It all started with one cracking shot that in the annals of cricket probably would never be replicated – and in the process created a lasting legacy in a fleeting moment.
One ball Sally Bradbury can remember vividly like it was only yesterday.
It heralded the debut of a Bradbury hand-crafted bat in a first-class match.
But Richard Bennett – the one-time Sheffield Shield veteran behind the pull shot – has a shorter memory.
The Launceston batsman scored nearly 1500 runs for Tasmania in a sporadic career dotted over eight seasons, but his first-ball six that day felt little more than just a shot to launch another innings out in the middle to retain his place in the team.
“While I can’t actually remember that was the case,” Bennett says of the unique piece of history, “it all adds up when I hit that six because until that stage they had been making bats for someone else’s label.”
Bennett had sort of only discovered the quirky fact in more recent times when researching a bat for his son after stumbling onto the Bradbury company website more than two decades on.
But Bradbury, the wife of then-batmaker Paul, tells of great pride the day the newest bat label on the first-class scene made history at the historic NTCA Ground.
The Australian birthplace of first-class cricket in 1851 – and now this 140 years later.
“We can certainly say with confidence that the first-ever scoring shot with a Bradbury was a six,” she says.
The Bennetts had taken in the West Australian couple initially when the Bradburys relocated to Launceston.
He was an emerging batmaker during the week and a fringe Tasmanian state player on the weekends.
She worked in local government, but quit West Tamar council to follow a growing affinity and new calling in the game.
That had stretched back to a time playing first-class cricket when women wore skirts out onto the field.
The company’s managing director is recognised as one of the first-ever female podshavers of bats in the world.
“There is an actual romance of any crafting and I am a particularly strong person, so I didn’t have any barrier with the physical aspect,” she reflects.
“It wasn’t my first choice – I was in Tasmania chasing a career and the development through to cricket bats was something that grew with demand.
“Paul was the one with the passion for cricket; I had a history of playing the game and I had come from a family of business owners.
“That was more of where I went and it also required an engineering approach to a lot of the work that we did.
“It was also a combination of being creative and while we did learn the traditional values of the craft, we also questioned was there a way to do things better.
“That’s where we also changed things because we questioned the tradition.”
It was fostered further when living in Britain, hanging inside a creaky barn between a break from university and her night job.
That’s where she watched the quintessential traditional craft of drawknives, block planes, spokeshaves and a horse’s shinbone turn old English willow into bats.
While her husband first fine-tuned his batmaking overseas only for it to flourish as soon as he landed in Launceston, hers was more of a gradual involvement in a time when no female batmakers were around.
The impediments to the craft for Bradbury were often hidden, decades before the outpouring of populism for today’s WBBL.
Cricket purists tolerated women swinging a bat back then, but wouldn’t have a bar of them shaping the willow. They both knew that.
“Whilst I’m very much into women being able to achieve on an equal playing field like men do, we made a very conscious effort not to use the business to make a statement of feminism,” Bradbury explains.
“We still put Paul forward as the figurehead of the company because it’s one thing to believe in yourself and your ability, it’s another thing to force it down the neck of your customers that may not share your views.
“Let’s face it, back in those days there were no women customers and the boys we were dealing with were alpha males, so we played that very carefully.
“I was very much at the back of it all, even though that wasn’t the reality – but that was okay. You just have to be confident with yourself and get through it all.
“Every now and then I felt like stomping my feet and saying I am here too, but I can do that these days because it’s changed a lot.”
Nowadays top Australian players will call on her to craft specific parts of the bat because “they know I do it differently to Paul”.
Even Ricky Ponting was a fan. The Test great of Mowbray always had a strong relationship with the Bradburys for years.
“But I’ve got to be very careful about what I say about this, as Kookaburra are very touchy about it,” she says. “They still sponsor Ricky and they do not like us talking about Ricky.
“It’s total truth he used our bats – it is actual fact.”
That comes down to the not-so-hidden secret that bat manufacturers are not competing with each other than they are these days with marketing companies.
The stickers that appear below the splice are not what they seem.
Ponting strode out to the middle with a Kookaburra stuck on the bat. Bradbury but knows a different story.
“It first was a young Ricky Ponting who we started making bats for,” she says.
“He actually got 1 of our first 22 because we would number all our bats – and the first we made for him was number 22.”