When Mahatma Gandhi’s son spent a night in an English jail to watch Bradman bat

Suvajit Mustafi
Thursday, 27 August 2020

August 27, 2020, marks the 112th birth anniversary sporting legend Don Bradman

The ancient proverb goes – the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Though not a Gandhian philosophy, it was something practised by another Indian revolutionary – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

But this is about the Gandhi family.

Mahatma Gandhi united India like no other leader and fought against the British rule in India for years. Many in India harboured resentment towards the British rulers, and therefore, Don Bradman would bring a lot of joy to the colonised Indians for the way he tormented the Englishmen and their fans. This is also about Bradman, inarguably the greatest cricketer and arguably the greatest sportsperson ever.

Trivia: Bradman never toured India despite the fandom and numerous invites. After his playing years, the sporting colossus would set foot to Indian soil on his way to England in 1953 to cover the Ashes for Daily Mail. The aircraft had landed at the Calcutta (not Kolkata) airport for refuelling. To Bradman’s dismay, at the Dum Dum waiting room, fans thronged to catch a glimpse of the legend.

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Rewind to June 1948. Bradman, 39, was touring England for the Ashes, leading his Invincibles for the one last time in his career. By the end of the tour, Bradman would be 40, and he had pre-decided that this would be his last international series. Arriving in April, the Australians were happily routing the county sides. The first Test of the Ashes was scheduled to start at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on June 10.

Meanwhile, India were in their first year of independence. Gandhi, the face of India’s freedom struggle, was assassinated in January that year. He had four sons, of whom Devdas was the youngest. Devdas, 48, who was active in his father’s movements, was then was the Managing Editor of Hindustan Times and an ardent cricket fan.

He was in England for a meeting with Reuters and was in no mood to lose the opportunity of watching Bradman bat. When a colleague asked Devdas what he would do once through with business, he promptly said, “See Bradman bat.”

Devdas knew this was the last chance to watch the master playing. It was a sell-out at Trent Bridge, and he had failed to acquire a ticket. Through his contacts, he managed to lay his hand on a complimentary pass. This was Bradman’s last game at Nottingham – thus the enormity of the occasion denied Devdas to find a hotel or lodge in the city. As Devdas continued with his struggle to find his luck with a hotel booking, Australia’s Keith Miller and Bill Johnston were gleefully agonising the English batsmen.

Tired of options, Devdas met the warden at Nottingham County Jail, requesting him for overnight accommodation. No clue how he convinced the warden for a ‘yes’.

His father, the Mahatma, had spent a considerable amount in British prisons, referring to them as His Majesty’s Hotel. Even Devdas was no alien to prisons, spending terms. This was deliberate though, all for a cause to watch the greatest and the man who tormented the pride English cricketers like no other.

Devdas would spend the night of June 10, 1948, at the Nottingham County Jail, had the breakfast on the morning of 11th with the convicts before entering the Trent Bridge.

England were bowled out for 165, and Australia finished at 17 for no loss on Day One. Bradman would enter the crease at 73, at the fall of Arthur Morris’ wicket. He started unusually and went over an hour and twenty minutes without a boundary. However, by the time the day’s play ended, he was 130 not out.

Having seen what he wanted to, Devdas took a train to London at the end of Day Two. The night at the jail was indeed the worth.

Australia won the Test by eight wickets. Two months later, the series would end with Australia winning it 4-0, and Bradman ending a career with a batting average of 99.94.

August 27, 2020, marks the 112th birth anniversary of the sporting legend.

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