| Fiery Fred
I have told my son, and will one day tell my grandson, that I saw Freddie Trueman bowl in the flesh. Admittedly, it was only a festival match, and he was past fifty at the time. The occasion was the golden jubilee of the Cricket Association of Bengal, for which a host of great foreigners had been flown in to play against an Indian Veterans Eleven.
The home side batted first, and Fiery Fred (naturally) claimed the new ball. In his first over, he struck the opener on the pads, and flung around to face the umpire, his appeal audible up in the stands (and most likely across the Hooghly as well). 'Not out', barked the official. It was a close call, although without the benefit of television replays one could not tell how close. In any case, even if the ball had knocked down all three stumps, the appeal would still have been negatived. For the batsman in question was Syed Mushtaq Ali, than whom no cricketer has been more loved by the Eden Gardens crowd. Had he been sent off to the pavilion in the very first over of the match, the umpire would not have lived to tell the tale.
I was watching all this from the common man's stands, but later I was told about the aftermath from a friend who was sitting in the pavilion. Apparently, at lunch Freddie was still in a black mood, still smarting from the unjustness of life in general and of bloody umpires in particular. Then, in the dining room of the Cricket Association of Bengal, he chanced upon a man whose features looked, vaguely, familiar. As the light of recognition dawned, a broad smile broke out over Freddie's face, and he enveloped the man in a bear hug. For this fellow was, in a manner of speaking, a long lost but never-to-be-forgotten friend. Back in the Year of the Lord 1952, Trueman had dismissed this man for two zeros, the beginnings of what the cricket historian, Sujit Mukherjee, was to call his 'ample duckyard'. For the readers of The Telegraph I don't suppose I need to identify who Freddie's victim was.
That day at the Eden Gardens was the only time Trueman wore white flannels on Indian soil. With his colleague and captain, Leonard Hutton, he believed that there were only two teams worth playing against: Australia and the West Indies. Neither toured the subcontinent in their prime ' nor, incidentally, did other English worthies such as Brian Statham and Godfrey Evans. But, whether because we were colonized or because we were capaciously cosmopolitan, we Indians knew all about these cricketers: about their technique, their achievements, even their love life (or absence thereof).
Frederick Sewards Trueman was a fast bowler with a classically side-on action, who bowled with fire and some guile too. Where his main wicket-taking ball was the late outswinger, he also bowled a decent off-cutter, a good slower ball, and a superb bouncer. These varied skills allowed him to become the first bowler in test history to take 300 wickets. In addition, Trueman was a pugnacious lower-order batsman, and an outstanding fieldsman, especially at short-leg.
However, Freddie Trueman was much more than a great cricketer ' he was also a great character. Stories accumulated around him like flies around a honey-pot. Some of these stories were apocryphal; others, highly derivative. In the second category falls the remark he made when asked how he felt on claiming the record for most test wickets ' 'bloody tired'. (It was actually first made by his fellow Yorkshireman, George Hirst, after he became the first cricketer to score 2,000 runs and take 200 wickets in a single season ' even then, one should perhaps say that it was 'alleged' to have been made by Hirst, for the line was probably put in his mouth by one of those wonderfully inventive writers, Neville Cardus or A.A. Thomson.)
Like all Yorkshiremen, Trueman was a man who counted his pennies (Ian Chappell describes him as having, off the field, short, stubby fingers and deep, baggy pockets). Again, like others of his ilk, he was a man of colossal self-belief. Asked by John Arlott how he would like his biography to be entitled, he answered: 'the definitive portrait of the finest bloody fast bowler who ever drew breath'. (Arlott settled on the more economical, and equally accurate, Fred: Portrait of a Fast Bowler.) He had a contempt for most batsmen, captured in what he told one who had inadvertently snicked three balls in succession down to the third man boundary: 'Your bat has got more bloody edges than a f***ing piss-pot.' He had little time either for men on his own side who dropped catches. On one tour of Australia, his team-mate David Sheppard, an ordained priest (and in the fullness of time to become Bishop of Liverpool), put down several chances in quick succession. After the fourth or fifth catch had been grassed, Freddie expostulated in disgust. 'Surely, Reverend', he asked, 'you have had enough practice in putting your hands together'
On that same tour of Australia, Trueman found himself in a dingy room in an upcountry hotel, where he could not sleep because of the overwhelming presence of mosquitoes. When one of the hotel staff came up to investigate his complaint, they found that Trueman had forgotten to switch off the lights. He was advised to do so, but an hour later was down in the lobby in his pajamas, saying that the 'buggers have come back again to look for me ' with miner's lamps'. Apparently, in a splendid show of solidarity among insects, the mosquitoes had asked for an accompanying party of fireflies.
Indians of my generation knew Trueman best through his voice, this heard every summer when he was one of the experts on BBC's Test Match Special. From years of listening to him, I think I can offer the unbiased comment that he was himself grossly biased. Unlike his colleague Trevor Bailey, for example, he made it manifest that he wanted England to win ' indeed, he rarely praised visiting players. One exception was Sachin Tendulkar. When India played at Headingley in 1990, Freddie spoke of how, during the lunch break, Len Hutton was praising the quick and precise movement of Sachin's feet. He then went on to endorse the praise himself. This, I think, might be the only recorded occasion on which either of these Yorkshiremen had a good thing to say about an Indian cricketer.
The one foreign cricketer Trueman unreservedly admired was Sir Frank Worrell, the greatness of whose batsmanship was equalled ' or even surpassed ' by the nobility of his character. I remember a discussion on Test Match Special about leg-spin bowling, this in a year when Pakistan were touring England, and Abdul Qadir was getting as many wickets as the English umpires would allow him. The name of Subhas Gupte entered the conversation, put there by Trevor Bailey. Trueman then said that 'I remember the great Sir Frankie Worrell once told me that Gupte was the finest leg-break bowler he ever played against.' This time he did not endorse the praise. But the emotion with which he uttered the words 'great', 'Sir', and 'Frankie', was uncharacteristic, as well as deeply moving.
Appropriately, it was from one of Worrell's own mates that I was to hear a marvellous tribute to this insular Yorkshireman who was also a revered international cricketer. Sometime in the early Seventies, I was listening to the magazine programme Outlook on the BBC, when they ran an interview with the spin bowler, Sonny Ramadhin. After his retirement from test cricket, Ramadhin spent a few years playing in the Lancashire leagues before opening a pub near the Yorkshire border. He was asked about his new business, and about his family. When it was revealed that the pub-owner had a teenage son, the interviewer enquired whether he, too, was a slow bowler. 'Certainly not!', answered Ramadhin, 'he wants to be another Freddie Trueman.'