As we wrote when selecting the openers (see Australian openers and England openers), picking all-time Australia and England Ashes XIs is certainly a difficult undertaking. Trying to get down to eleven names a side from the many great players that have graced over 130 years of frequent and brilliant cricket is going to probably cause us a few sleepless nights. However, picking the batsman who will come in at number three and captain Australia is an extremely facile task.
Whilst the record of several other Australian batsmen at first drop merit a mention, especially Ricky Ponting (2057 runs at 54.13), but also Clem Hill (1903 runs at 35.90), David Boon (1693 at 52.90), Ian Chappell (1542 at 45.35) and Charlie Macartney (1260 at 63.00), there is only one possible choice.
That man is of course one Donald George Bradman - the greatest batsman ever and probably the best cricketer of them all.
As we've written before, Bradman was simply a phenomenon. Australians tend to over-use the phrase 'a once in a generation cricketer', but for the Don it would be an understatement. His Ashes record reads as 5028 runs at 89.78 from 37 tests. He scored 19 hundreds (including 8 doubles - 2 of them triples). Indeed, he scored nearly 1500 runs more than the second best run accumulator in Ashes history, Jack Hobbs.
At first drop, Bradman's average was even higher at 93.02, which hardly makes it a surprise therefore that England only won two Ashes series when Bradman was in situ for Australia - his debut series in 1928/29 (when an Australian side in the process of being rebuilt was hammered 4-1 by A.P.F Chapman's England side) and of course the infamous Bodyline series of 1932/33. It is a tribute to Bradman, that Douglas Jardine's strategy in the latter series was entirely based around nullifying the Don. Despite this, Bradman still averaged 56.57, which although a poor performance by his standards would still have been considered a good return for any other batsman in history.
We have also selected Bradman as captain of our Australian XI. He was a naturally attacking captain who only lost three matches in his 24 tests as captain and never lost a series. Australia actually lost his first two matches as captain in the 1936/37 Ashes, but no problem, Bradman scored 270, 212 and 169 in the last three tests as Australia bounced back to win the series 3-2 (see full story in Back From The Dead). The only other test he lost as captain was at The Oval in 1938 when Len Hutton scored 364 and England 903 for seven. The Don didn't get an opportunity to respond as he had been carried from the field injured. If he had, we wouldn't have bet against him beating Hutton's new mark.
Bradman never lost another test as captain and bowed out at the zenith by leading the 1948 Invincibles - perhaps the greatest test side in the history of the game. And did the captaincy affect Bradman's batting? Not a bit of it. He actually averaged 101.51 with 14 hundreds from his 24 tests as captain.
As we said the most straight-forward pick of them all.