CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1963

Fred Titmus

Frederick John Titmus, the Middlesex batsman and off-spin bowler, earned his trip with E.R. Dexter's team to Australia last winter after many seasons of success as one of the most consistent all-rounders in English cricket. His achievement last year of completing the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets for the seventh time gave him high place in the modern records of such performances.

Titmus was born on November 24, 1932, in Kentish Town, North-West London -- almost on the doorstep of Lord's. His family were keen on sport in general and his own enthusiasm for games was early in evidence. At the William Ellis Grammar School, in North London, he gained a place in the First XI when 13 in competition with much older boys and he played for Aldenham Boys' Club, Kentish Town in the London Federation Boys' Tournament.

In those days, Titmus preferred batting, but he had learned to bowl an off-break fairly well by the time he left school at 16 when he took a post for the winter in a solicitor's office. Sport though, was uppermost in his mind. He wrote to Lord's for a trial, received an invitation to attend and after bowling a dozen balls, with Mr. R. Aird, then the M.C.C. Assistant Secretary, and Watkins, one of the coaches, looking on, he was taken on the M.C.C. ground staff.

His promotion straight from the ground-staff to the Middlesex XI had a story-book touch about it. It happened in June 1949 when Middlesex, with Robertson, Compton, Edrich, Mann and Young engaged in the Test Match against New Zealand at Lord's, found themselves short for their game against Somerset at Bath.

Robins and Allen, two of the Middlesex team and Committee, went out to the nets to have a look at the young talent being coached by Fowler and Watkins, and Titmus then only sixteen and a half, was picked to make up the county side next day.

Instead of selling score-cards at the Test Match, Titmus took his place alongside Allen and Robins in the county team and had the great satisfaction of sharing in their victory, although scoring only 13 and four not out and bowling two overs for nine runs. That was the sole appearance he made for the first team that summer, but his promise had been noted.

He was given the chance to join the county staff and had almost a full season with the senior side the following year. For a youth of seventeen he did fairly well, scoring 390 runs with a highest innings of 54 and taking 55 wickets for 26.10 runs apiece. At that time he bowled off-breaks or medium-pace with equal facility. For the next two years Titmus carried out his National Service, but during this period he was able to keep in practice with games for the R.A.F. and Combined Services.

This interim experience in good-class cricket helped him on his way when he returned to Middlesex in 1953. Given valuable guidance by J.W. Hearne, the county coach, he registered a notable advance, particularly as an off-break bowler. He did so well that he took 105 wickets, average 24.29, and scored 544 runs. This excellent work brought him his county cap.

Titmus made further improvement in 1954, obtaining 111 wickets at 20.45 runs apiece and increasing his batting aggregate to 649.

The summer of 1955 saw Titmus, at the age of 22, establish himself among the leading all-rounders by recording his first double in remarkable fashion. His total of wickets bounded to 191, average 16.31, and he nearly doubled his runs by scoring 1,235 with a highest innings of 104. His tally of 158 wickets in all matches for Middlesex beat the previous county record set up by A.E. Trott with 154 as far back as 1900.

On the strength of some splendid spin bowling for M.C.C. against the South Africans (he took eight for 43 in the second innings and 10 for 70 in the match), Titmus was chosen by the England selectors for the Second and Third Tests, but he had a sorry experience in both. At Lord's, he was out for four and 16 and took only one wicket for 50 runs, and at Manchester he was dismissed for 0 and 19 and failed to take a wicket while conceding 51 runs.

Nevertheless, his county form that summer -- including the taking of 15 wickets for 95 against Somerset at Bath -- was too outstanding to be ignored and he gained further recognition by being chosen for the visit of the M.C.C. A Team to Pakistan in 1955/56. In the four representative matches he did nothing of note and with Laker in his prime the England selectors had little need to persevere with him.

On his return from Pakistan where he had played on mat, Titmus found himself bowling quicker than he should have done, but he overcame this tendency and in 1956 twice took five wickets in an innings against the Australians -- for M.C.C. and Middlesex.

Confinement to county cricket did not dispirit Titmus and he proceeded on his way, reaching double after double -- he missed accomplishing it only in 1958 -- and gradually forced his way back into favour. This proved a very hard task, for even after Laker had retired in 1959 it seemed that his chance had gone as the selectors tried other off-spinners. Consistently good cricket, however, gained its reward.

Titmus improved to such an extent as a batsman that the summer of 1961 yielded him 1,703 runs, and another fine season in 1962 -- 136 wickets (nine of them for 52 in the second innings against Cambridge University) and 1,238 runs finally brought him back into the England team against Pakistan and later for the tour to Australia.

As befits a middle-of-the-order batsman, Titmus can play either an aggressive or a defensive game. He has an equable temperament, but is happiest when the position allows him to bat boldly, and there is nothing more delightful than to see him dance out to the pitch of the ball and forcefully drive it straight or through the covers. He cuts stylishly, and possesses an adequate range of leg-side strokes.

Concentrating almost entirely on off-break bowling in recent years, Titmus has acquired a reputation as a very skilful bowler who does not have to rely upon power of spin for unsettling rivals. He knows how to bowl short of a length to discourage quick scoring, but he far prefers to pit his wits against opponents by keeping the ball up to them and introducing subtle changes of pace and flight for their discomfiture. He is a useful fielder close to the wicket.

For some years now, Titmus has been playing cricket all the year round. He has coached in South Africa for five of the last seven winters, three times in Kimberley and twice in Cape Town.

Had Titmus not concentrated on cricket he might have made his name as a soccer player. As a junior he was an inside-forward with Hendon, the amateur club, and with Chelsea F.C., and later became a professional with Watford, another Football League Club.

© John Wisden & Co