“You’ll never guess who’s playing this Test
Why even bother with selecting the rest?
You can’t choose The Don
He’s a kid, and that’s not on
So they’re gonna pick the pre-Bradman best”
- ‘You Can’t Choose The Don (He’s A Kid, And That’s Not On)’ from The Best Before Bradman: The Musical starring Eric Bana.
Role: Batter (?)
Born: 24 October, 1897
Died: 2 June, 1989
Career Span: 1920-1921
Internationals: 5 Tests
Key Statistic: Batting average: 11.28
Nickname: The Best Before Bradman
Numerous great batters over the years have been described as ‘the best since Bradman’, but few remember Angus Elliott, the man who from as early as 1919 referred to himself as ‘the best before Bradman’.
Bradman was only eleven years old at the time and was on the radar of almost nobody in Australian cricket. This was perhaps unsurprising, as radar itself was still a decade and a half away from being invented.
But Elliott was a man seemingly unperturbed by the confines of the arrow of time. Often he would refer to future cricketers as if they were contemporaries. To the confusion of his teammates, he’d describe a pull shot as being ‘Pontingesque’ or an on drive as ‘pure G Chappell’.
When team mates would probe him on these comparisons, he’d simply smile and say ‘you’ll see, you’ll see’.
The confusion that arose from Elliott’s references to great batters from the future served to disguise his complete inability to measure up to them.
Elliott was a batter of limited shots and could often go entire sessions without scoring. He was particularly poor outside off stump, but was also mediocre with balls pitched on his pads. And his defence of any delivery aimed at the stumps left much to be desired.
Elliott was also slow between the wickets, and was once described as running a quick single ‘like a man being given a piggyback ride by his wife’.
He was a very bad fielder. When fielding on the leg-side he would walk in with the bowler, then trot a few steps, then walk a foot or so, and then amble half-heartedly after the ball if it came in his direction. If and when he got to the ball, he’d carefully place it in his left hand, and then, after a long pause, he’d shout “I’ve got it!” and throw it towards the wicket-keeper.
He was unashamed of his ineptitude. “You didn’t expect me to be Mark Waugh, surely!” he’d say with a laugh, as team mates frowned in confusion.
Newspapers at the time were at pains to assure their readers that Elliott would not play in the 1920/21 Ashes. Yet his unearned bravado, and the chronologically baffling web he wove, saw him play in all five Tests against Johnny Douglas’s side. He averaged 11.28 in the series with a high score of 34.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported the following conversation that took place between members of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket before the first Test of the series:
“He’s an absolutely hopeless batsman,” Harry Gregory said.
“The best before Bradman!” Harry Rush answered.
“Yes, that’s right,” agreed Harry Blinman.
“We really shouldn’t pick him,” Harold Bushby replied.
“Can we afford not to pick the best before Bradman?”
“Yes, yes, but he’s really bad, and if we pick him, we’re more likely to lose.”
“We still need him.”
“He’s the best before Bradman.”
“Then he’s got to play.”
Elliott was unpopular with both team mates and fans. Yet despite the disdain in which he was held, he still cheerily escorted a visiting journalist who had accidentally wandered onto the field during the second Test back to the safety of the press box. And despite the brevity of his time at the crease, he’d often playfully engage the opposition keeper in chirpy conversations about the relative merits of their lunch hampers.
His English opponents were more fond of him. They didn’t understand his comparisons of them to the England sides of the 1990s, but they appreciated his eccentricity and the ease with which they could take his wicket. “You’re a right bobbins and no mistake,” they’d say to him, and Elliott would grin enigmatically.
Despite Elliott’s run of poor form, he remained in the side as the Australians completed a clean sweep of the touring Englishmen.
It was only after the series ended that he was suspended from the side, pending a poll of the press and the public by a panel of academics. The result was farcical.
A committee was formed to examine the ‘best before Bradman’ claims once and for all. They interviewed Elliott for over thirteen hours. The conclusions reached in the ensuing report were summarised as follows:
- In a vacuum, Elliott might be considered ‘the best before Bradman’.
- However, when considered in the context that other cricketers existed, he was the very worst.
In an appendix to the report, the board was advised to promote the thirteen year old Bradman to the national side ‘at a time no later than December 1928’.
Partly because of this report, Bradman was raised in isolation where he developed a batting method entirely unique to himself. Elliott never received credit nor compensation for this. Instead, he simply returned to playing low-level club cricket after his one gloriously baffling summer in the national side.
In 1977, Elliott’s brief Test career was the subject of a scientific paper by Cambridge logician, Dr. Richard Carter - ‘The Best Before Bradman and a Pack of Cards: The fallacies and fallibility of human logic in the twentieth century’.
It was Carter who pointed out that Elliott was only able to get away with his claim that he was ‘the best before Bradman’ because nobody could unravel the significance of what he was saying.
Nevertheless, Carter posited, if the Australian cricket side had contained clearer logical thinkers among their number, they would have been able to dispute Elliott’s claims on a more general basis without getting bogged down in the specifics of the pre-adolescent Bradman.
To whit, Elliott was surpassed in every aspect of the game by at least one of his team mates and often ten of them. An hour of clear-minded thinking should have made it apparent that Elliott could simply not have been ‘the best before Bradman’, even without knowing on what basis comparisons might be made.
Dr Carter’s paper was later adapted into a musical starring the comedian Eric Bana. Despite the clunky lyrics of Jessica Kennedy and an overly complicated time travel plot, the musical was a box office success.
Angus Elliott died of natural causes on June 2nd, 1989. Four minutes later, Steve Smith was born.
Inside the Selectors’ Room: Transcript of a Ghastly Misjudgment (Sydney Morning Herald, 1920)
The Best Before Bradman and a Pack of Cards: The fallacies and fallibility of human logic in the twentieth century (Dr Richard Carter, 1977)
The Best Before Bradman: The Musical (starring Eric Bana, 2009)