Fred Titmus was an archetypal old-fashioned professional. Brought up in the hard world that was the fate of the working classes in the 1930s, his escape was sport. A useful footballer, his break came in cricket, initially as a batsman, then as a batsman who could bowl seam, and finally as an offspinner who could more than hold his own in the lower middle-order. From the time of his debut for Middlesex in 1949 aged 16, he followed the well-worn path of the county pro, through to his final game aged 49 in 1982 (making him one of a handful to have played first-class cricket in five decades). There were also spells as a coach at Surrey (brief and far from happy) and as a national selector.

Growing up following Middlesex, I was weaned on tales of Titmus, the chirpy Cockney who served the county loyally. But he was a much better player than I ever suspected. He was one of only eight cricketers to score more than 20,000 first-class runs and take over 2000 wickets. For five years, until he lost four toes in a gruesome accident involving a speedboat propeller on England's 1967-68 Caribbean tour (for which he was paid £98 compensation) he was England's first-choice spinner. He was still good enough to earn a recall on England's ill-fated 1974-75 tour of Australia, and while the veteran Colin Cowdrey earned the plaudits for facing Lillee and Thomson on a Perth flier, it was Titmus, a month older, who top-scored in the match with 61.

But what, on the surface, appears to be a fairly standard autobiography nevertheless packs some surprising punches. As befits a man who was never short of an aside on and off the field, Titmus has not held back with his views on some contemporaries. He describes a former ECB chief executive as a "peehole bowler", Mike Atherton as "a fair player but not a good leader ... not fit to lace Peter May's boots" and once told Prince Phillip to "f*** off".

Perhaps his most stinging remarks are reserved for the unlikeliest target, Mike Brearley, who as a captain is generally considered almost beyond criticism. Not by Titmus, however. Initially irritated by Brearley's insistence on setting his fields, he speaks of "daft and arrogant ideas which made him something of a joke."

What is clear is that the old guard had little time for Brearley, and Titmus stingingly concludes by pointing out that his own Test average with the bat is almost identical to that of his captain's. And therein lies the underlying theme of the book. Titmus straddles the era in which the old class-based hierarchy gave way to the new meritocracy, and although he served his time at the bottom of the ladder, by the time he neared the top it had been pulled away from under him. Brearley, seemingly the archetypal old amateur, who should have epitomised the old days, was in fact at the helm of the revolution.

One major gripe remains the unforgivable lack of an index, and the total absence of any statistics to highlight just how good a player Titmus was. For a man who remains, by his own admission, a great believer that stats do not lie, that is a surprising oversight.


Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo