A recently donated film reveals the only known colour footage of Sir Donald Bradman playing cricket.
At 2:48pm on Saturday 26 February 1949, with the score at 1-111 in the AF Kippax and WA Oldfield testimonial match, Sir Donald Bradman strode onto the Sydney Cricket Ground for his penultimate first-class innings:
This 16mm colour footage is assumed to have been shot by George Hobbs, who had worked as a cameraperson for the Department of Information during the Second World War and later for ABC TV.
His son Adrian donated the film in a can marked ‘Manly and Bondi Beach, Sydney @1949’. So it was a big surprise to find what appeared to be images of the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and Don Bradman. While the ground was clearly the SCG, it was necessary to confirm the match as 1949.
While most cricket fans would know that Bradman's last test series was in England in 1948, he also played in three testimonial matches after that tour: his own testimonial match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in December 1948 (a tied match in which Bradman scored his last first-class century), the Kippax-Oldfield testimonial match at the SCG in February 1949 and his final first-class match in a Sheffield Shield game in Adelaide for South Australia against Victoria. The SCG match assisted us in identifying the footage by narrowing the field of locations where the game may have been played.
When we examined the colour film it showed a second cameraperson filming Bradman walking out to bat. A Movietone newsreel in the NFSA collection covered the SCG match and included near-identical images of Bradman and the surrounding crowd from a different angle. By comparing the two we were able to confirm the date, match and time of the colour film as indeed being from 1949.
The colour footage gives a great impression of the crowd and is a wonderful snapshot in time. Although the footage is silent it captures the atmosphere at the ground and the 41,000 people in attendance.
The Sunday Herald (Sydney, 27 February 1949) reported that among the clapping and cheering there were also cries of 'Good luck Bradman', 'Leave it to Don', 'Garn, he aint too old' and 'Have a go, Bradman!'.
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was 10 years old and recollected, 'I saw Sir Donald play once. I saw his last innings on the Sydney Cricket Ground ... I have never forgotten the amazing reception that he received from the Sydney crowd' (interview with 3AW, 1998).
The match is significant for a few reasons apart from it being The Don's last appearance at the SCG.
Having been knighted in the 1949 New Year's honours list, it was the first time a cricketer knighted for services to cricket had participated in a first-class game.
It was also the first time Bradman had not captained the team he was a part of for 14 years, since assuming the Australian test team's captaincy in 1936.
While we do see Bradman playing in the footage the game is remembered for some short-pitched deliveries sent down by fast bowler Alan Walker and Australian all-rounder Keith Miller to The Don. Unfortunately, footage of this contest (which is rumoured to have cost Miller his position on the 1949–50 South African tour) is not included in the colour film.
Despite having turned 40 and not having played any cricket for three months, Bradman scored briskly to reach 53 off 66 balls. The crowd was anticipating another Bradman century when a slower ball from Miller was mistimed and he was caught out.
Bradman's dismissal brought an end to a significant innings, the beginning of which we are fortunate enough to now be able to preserve in colour for future generations.