There’s no escape from Don Bradman. First it was the 99.94th anniversary, now the 100th. What next — a Bradman public holiday? He’s the closest thing Australia has to a secular deity — complete with holy relics.

Quite how Australians continue to find inspiration and interest in Bradman is, when properly considered, a mystery. He was, lest we forget, a sportsman — a supernaturally-talented one, maybe, but worshipping someone like that is like worshipping a lottery winner. And despite his feats, he wasn’t playing in a major world sport. It’s not even as if his achievements provide much pleasure — how many Australians would have watched footage of Bradman in action, let alone seen one of his innings? All we do is look at his numbers.

And perhaps it’s the 99.94 that does it. That unavoidable evidence of a mortality that could fell even a genius. Maybe, despite the veneration of Bradman, it was his falling just shy of 100 that makes him such a compelling figure for Australians. In any event, it says something, something not particularly good, about us that we so worship a bloke — to the exclusion of so many others with so many other gifts of talent, intellect or learning — whose chief claim to fame was to be good at knocking balls around a paddock. 

Peter Fray

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