A guide at the National Sports Museum recently told John Bradman that the most popular exhibit just now is a photo of his father, the inimitable Sir Donald, with Sachin Tendulkar, taken on the Don’s 90th birthday.
Remembering the occasion, John said that when Tendulkar asked his father about his preparation, as if to unearth a secret, Bradman replied: “I’d go into the office early, do as much work as I could, then hurry down to the ground and when it was my turn to bat, I’d bat.” As you do.
This was the epilogue of the MCC’s Bradman lunch, the 17th since his death and the biggest yet, reflecting an undying fascination. Held on the anniversary of his birth, it falls happily on two thresholds, the eve of the AFL finals and the stirring of cricketers for their season, an Ashes season at that. Out the window, the MCG looked ready for either sport.
Australia are warming up in Bangladesh and reigning Sheffield Shield champions Victoria are about to warm up in Dargo. Well, warming has to start somewhere. Jon Holland, the Victorian player of last season, would rather be in Bangladesh, but at least has a baggy green, hanging inside his wardrobe to warm his heart. “Every time I open the door, I can see it,” he said. Now to open more doors …
Greta Bradman, daughter and grand-daughter, rose above a nasty cold to sing two airs in a soprano voice that has grown as the lunch has grown. Spellbinding, evidently, is the family business.
Into this cornucopia stepped Len Pascoe. Other than that they both played cricket for Australia, it is hard to divine his link to Bradman. Perhaps that is the point, that theirs is a game for all types, and times. Pascoe’s stories come out like his bowling, fast rather than with direction or shape. In any case, you have to pay attention.
Pascoe was born Len Durtanovich, of a father who was part Macedonian, part Scot. “Half of me wanted to get pissed,” he said, “and the other half didn’t want to pay.”
His entree to cricket was Miss Carroll and her red knickers; you had to be there. His brother-in-arms was Jeff Thomson, of whom Pascoe recalled a mutual mate’s appreciation: “When you leave out the expletives, he’s a man of few words.”
Theirs was an unrestrained time. Pascoe is immortalised for “taking divots in the green” in the iconic World Series C’mon Aussie jingle, but he was just as intent taking divots in the batsmen. He got Viv Richards sometimes, but Richards got him more often, leaving Pascoe this week to rejoice in “co-starring in all those videos” with Richards.
Pascoe admitted to one other failing, as an infelicitous sledger. A stubborn opener in a grade game, when at last he fell, made this very point as he went. “Granted, I will always be a worse batsman than you are a bowler – but I will beat you at Scrabble every time,” said Bruce Collins, long since Bruce Collins QC.
Pascoe played the mere 14 Tests, for 64 wickets, but an epochal time for Australian cricket. His first Test was at Lord’s, his first wicket Tony Greig, and that was still worth a round of applause this week. Back at Lord’s in 1980 for the Centenary Test, he felt unworthy to be named instead of Thomson. Walking into the Long Room, he said to Thomson: “I’ve got a hamstring.” Replied Thomson, the mate of mates: “If you’ve got one, I’ve got one.” Pascoe played and took six wickets.
Pascoe was on the spot at the MCG the next year for the infamous underarm incident, but especially remembers a sequel when practising for a Sheffield Shield game soon afterwards. Doug Walters bet he could hit Trevor Chappell’s underarm for six, and did by kicking the ball up and then clobbering it, three times. Kerry O’Keefe had bet against it, but when cornered refused to pay up. “They were all lbw,” he said. If any of this was fake news to the handful of well-seasoned Test cricketers in the room, none said so. Let’s face it, if any of them were put in the window of Ian Redpath’s antique shop now, Redpath included, they would fetch a fair price. Now, though, they were intent on their footy tips. AFL, Pascoe had said by way of preamble, was best watched from the bar, back to the play. Eight hundred eyebrows arched. Not for the first or last time, he had over-stepped.