For any devotee of the game, there is no better introduction to Australia: After you land at Adelaide’s compact airport, hail a cab and head towards the city centre, the first major avenue you turn into is Sir Donald Bradman Drive. The pleasure doesn’t end there. Since it is a prominent street, you may be walking idly in the city’s central business district (or CBD, the acronym by which downtown in all Australian cities is known) and suddenly a bus passes by, flashing the electronic ticker, headed to the place named after the great man. You chuckle with delight, for blessed is the town where the presence of a cricketer, even if he may be the greatest of them all, looms so large even more than a decade after his death.

A day later, you enter the Adelaide Oval and, bang in front, there’s the Bradman Collection, a gem for anyone who sees sporting history, as I do, with a mixture of romanticism and awe. Among its displayed artefacts are Bradman’s baggy green cap from the 1948 Invincibles tour of England, the bat with which he made his then world-record 334 (which included 309 runs in a single day) at Leeds. There are other nice touches too, one employing modern technology to bring alive the past: You press a customized iPad, click on any tour of England that Bradman featured in and hear the live radio broadcasts of his batting that so transfixed a new nation at the other end of the world.

The collection burnishes the tale of a somewhat cocky, entirely self-taught and supremely confident batsman. Consider three of Bradman’s statements, engraved on the mini-museum’s walls. On asked if he ever felt pressure before a game: “Why would you be nervous about something you knew you could do well?" On coaching: “No one ever told me how to hold a bat." On composing an innings: “From the first ball, every ball went exactly where I wanted it to go. Until the ball that got me out."

Bradman’s house in the leafy suburbs of Adelaide, the famous 2, Holden Street, Kensington Park. Photo: Vaibhav Sharma

Peter Ferguson, an employee at the Adelaide Oval who looks after the collection, dismisses the stereotype of Bradman as a distant, forbidding presence. “People misunderstood him," he says. “He had a difficult personal life. His first son died in infancy and Bradman himself nearly died in England (of appendicitis after the 1934 Ashes)."

Ferguson follows it up with a story that is the very stuff of cricketing folklore. “When the Royal Australian Air Force tried to enlist him as a pilot during the second World War, they realized he had poor eyesight," he says. “Imagine what a batsman he would have been with good eyesight!"

From Ferguson, I get Bradman’s address—2, Holden Street, Kensington Park—at the height of his fame, most Adelaidians knew it by heart.

Beyond the eastern edge of the city, Holden Street is the kind of place where a modestly prosperous stockbroker might live out his days (and indeed, Bradman was one briefly), a suburb with the becalming uniformity of all suburbs: a fair bit of greenery, the rustling of trees, the odd sedan turning into a drive. It’s about 5km from Adelaide’s CBD, but since Adelaide is the smallest major city on the Australian mainland, it might as well be another world. The house itself is a modest two-storey red-brick structure, surrounded by a yard, reminiscent of Victorian austerity. If you drove past 2 Holden Street, you might miss it altogether, if it wasn’t for the school adjoining Bradman’s house. It was here that Bradman lived for the last 67 years of his life.

In his collection of essays, Inside Out, writer Gideon Haigh remarks, “Few famous persons can have lived, and also been permitted to live, so close to an ordinary life." And here we come to the great contradiction of Bradman. While his myth and legend loom large over Adelaide and, indeed Australia (the cricket-crazy former prime minister John Howard wasn’t exaggerating when he called Bradman “the greatest living Australian" in the 1990s), the reality and minutiae of his life are that of an Everyman, in consonance with the egalitarian spirit of the land. Few, if any, sporting celebrities have achieved this balance of fame and ordinariness.

In 1934, Bradman moved to South Australia, a matter that generated controversy and rancour in equal measure at the time. Disgruntled with his home association, the boy from Bowral decided to turn his back on his native New South Wales. It was not quite Babe Ruth moving to the New York Yankees—New South Wales still produced fine cricketers and won championships—but still pretty bad.

A short 2-minute walk from the house will take you to the Kensington Oval.

On moving to Adelaide, one of Bradman’s first requirements was a new cricketing home. Kensington Oval, home of the Kensington District Cricket Club, served this purpose admirably. It is a picturesque little ground surrounded by grass banks and without enclosures, which has changed little since Bradman set foot on it in the 1930s (the ground has now been donated to the school next to Bradman’s house).

If you lived in Adelaide between 1934 and 1948, on most summer weekends outside the international schedule, you could walk down here and watch Bradman, just like that, without cost and up-close in a way that an international venue wouldn’t allow.

In essence, this was Bradman’s pact with Australia, whose terms he set and controlled all his life: He would allow his fellow countrymen a glimpse of him, an intimate glimpse even, in a manner of his choosing and, in return, they would respect his privacy and desire to live as an ordinary citizen. Bradman was embraced with a fervour few famous Australians have known, and yet someone who remained, to the last, reluctant to fully reciprocate the affection of his countrymen.

His house exists as a reminder of this pact: empty, discreetly locked from inside, no plans yet to convert it into a museum, not even a plaque (his son lives down the road). Bradman even refused to allow it to be heritage-listed while he lived, a wish that the government of South Australia overrode after his death.

But maybe it was not all Bradman’s doing, perhaps his unwaveringly dignified fame was the result of a perfect communion between him and the city of Adelaide, whose easy, laidback urbanity seems to draw reclusive geniuses.

After Bradman died in 2001, a literary “don"—the South African writer and Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee—made the city his home, immediately becoming its most famous living resident. In 2006, when Coetzee became an Australian citizen, he was handed a metaphorical key to the city.

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