youngest to aggregate 1000 runs at 19 yrs 217 days whereas Gary Sobers holds the record for being the youngest to hit a triple hundred at 21 yrs 215 days.


For a man who would end his test career with an astronomical batting average of 99.94, his test career did not begin as impressively as one would have thought. Making his test debut in the 1st test of the 1928/29 Ashes at Brisbane after a string of tremendous scores in domestic Cricket, Bradman could make just 18 (batting at no.7) & 1(batting at no.6) in his maiden test appearance. Australia in that test was set a target of 742 runs for victory but folded out for a paltry 66. Whatever was the reason behind the selectors' choice of dropping Bradman for the 2nd test at Sydney, they must have cursed themselves for the rest of their lives for taking that decision. After all dropping Bradman, whether from the team or on the field, one will certainly have to pay a heavy price. Bradman carried drinks for the first and only time in his career as the twelfth man of the team.


Bradman returned with a bang and made 79 & 112 in the 3d test at Melbourne. 4th Test at Adelaide was relatively a low scoring match for Bradman as he made just 40 & 58. For any other batsman that would have been an excellent match, but as per Bradman’s standards it’s not even an average performance. In the 5th and final test Melbourne, Bradman again went back to his high scoring habit and made 123 & 37*.


After that Test series Bradman went on to hit nine more first class hundreds in next two seasons including a triple (340* vs Victoria in 1928/29) and a quadruple (452* vs Queensland 1929/30) and became an automatic choice for 1930 Ashes tour to England. English fans too were eager to watch this Boy wonder from down under. What a wonder he proved out to be… He did not disappoint their aspirations.


Bradman hit a century in every test of the series except in the 4th test at Manchester which lost almost two day’s of play due to bad weather. His scores in that 5 test series were 8 & 131 at Trent Bridge, 254 & 1 at Lord’s, 334 at Leeds, 14 at Manchester and 232 at The Oval. His aggregate of 974 runs still remains as the highest aggregate in a test series and very unlikely to be surpassed.


Bradman’s 309 runs a single day is a world record for most number of runs scored in a day by one batsman. Needless to say they are the most number of runs scored by a batsman in a single day in Ashes too. Bradman not only holds the record for most number of runs in single days play, but also in a test series ( 974 runs from five tests in 1930 Ashes) and in whole of Ashes (5028 runs from 37 tests @ 89.79). However Bradman missed the record for most number of runs in an innings and most number of runs a test match in Ashes. That record belongs to Len Hutton of England who made that unforgettable 364 against Australia in the highest ever innings total of 903/7 at Leeds in the 1938 between the arch rivals which resulted in highest margin for victory in test cricket by an innings and 579 runs. Brain Lara's 400* against England at St. John's in 2003/04 and Graham Gooch's 456 (333 & 123) against India at Lord's in 1990 are the best in test cricket.


The corresponding records in bowling too are not difficult to guess i.e., the most number of wickets taken by a bowler in an Ashes test in a single innings, a test match, a test series and in whole of Ashes. Jim Laker’s 10 for 53 in Australia’s 2nd innings in the 4th test of the 1956 Ashes at Old Trafford and his match figures in the same test of 19 for 90 are not only the best by any bowler in Ashes but in entire test cricket history. Though his series aggregate of 46 wickets at 9.61 in 5 tests is the best in Ashes, England’s SF Barnes with 49 wickets at 10.94 against South Africa in 1913/14 holds the record for most number of wickets in any test series. Barnes played in only 4 tests of that series.


Jim Laker’s 10 wickets in an innings was later equaled by Anil Kumble, when he took 10 for 74 against Pakistan at Delhi in 1998/99 series. The most number of wickets taken by a bowler in whole of the Ashes does obviously belong to Shane Warne who in 31 tests has already taken 172 wickets at 22.31. If everything goes well for him Shane Warne might become the first bowler to aggregate 200 wickets against a single opponent during this winter.


But there are two bowling records which are not very well known: i.e., the most number of wickets taken in a single day’s play and the most number of runs conceded by bowler in an innings of any Ashes Test. No doubt bowlers from either side would be trying to emulate one of them and avoid another. The record for most number of wickets taken in a single day’s play by any bowler in test cicket belongs to England's Johnny Briggs. In the 2nd test of the 1888-89 series played at Cape Town, South Africa started their second day at the score of 2 for 1 after bowling out England for 292 the previous day.


Johnny Briggs then produced a magical spell of 7 for 17 to dismiss South Africa for a meagerly total of 47 with AB Tancred carrying his bat for 26. When South Africa was asked to follow on no one thought their performance in the 2nd innings will be even worse. Johnny Briggs again being the wrecker-in-chief as South Africa was skittled out for 43. Briggs bettered his 1st innings analysis by getting 8 wickets for 11 runs. The most remarkable thing about Briggs wickets was except for NHCD Theunissen’s wicket in South Africa’s innings he obtained all his wickets by clean bowling the batsman. 117 years have passed since he set this record, but the 15 wickets he took that day still remains as the record for most number of wickets taken by a bowler in a single day. To South Africa’s credit it was just their 2nd ever test match and they were taking their baby steps in test cricket.


Another bowler, Hedley Verity who 46 years later bowling to one of the best batting line-ups in history of cricket, came tantalizingly close to equaling if not beating Briggs record. In the second test of the 1934 Ashes, playing at the Mecca of cricket, Lord’s, Hedley Verity bamboozled the Australia’s batsmen with his slow orthodox spin after the weekend rain made the perfect batting track on which England piled up a big total of 440 with centuries from Maurice Leyland and Les Ames. Verity too chipped in with a score of 29 and added 50 runs for the 8th wicket with Ames. By the end of second day Australia were well on their way to even bigger total with Bill Brown playing his second test on 13 and Stan McCabe on 24 still batting.


Though they lost Bradman for 36 caught and bowled by Verity there was not a slightest hint of what was in store when play resumed after the scheduled rest day. The rain that fell on the rest day made the track offer some assistance to the spinners, but it was really Verity’s aggressive but controlled spin bowling that made it look treacherous. Verity ran through the Australian Innings and claimed six of the remaining wickets once Bill Bowes made the initial breakthrough getting Bill Brown’s wicket for 105. Verity improved his bowling figures from 1 for 24 at the end of second day’s play to 7 for 61 as Australia was bowled out for 284 and forced to follow on. In the second innings Australia’s batting was even more pathetic as their batsmen had absolutely no answer to Verity’s deadly spell of 8 for 43 and were bundled out for 118 giving an innings and 38 runs victory for England.


Verity took the wicket of Bradman in both the innings. His 14 wickets on that day still remains as the most by any bowler in a single day's play of an Ashes test. Verity also shares that same record in entire first class cricket with two other bowlers. While playing for Yorkshire during the previous summer against Essex Verity took 17 wickets in a single day as Essex were bowled out for 104 and 64 on the same day. His analysis read 8 for 47 and 9 for 44. His 17 wickets equaled a record for most number of wickets in a single day’s play in all first class cricket set by Colin Blythe of Kent against Northamptonshire at Northampton in 1907. Tom Goddard of Gloucestershire joined them as the 3rd bowler by taking 17 wickets in a single day against Kent at Bristol in 1939. The last day of that season, Hedley Verity produced another lethal bowling spell of 7 for 9 to dismiss Sussex for 33 and help Yorkshire beat Sussex and win the 1939 county championship.


As he walked out of the ground after the match, he uttered the prophetic words sensing the imminent war “'I wonder if I shall ever bowl here again.” He did not as two days after England declared war on Germany and that proved out to be the last day of 1st class cricket before the World War II for English cricket. Unfortunately for Hedley Verity too that remained as the last day of his first class cricket career. Verity joined the British Army and served his country in a different role altogether. He was sent to Ireland, India and Sicily on military assignments, the last of which as captain. He was badly wounded while leading his troops in 1943 during the allied invasion of Sicily and was taken as prisoner by Germans. He died of those wounds in a POW camp on July 31st, 1943 in Caserta, Italy after being handed over to Italian troops.


He was just 38 years when he died. Verity’s first class debut came very late at an age of 25 years in 1930 when Bradman was making his first tour of England. He made the similar kind of impact on Yorkshire’s bowling as Bradman did Australia’s batting. He did not play the full season in his first year in first class cricket and never got a chance to bowl at Bradman. However his first victim in Ashes was that of Don Bradman whom he always perplexed. In fact Verity took Bradman’s wicket 8 times thrice clean bowling him and twice catching off his own bowling. Bradman himself said about Verity: "I think I know all about Clarrie (Grimmett), but with Hedley I am never sure. You see, there's no breaking point with him."


In all Hedley Verity played 40 tests and took 144 wickets at 24.37. Unlike many of the tail end batsmen of his time, he did bat and made valuable contributions to England’s innings many a time like the 29 runs he made in Lord’s Test of 1934. He in fact opened the batting for England in both the innings in the 4th test of the 1936/37 Ashes at Adelaide and came in at number 3 position in the 2nd test of the 1938 Ashes at Lord’s. By no means was he a rabbit with the bat. His 669 runs in test cricket were attained at a decent rate of 20.91 which included 3 fifties. In 1935/36 when Yorkshire toured Jamaica to play some first class matches, his bowling helped Yorkshire end Jamaica’s track record of not losing a first class match for 10 years. This time he tied down the Black Bradman, George Headley and dismissed him cheaply in both the innings. On that tour he also hit his only century in first class cricket.


He topped the county championship bowling averages in his first season with 64 wickets at 12.42 as he started halfway through and did not play all the matches. For the rest of his cricketing career he took at least 150 wickets every season.


In successive seasons during a 3-year period between 1935 and 1937 he took 200 wickets. His bowling average was never above 18 and in his maiden season 1930 and final season 1939 he topped the bowling averages and never went below the 5th position in between. Verity’s average of 14.87 for the 1,956 wickets he has taken in first class cricket was bettered by very few bowlers in history of cricket who claimed as many wickets: Alfred Shaw, 2,072 wickets at 11.97 each; Tom Emmett, 1,595 wickets at 13.43 each; George Lohmann, 1,841 wickets at 13.73 each; James Southerton, 1,744 wickets at 14.30 each. All those bowlers bowled during the period 1854 to 1898, when pitches offered more assistance to the bowlers than they did in 1930s.


He also took 10 wickets in an innings in a first class match on two separate occasions. Both of which came at Leeds. In 1931 playing against Warwickshire he took 10 for 36 and the following season came his famous 10 for 10 against Nottinghamshire, which still remains as the best bowling figures ever in first class cricket. Notable fact about the feat was that his county colleague George Macaulay though helped him by picking three catches of Verity’s bowling, he refused to bowl wides to help Verity achieve the record, which makes Verity's feat even more appealing among all the All-Ten hauls in an innings. At one stage Hedley took 7 wickets for just three runs in 15 deliveries, including the hat-trick. His final figures read 19.4-16-10-10 and his is the only 10-wicket haul in an innings to include a hat-trick.


Verity always enjoyed his one-on-one encounters with Bradman. In the 16 tests that they played together Verity conceded just 401 runs to Bradman and claimed his wicket 8 times, which meant Bradman could score only at half of his career average against Verity. In the 18 Ashes tests that were played during Verity’s test career span, Bradman did not play in the first test at Sydney of the Body-line series and Verity did not play in the 5th test at The Oval in 1938 in which Bradman too could not bat as he was absent hurt. In this test LO Fleetwood-Smith of Australia conceded most number of runs in an innings by a bowler in the history of test cricket. Len Hutton made that record breaking 364 and with big hundreds from M Leyland (187) & J Hardstaff Jr (169*) England recorded the highest total in an innings (903/7) in any Ashes test and the highest in test cricket at that time.


Writing his obituary in Wisden’s almanac edition of 1944 R. C. Robertson-Glasgow said: “it was Verity who kept Bradman’s average under 150”. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. Bradman himself once wrote, “I could never claim to have completely fathomed Hedley’s strategy, for it was never static or mechanical.” There can be no better tribute to this great bowler who always kept on going whoever his opponent was, whether on cricket field or on the battle field. In fact the last words that his troops heard when he was hit by enemy’s fire on that fateful night in Sicily were "KEEP GOING… KEEP GOING...."


(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2006 Vijay Jeedigunta)