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When Fred Trueman was called up by England to play in the first Test against India in front of his home crowd His reaction to his call-up was unconventional. Trueman was sure that he was being wound up, and on being informed of his selection replied, "Bug
September 1, 2007
Test debuts are always memorable for the individual concerned, but few - even for the greats - live up to expectations. Nerves and inexperience take their toll and it often takes a few matches before players are able to do justice to their talents.
There are, of course, exceptions. One such example came in 1952 when Fred Trueman, a 21-year-old fast bowler with only two full seasons under his belt, was called up by England to play in the first Test against India in front of his home crowd at Headingley.
Trueman's selection was surprising. Although his raw pace had led to calls for his inclusion in the side almost as soon as he appeared, he had only played four matches that summer, fitted in during a leave of absence from National Service with the RAF which the Yorkshire committee had negotiated. He had done well, taking 32 wickets at 14.20.
His reaction to his call-up was unconventional. He was at his RAF base when he was summoned to the telephone. Trueman was sure that he was being wound up, and on being informed of his selection replied, "Bugger off" and slammed the receiver down. It was only when Bill Bowes, the former Yorkshire and England fast bowler who was now a journalist, called later that Trueman was convinced. He had to ask his commanding officer for time off - which he got in return for providing tickets to the match.
India had been in England for five weeks and had won one and lost one of their nine first-class warm-ups. A batting line-up strong on paper had struggled to make runs, but a year earlier, when South Africa were the visitors, Headingley had produced over 1100 runs for 20 wickets.
It was a historic match for England because for the first time they had appointed a professional captain, Len Hutton - a Yorkshire team-mate of Trueman.
Vijay Hazare won the toss and India batted. Trueman opened with Alec Bedser, but his initial spell was brief as Hutton rotated his bowlers, making five changes in the first hour. When Polly Umrigar came out at No. 3 Hutton brought Trueman back, believing that Umrigar was unsettled by genuine pace. Soon enough, Umrigar edged to Godfrey Evans to give Trueman his first Test wicket. From 42 for 3 India recovered to 264 for 3 before losing their last seven wickets for 29. Trueman finished with 3 for 89.
England took a 41-run first-innings lead, their last wicket falling half an hour after lunch on the third day. The pitch was fast and true, and offered some help to the spinners as well.
Once again Trueman took the new ball from the Kirkstall End. His second delivery to Pankaj Roy was short. Roy attempted to hook but got a top edge and the ball went a long way up and eventually dropped into the hands of Denis Compton who was originally at first slip.
Bedser bowled the second over, and one ball "reared like a cobra" according to The Times. Dattajirao Gaekwad could only fend it to Jim Laker in the gully. Headingley, crammed full, roared its delight. India were 0 for 2.
Trueman's first ball of his second over was a slower one that deceived Madhav Mantri, who played all round it and lost his off stump. The next delivery was almost a full-toss and Vijay Manjrekar, whose hundred had rescued India first time round, tried to drive through the covers but got a thick inside-edge onto his leg stump. India were 0 for 4 in 14 balls.
"The crowd danced and waved as if it were a cup tie," wrote The Times, "while a young Yorkshire hero stood on the verge of a hat-trick. Here was a disaster produced by pace and panic." The Yorkshire Post, reading the total on the teleprinter, had someone call the ground to check that the score was not the wrong way round.
Hazare, who had demoted himself, strode in for the hat-trick ball as Hutton crowded the bat. He survived - missing getting an edge "by a fag paper's width", according to Trueman - but the damage had been done. India recovered from 26 for 5 to muster 165 thanks to a sixth-wicket stand of 105 between Hazare and Dattu Phadkar, but that partnership was ended by Trueman five minutes before the close when he sent Hazare's off stump cartwheeling.
England went on to win by six wickets on the Monday, and easily defeated India in the next two Tests to take the four-match series 3-0. Trueman finished with 29 wickets at 13.30 including what were to be his Test-best figures of 8 for 31 in the third Test.
While the RAF was willing to allow him leave to play for England, there were limits. Among the handful of first-class games he played apart from the Tests was the Roses match, at that time almost as important in certain quarters. Trueman's preparation for the Lord's Test - the second of the summer - was a 17-hour trip from his RAF base in Germany.
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As It Was by Fred Trueman (MacMillan, 2004)
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