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Fred Trueman was called up by England because he was fast... as India's fragile batting line-up discovered on his debut at Headingley
June 28, 2014
Few Test debuts, even those of some of the great players, are wild successes. While memorable for the individual concerned, nerves and inexperience often take their toll and it can take a few matches before players are able to do justice to their talents.
There are notable exceptions. One was that of Fred Trueman, a 21-year-old fast bowler with only two full seasons under his belt who was called up by England to play in the first Test against India in 1952 in front of his home crowd at Headingley.
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.
Trueman's selection was aimed more, wrote Peter Laker in the Daily Express, at "finding a shock bowler who can knock over the Australians next summer" than any expectation of immediate success. "Trueman has the fiery pace, stamina and temperament for his job."
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. Moments later he was called again and he gave the same reply.
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's.
Trueman recalled the frostily formal atmosphere in the England hotel. The senior pros, including Hutton, kept to themselves, only acknowledging him with a curt nod. "I felt I had gained entry to a small and elitist club," he later wrote.
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.
The second day was nip and tuck, England recovering from 92 for 4 to close on 206 for 5, 87 in arrears. They eventually 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 Lane 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.
There was pandemonium in the stands," Trueman recalled. "I glanced at Hutton. For a brief moment our eyes met. Then Len's head fell, he sighed and shook his head from side to side, as if saying 'I don't believe it … '."
In the Indian camp there was disbelief. "We were shell-shocked," Gaekwad said. "To be 0 for 4 in a Test is incredibly upsetting. As the wicket's went down [Trueman] was shouting and swearing because that's how he thought a fast bowler should be. He was making all sorts of elaborate gestures and loving every minute."
In the crowd was 11-year-old Geoff Boycott with some school friends. After Trueman got his first two wickets, a man sitting next to them said he would buy them an ice-cream if he got a third. "Well, he bloody well did get another, so we all had an ice-cream on Fred."
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 95 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. India finished on 136 for 6, just 95 ahead.
"It was a sight for Englishmen to relish and remember to see Trueman. Jet black hair flying, sinewy legs thundering down his 18-yard run, and coal hewer's arms catapulting expresses from a torso as muscular as [English heavyweight boxer] Bruce Woodcock's." wrote Frank Rostron in the Daily Express. "He has two priceless things; an ideal compact physical build and a simple, unaffected, anxiety to learn. He can bowl the outswinger and the inswinger… "
The Indian manager was bewildered, telling the Yorkshire Post: "It is terrible, terrible. I am very distressed. This Trueman has terrified them."
On the Sunday, Trueman made the front pages of all the popular press, with most labelling him "the new Larwood". He headed off for his first game of golf, and it was not a great success. His team-mates gave up counting his shots when he passed 150 and he admitted to losing "at least seven balls".
England went on to win by seven wickets on the Monday. In accordance with new MCC regulations, there was no scramble for souvenirs when the last wicket fell. Appalled by such undignified scenes, the game's lawmakers had ruled the umpires took stumps and bails and then handed them to the captains for redistribution. Trueman received a stump, as well as the ball with which he took his four second-innings wickets.
The selectors were left with a headache when Trueman, invited to play in the next Test at Lord's, told them he was committed to be touring Germany with the RAF side. Permission for him to play for England instead was rapidly sought and given.
While the RAF was willing to allow him leave to play for his country, 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 back from Germany. He appeared unaffected, taking match figures of 8 for 182.
What happened next?
Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography by Chris Waters (Aurum Press Ltd, 2012)
As It Was: The Memoirs by Fred Trueman (Macmillan, 2004)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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