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Sachin - The Special Guest


`The Don'' turns 90 on Thursday and cricket's finest batsman appears well set to amass yet another century in his final innings.

Sir Donald Bradman is regarded as the greatest living Australian and, as the years pass, his achievements at the crease grow ever more impressive.

Bradman reached three figures 29 times at Test level and finished his career with 6,996 runs in 80 Test innings at an extraordinary average of 99.94.

His closest rivals in the averages, like South African Graeme Pollock, West Indian George Headley and England's Herbert Sutcliffe, struggled to reach the sixties and it looks increasingly likely that Bradman's will be one sporting record that is never broken.

Bradman, who has kept out of the public eye for many years will not make any appearances to celebrate his entry to the ``nervous nineties''.

The death last year of his wife and childhood sweetheart Jessie after 65 years of marriage reinforced his desire to shun publicity.

``I understand a few weeks ago he had a round of golf and he shot a 91 off the stick, which was just extraordinary at 89 years of age,'' said Michael Brock, organiser of a dinner in Bradman's honour.

Modern-day cricket greats genuflect before Bradman. A special guest here this week will be Indian batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar, the player Don says most reminds him of himself in his heyday.

Bradman is regarded in Australia as a national treasure. He has been idolised by generations as their greatest sportsman.

No other batsman, before or since, has equalled his ability to dominate an attack while guarding his wicket jealously.

Asked during a rare interview in 1996 to explain why some of his records remain unchallenged, he said: ``I saw much better batsmen than I was. Lots of them just kept getting out.''

Failure in his last Test innings before retirement at the Oval in 1948 denied Bradman the magical Test average of 100 and enhanced the mystique surrounding the man.

Needing to score a mere four runs to achieve the landmark figure, Bradman was dismissed for a duck, much to the disbelief of a huge crowd and teammate Arthur Morris who looked on stunned from the other end of the pitch.

``It was a really emotional moment for everyone,'' Morris recalled of an event whose 50th anniversary fell earlier this month.

``Typical of Bradman, he just tucked the bat under his arm and walked off as if he had got 100,'' he told Reuters. Bradman refused to countenance the theory that tears of emotion had affected his vision.

Such was Bradman's skill that England's attempts to contain him culminated in the infamous ``Bodyline'' series in 1932-33 when English fast bowlers aimed short-pitched legside deliveries at the batsman's body rather than the wicket.

Bradman, who was knighted in 1949, played 338 first-class innings, scoring 28,067 runs at an average of 95.14. He led his country for 12 years until his retirement.

Born in Cootamundra in rural New South Wales on August 27, 1908, Bradman developed an early obsession with the game.

His astounding reflexes and timing were developed by hours of practice after school each night, using a cricket stump, golf ball and rusty water tank.

Bradman once recalled how his father would ride a bicycle several miles home after a day of sinking holes for fenceposts he would then be greeted by his son who demanded he go out and bowl to him in the backyard.

``That would release my mother from the task so that she might go and cook the evening meal,'' he related.

Bradman's emergence in the early 1930s during the grim day of the depression lifted the morale of the country.

But the admiration and respect the wiry batsman inspired was not confined to his homeland. He was given the Warwick Trophy, a farewell in 1948 from ``The Cricket Lovers of Britain'' who each donated a shilling in a public subscription.

``He's out'' was the simple declaration of a banner for the English newspaper The Star in 1930, a time when there was no need to explain who ``He'' might have been.

Bradman's memorabilia, now the closest most fans will ever get to him, are on permanent display in his adopted hometown of Adelaide where he worked for years as a stockbroker.

Australian cricketing greats, including Mark Waugh, Rodney Marsh and Greg Chappell, will attend a gala dinner in Bradman's honour in Adelaide on Thursday to raise money to help maintain and preserve the collection.

Michael Brock said Bradman had given his stamp of approval to the function but was expected to celebrate his birthday privately with his children.

``I think he is still a bit overwhelmed with the (public) response there is to him,'' Brock said.

Sachin is the only foreign cricketer to be invited to meet Sir Don. Sachin Tendulkar, will however, have a private audience with Bradman and he is looking forward to meeting the Don.

``Sir Donald is going to give me some of his time, it's a great honour,'' he said before leaving for Adelaide. ``There can be only one Donald Bradman. It will require a superhuman effort to do what he has done.''

Reverence for Bradman is not confined to Indian devotees. It has permeated the hard shell Australia's top contemporary batsman, Steve Waugh.

``Sir Donald's legacy is much more than endless records and untouchable averages,'' says Waugh.

``He is the symbol of Australian cricket, the heartbeat, the inspiration, the image of all that is good in sport and life in general.''