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J. M. Kilburn
Happy the country with no history may be debatable as a political aphorism but happy the cricketing country with high-class fast bowling is self-evident truth.
Fast bowling superiority has governed the results of Test match rubbers for generation after generation, though, of course, in the absence of fast bowling or fast bowling conditions other factors have decided the issue from time to time.
In the years between 1951 and 1961 J.B. Statham and F.S. Trueman have made between them 104 appearances for England. In that period England have lost only two Test rubbers, one in Australia and one against Australia in England, and have been defeated only 17 times in 89 matches.
The successes were not all directly attributable to the achievements of Statham and Trueman playing together or to one or the other, but the significant influence of fast bowling in general and of Statham and Trueman in particular scarcely brooks argument.
This influence of fast bowling is inadequately measured in the analyses of fast bowlers. The figures themselves have been startling on occasion but the essential value of fast bowling lies in the creation of authority.
Analyses count in numbers; fast bowling accountancy involves moral effect and the relative value of batsmen dismissed. Fast bowling represents the alarming element in cricket, the thunderstorm inducing awe and disturbance whatever the material results of its passage. Fast bowlers usually take as many wickets for others as for themselves.
Statham and Trueman, playing so much together, have followed parallel careers with little more than their speed and success in common. Each has touched the topmost heights of his profession aided in considerable measure by the contemporary incidence of the other; either would have been welcomed in England teams of any age. They have been co-operative and competitive, complementary and contrasting.
Brian Statham came quietly upon the Test match stage. At the age of 20 he was flown across the world as reinforcement to the decimated ranks of M.C.C. on tour in Australia.
He played against New Zealand in the supplementary programme and against South Africa in the home series of 1951. His early performances reflected his character; they were undramatic. Statham's rise to eminence was gradual and assured, based on a talent steadily developed, on perseverance and stamina.
His outlook on bowling has always been admirably professional. Whatever the circumstances, he has been reliable, industrious and competent. Statham has sometimes bowled unsuccessfully for England but never badly by the basic canons of bowling.
Indeed, it has been said of him that he often bowls too well in the sense that the experienced batsman has greater opportunity of anticipation than against a more erratic and therefore more unpredictable attack. His length and direction verge upon the mechanical in their extraordinary accuracy. The element of surprise in his bowling is reduced by the very excellence of his technique.
His great personal triumphs for England have been based on long endeavour rather than surging inspiration. The magnificent return of seven for 39 against South Africa at Lord's in 1955 involved 29 overs unchanged. In his 1960 mastery of South Africa at Lord's he bowled 20 overs in the first innings to take six for 63 and 21 overs in the second innings for 34 runs and five wickets.
Fast bowlers in general neither receive nor expect any high degree of sympathy towards their cricketing labours. They do not need it. They rarely have to toil in unfavourable circumstances -- on soft wickets, uphill, against the wind; their threat is obvious and they glory in their power, usually excused even consideration of the retaliatory bumper.
Statham is an outstanding exception. His virtues are a basis for his misfortunes. No fast bowler has been more regularly condemned to achieve his conquests twice or three times over. The number of times he has defeated the stroke to see the ball miss the stumps or the edge of the bat is incalculable and incredible. Without the philosophic resignation that is his natural blessing and cultivated re-action he would have commited suicide, or turned batsman, long ago. Statham is the most phlegmatic of all fast bowlers.
The mind's picture is of an unimpressively slight and youthful figure approaching business with a casual air. There is no elaborate routine of muscle-flexing and to all appearances Statham is not unduly concerned with the details of field-setting. One feature alone of preparation is remarkable; Statham pulls off his sweater by stretching one hand over his shoulder to the small of the back indicating an uncommon suppleness of joints.
The run-up is smooth but not fearsome. The action is high with a marked cross-over of the feet before the delivery stride. The balance is delicate and when it is disturbed Statham sometimes stretches his length in an alarming fall. To most bowlers such accident would mean severe injury or, at best, an upset of rhythm and confidence. Statham has begun a Test match with a horrifying tumble, picked himself up and entered a long spell of swift and accurate bowling.
He is notably undemonstrative in either achievement or disappointment. Opposing batsmen, defeated and dismissed, give their parting glance of subjection to find the conqueror standing relaxed at the end of his follow-through or stooping to pluck a blade of grass.
Triumph was never more modestly acknowledged. Batsmen defeated but miraculously preserved may be made aware of good fortune by their own conscience but rarely by Statham's attitude. If his hand be raised it is not so much in protest to the gods as to receive the ball returning from the sympathetic wicket-keeper.
There is no extravagance in Statham. The fires within him maintain an equable range and he would readily attribute the majority of his 213 Test match wickets to persistence and accuracy rather than to any flares of inspiration. His challenge is to the technical skill of batsmanship as distinct from the temperament of batsmen.
He seeks to impose misjudgment of pace, miscalculation of swing, not fear for life and limb. He takes wickets more as a benevolent despot than as a tyrannical pirate. His nickname is The Greyhound.
Freddie Trueman, called Fiery, equal partner in one of the most significant bowling combinations of all cricket, might have been deliberately designed as the antithesis to Statham. Statham obliterates opposing batting like the inexorable flood tide; Trueman shatters by tempest. Not for him an entry by stealth.
At Headingley he brought to his first Test match the sensation of four Indian wickets whirled away with the score still at 0. In the third match of that 1952 series he found the ideal circumstances for the encouragement of a young fast bowler making his way in a glamorous world; a lively pitch, a strong following wind, superb fielding support and demoralised batting. In nine overs at Old Trafford Trueman took eight wickets for 31 runs.
Success has not been Trueman's invariable portion in Test match cricket but sensation has surrounded him. He has been torpid and terrifying; dramatic in appearances and dramatic in omissions. All his cricketing career has been coloured by controversy, some of it inevitable, some spurious, none evaded. Trueman is a forthright and explosive character.
By nature and by training he has become the popular personification of fast bowling. In his long run and long delivery stride with pronounced arching of the back his antagonism is plain for all to see. At his best pace speed alone has represented a formidable challenge and he has never felt any obligation to resist the testing of a batsman's physical courage. Aggressiveness has sparkled from his attitude and frustration has drawn his heartfelt comment, vocal and gesticulatory.
It could fairly be argued that Trueman's type of attack has been as valuable to England as the talent in his bowling. High talent indeed is required to take 194 wickets in 45 Test appearances, but Trueman's influence has probably exceeded the mathematical register of his performances.
His presence has stimulated optimism in his own team and anxiety in his opponents. His omission from Test teams at home and from touring sides abroad has not necessarily involved England failure and his inclusion has sometimes originated England embarrassment, but he has always given his side the encouragement of belief that they would not be left naked to their enemies.
By the features of his bowling and the principles of his assault he has raised his most thrilling hours to the great experiences of cricket. If Trueman's only bowling had been a Saturday afternoon spell for England against Australia at Lord's in 1956 his cricketing immortality would be assured.
England, 114 behind on first innings, needed urgent and impressive recovery. Trueman, roused to the full magnificence of his fast bowling fury, almost contrived it in one of the most commanding and memorable attacks ever launched from the Nursery end.
In the inspiration of the occasion he made an epic of an episode. Through over after over of awesome speed and vigour he flung himself against the Australian batting in endeavour raised to desperation, yet still controlled.
The spellbound silence of anticipation dramatised his run up; in gasps of incredulity the ball flashed past bat and stumps into the hands of a distant wicket-keeper; in a chatter of amazement and hope he walked back to his mark.
This was no moment for the theatrical gesture or self-conscious by-play. A whole world of endeavour was concentrated on a cricket pitch. The game transcended its own technicalities.
Trueman took wickets, though as it happened he did not deliver this match into England's hands. He battled in a losing cause but this was his apotheosis as an England bowler; for this he will be remembered by all who watched as a bowler of rare skill, high endeavour and temper of the finest forging.
By the look of the scorebook it may seem that Statham and Trueman have been in competition more than in partnership. Their best returns have been when they were playing in a team without the other; only in the West Indies in the second Test of 1960 have they shared all the wickets of a completed innings.
The figures show less than the achievements. Statham and Trueman being contemporary have made each other more formidable, have made the England attack greater than either alone could have rendered it. Between them they have built a renown for such pressure upon the batsmen of the world that England at home and England abroad have never gone weakly or hopelessly into the field when their services were available.
Their fires are dying now but the flames they kindled during the years of their mastery leave a glow across the cricketing sky to warm the heart in gratitude. Statham, the Greyhound, and Fiery Fred have deserved well of their country.