Tony Greig’s Incredible Story of Meeting Sir Don Bradman in 1971. As a youngster, Hylton Ackerman, the South African cricketer who had been my contemporary at school, and I were invited to tour Australia with a Rest of the World team selected by Don Bradman and Gary Sobers. My family had seen me off from South Africa, and my father’s final pep talk had included lengthy advice that I should listen to every word spoken by the man behind the tour, who just happened to be Sir Donald Bradman.
Therefore, Don Bradman had been bred into my system from a very early age as I think he even topped Vera Lynn in my father’s estimation. The only times that silence was ever demanded in our Queenstown home were when Vera Lynn was singing, the BBC World Service was crackling a Glasgow Rangers soccer commentary on the radio, or Dad was talking about Don Bradman. I had never met Bradman and it was difficult to imagine his features from the faded photographs I had seen of him. It was a pleasure I was looking forward to as we flew toward Australia. The first stop was Perth, where Hylton and I were met by a group from the local Cricket Lovers’ Society.
It was midnight, but they took us to the airport buffet for coffee and a chat, which made us feel flattered. By the time we reached Adelaide, we were both itching to catch a glimpse of the real Australia and the little man in dark glasses and cardigan who approached us as we entered the transit lounge looked just the sort we had been hoping to avoid. Sure enough, he came out with the predictable lines, welcoming us to Australia and asking us to join him for a coffee.
We were just not in the mood for another Cricket Lovers’ ritual, so we gave the little man our bags and nipped into the toilet to think of a way out. Fortunately, as it transpired, we decided not to be rude and rejoined our friend for the walk to the coffee bar. Two other guys were sitting at the table, which he led us to, but their names meant nothing to us – and as the little chap had only mumbled his name by way of introduction I didn’t have a clue that he might be. Cricket chat developed in the expected fashion as we drank coffee, and the trio certainly seemed to know a thing or two.
Turning to the cardigan-clad man on my right, I politely enquired if he had anything to do with cricket in the area. With a surface smile that must have hidden a playful laugh, he replied that the three of them ran the local scene. Still, it all meant nothing to me -they might, after all, have been talking about the air-port cricket club. At about that point, Sobers bounded through the swing doors and headed straight for the little chap. “How are you, Sir Donald?” he cried – and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more foolish in my life.
Hylton Ackerman had at least shown enough sense to remain reasonably silent during the chat. I had simply made an ass of myself, yet Bradman took it all with a laugh. When we arrived in Melbourne, I gave the story to the pressmen who met us. The next morning I easily conjured up a mental picture of my father, up early and collecting the papers to see how his boy had fared on arrival in Australia, only to be stunned by the “Greig snubs Bradman” headlines. Fortunately, he saw the funny side.