The various generations of Somerset supporters have been very fortunate to have seen some of the world’s greatest players play for and against the club over the near 150 years of its existence, and that continues today.
Throughout the 1930s the Cricket loving folk of the county were incredibly lucky to have seen arguably the greatest ever batsman in the world play against Somerset in no less than three matches. Don Bradman was a superstar then and remains much talked about today and he was in the team each time the Australian tourists played at Taunton while touring England in 1930, 1934 and 1938.
1930 has been described as the year that Bradman helped change the game of Cricket. It was a wet summer nonetheless. The Australians arrived in Taunton for the start of their 3-day game on 30th July having just completed a rain affected Fourth Test in Manchester which ended a draw. The Ashes series was delicately poised; England had won the First Test in Nottingham by 10 wickets before Bradman started to make his mark in the series in the second Test at Lords. Somerset skipper Jack White was recalled to the England side and he managed to get Bradman out, but only after the Aussie had smashed England for 254 as the visitors evened the series by winning by seven wickets.
White was dropped by England for the rest of the series with the next two Tests drawn. Bradman had rewritten the record books at Leeds in the Third Test scoring an incredible 334 – the highest Test score to date – but had failed in Manchester. So it was 1-1 when the cider county played the tourists.
The game at Taunton lasted only two days. Somerset batted first and were bundled out for a miserable 121 with skipper White and Arthur Wellard both scoring 38. Bradman scored 117 in just over three-and-a-half hours scoring thirteen 4s. He had added 231 for the 2nd wicket with Scottish born Archie Jackson, whose 118 was the only century he would score in England. It was pure exhibition stuff as the two helped Australia put 360 on the board. The man who got Bradman’s wicket was another Archibald called Young, a slow left-arm bowler who was more widely known as Tom. His five wickets cost 70 runs and skipper White picked up four too.
Somerset were then shot out for just 81 to hand the Australians victory by an innings and 158 runs.
The Aussies sealed the Ashes with a win by an innings and 39 runs at The Oval and again Bradman broke records. He struck 232 to make his tally 974 runs for the series which is a record to this day.
Before the Aussies arrived for their tour in 1934 there was the infamous series in Australia in 1932-33, the so-called ‘Bodyline’ tour, which England won 4-1 thanks largely to Harold Larwood’s taming of Bradman with short-pitched deliveries. The Australians were up for revenge.
Ironically the series was 1-1 again when the tourists pitched up in Taunton in late June after two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lords. Bradman had been less impressive in those games scoring 29, 25, 36 and 13. His poor form continued against Somerset but this didn’t stop his team winning by another comfortable margin.
Somerset captain Reggie Ingle won the toss and decided to bat but his team were demolished by Bill Reilly, whose figures of 18-6-38-9 were not surprisingly the best of his career. Somerset started well enough with the Lee brothers putting on 37 for the first wicket before Jack was out for 20. Frank carried his bat with 59 not out but the home team were 116 all out as four Somerset batters were dismissed without scoring.
Somerset did quite well to restrict Australia to 309 all out with Wellard, one of the aforementioned ducks in the first innings, taking 6-111. Jack White again got Bradman caught by keeper Luckes for just 17.
White would top score with 29 as Somerset strangely matched their first innings total to lose by an innings and 77 runs.
Australia duly regained the Ashes. They followed their Taunton exploits with two drawn games at Manchester and Leeds (where Bradman scored another triple hundred on the same ground as 1930) but the series was sealed at The Oval with Bradman back in masterly form scoring 244 to support Bill Ponsford’s 266 in the first innings, before hitting 77 in the second as Australia won by 562 runs.
1938 would prove to the Aussies last tour for 10 years due to the war. They arrived in Taunton for a game due to start on 27th July after a long journey from Leeds, where they had just taken a 1-0 lead in the Ashes. Bradman was in fine form scoring 51 & 144 not out at Nottingham and 18 & 102 not out at Lords in two drawn games. The Third Test was a washout without a single ball being bowled, only the second instance of this in more than 60 years of Test cricket.
Headingly had proven to be a lucky ground for Bradman and he scored another century in the First innings as the Aussies wrapped up a five wicket win.
At Taunton Somerset captain Bunty Longrigg won the toss and batted but his team were shot out for 110. Australia finished day one on 106-0 and Bradman made his way to the crease early on day two. By tea he had scored 202 with the second hundred taking just 70 minutes. He was bowled by Somerset legend Bill Andrews but, in reality, Bradman backed away and allowed the ball to hit the stumps. This did not stop the Somerset man from enjoying the moment for the rest of his life. He would often joke when greeting people “shake the hand that bowled Bradman” and named his autobiography in similar fashion.
The Aussies hit 464 for 6 declared before removing Somerset for just 136 thereby winning by an innings and 218 runs. In three innings against Somerset Don Bradman scored 336 at an average of 112.
England won the Fifth Test that summer by a whopping innings and 579 runs in a game the great Don would probably rather forget. The home team scored 903 with Len Hutton, playing in only his sixth Test Match, hitting a world record 364. This beat Wally Hammond’s 336 not out against New Zealand and was also the highest in an Ashes match, beating Don’s 334 in Leeds in 1934.
Aside from this Bradman injured his ankle so badly during the England innings that he retired from the match and did not play again during the tour. His absence was noted with Australia scoring just 201 and 123 all out. Despite this huge loss Australia regained the Ashes.
The Aussies returned to Taunton in August 1948 with the team known as ‘Bradman’s Invincibles’ but the great man didn’t play as the tourists smashed Somerset again by an innings and 374 runs this time. He retired from Test Cricket at the end of that tour.
Somerset have, of course, played the Australians many times since then and even enjoyed famous wins, none more so than at Bath in 1977. But to the cider county fans in the 1930s the chance to see true greatness must have been magical and to claim that you were there when Don Bradman played against Somerset.