Fred Trueman

Yorkshire and England cricketer - the self-styled 'greatest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath'


Frederick Sewards Trueman, cricketer, journalist and broadcaster: born Stainton, Yorkshire 6 February 1931; OBE 1989; married 1955 Enid Chapman (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1973 Veronica Wilson (née Lundy); died Steeton, West Yorkshire 1 July 2006.

For most of the past 100 years a Yorkshire fast bowler seems to have been part of the English national character. In modern times there has been the cheery, ebullient Darren Gough and the rustic grin of the never-daunted Matthew Hoggard. In the Thirties, it was the very tall, bespectacled, professorial Bill Bowes, who was also an amateur magician. Between them came Fred Trueman, faster, stronger, tougher, the epitome of the lad called "oop from t'pits" to blast the Aussies. He once described himself, with that hint of self-mockery that lay behind his bolder assertions, as "the greatest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath".

If he wasn't that, he was certainly close enough to be an arguable candidate. In his pomp, 1955-65, he genuinely frightened county batsmen, not only by his bombardments on the field but by his forays into their dressing room before the match, when he would sweep in, survey their apprehensive faces and announce how many victims he expected that day. Many of the hammerings Yorkshire experienced in the 1970s, under Geoff Boycott's captaincy, were, contemporary players have since confessed, "because they were getting their own back for Fred and because they didn't like Boycs".

At Test level, Trueman was the first bowler to reach 300 wickets, in 67 matches at an average of 21.57, astonishing figures for a performer of his pace. For speed, he was only exceeded in his own generation by Frank Tyson, matched by the West Indians Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist. For durability, his only rival has been Courtney Walsh. The only Englishman who could bowl straighter for longer spells was Brian Statham. Trueman was more versatile, in the deliveries in his armoury, than any of these: he could seam or swing the ball both ways, had a rocketing bouncer (in the days when batsmen did not wear helmets), a disguised slower delivery and an equally fast and destructive yorker. In later years, he developed a successful medium-pace off-break.

In the outfield, he could fire in from the boundary with either arm; once, before a packed Old Trafford in a Roses match, he was showing off, returning the ball left-handed from the deep mid-wicket rope when he slipped, the ball clearing the entire field to roll over the third-man boundary. As a fielder, he was best known as a short leg, where he and Tony Lock were a feared combination. He was a strong, forcing batsman in the lower order, capable enough to score centuries against Northamptonshire and Middlesex, a fierce hitter when required. As a temporary captain he once (in 1968) led Yorkshire to a famous victory over the Australians, by an innings and 69, at a time when both counties and tourists played for keeps.

Fred Trueman was proud of his repertoire and it was this pride that brought a memorable dressing-room encounter with the sometimes acerbic ex-Repton and Cambridge Richard Hutton. Trueman was describing, in great detail, to the younger Yorkshire players, how he had routed some recent opposition when Hutton intervened: "Tell me, Fred. Did you ever bowl a simple straight ball?" Fred batted not an eyelid: "Aye, I did. It went straight through Peter Marner [of Lancashire] like a streak o'piss and flattened all three."

Hutton was undeterred. On another occasion he did halt Fred momentarily when he asked: "Would you describe yourself as a modest man?" Hiding his light under a bushel was not Fred Trueman's role.

His dad, Dick Trueman, a miner, had brought him to the nets in old Bramall Lane, Sheffield, just as the coaches, Cyril Turner and Charlie Lee, were packing up in time to catch a bus home. Turner said to Lee, "This bloke's brought his lad all the way from Maltby. Says he's a bit quick, so we'd better have a look at him." Lee dutifully set up the nets and stumps again, padded up and went out to face a well-built, black-haired 17-year-old, without whites and wearing plimsolls. The first ball shot over the top of the net, over the back wall and just missed a passing tram. The next three balls were equally wild, but when Fred did get a ball on line, a surprised Lee looked behind to see "two stumps sticking out of the net like herrings on a Grimsby trawler".

Turner, a grizzled veteran of Brian Sellers's champion teams of the 1930s, chuckled later, on the bus: "That lad'll play for Yorkshire. He needs to find control. There's nowt wrong with the action." When Dick Trueman, who had been a useful all-rounder in local cricket, died, Fred placed his first Yorkshire cap inside the coffin.

Fred was not completely unknown. He had appeared for Yorkshire Schools and Turner's report placed him in the fast lane. By late July 1948, Fred Trueman had reached Sheffield United's first team, taking 15 wickets in three matches. He was despatched to Headingley's winter nets for examination by the county coaches, who pronounced him "an ideal pupil. Fast, superb action."

The following May I saw Trueman, along with two other future England players, Brian Close and Frank Lowson, make their débuts against Cambridge University at Fenner's. Rumours of Trueman's pace had already reached the public and he had been described as "the new Lindwall", a reference to the great Australian, but on that day Close was far and away the most impressive of the trio and was, indeed, capped by England in that first season.

Transferring to the Parks, Trueman was much more successful against Oxford, taking 6-72, and his career was under way. He was still working down the Maltby Main pit, often doing night shifts in order to be free to play cricket. His captain, Norman Yardley, nicknamed him "Fiery" after a devastating performance against Minor Counties, at Lord's, when he took 8-70. The selectors chose him for a Test Trial in 1950 at Bradford, where he was totally overshadowed by Jim Laker's 8-2. Trueman did bowl his great hero, Len Hutton, while Laker, a Bradfordian who played for Surrey, was asked by a Fleet Street feature writer unsophisticated in cricket, "Have you ever done this before?" Replied Laker, straight-faced: "Not often".

Trueman was still competing for a place in the Yorkshire team in 1951 but he did enough to win his cap, in August, and was then called up for National Service. The RAF were generous in their cricket leave for somone now regarded nationally as a prodigy to be advanced and when Trueman was released, for the summer of 1952 he found himself, through retirements, illness and loss of form, as Yorkshire's leading fast bowler. He was, he told John Arlott, at his physical peak that summer and after 32 wickets in four Championship matches his selection for England was automatic.

Before 30,000 at Headingley he began that famous spell against India from the Kirkstall Lane end, taking three wickets in 14 balls. He finished the series with 29 wickets and England had, at long last, a fast bowler to compete with the best. England also had a character that the old guard found difficult to accommodate. Pre-war professional cricketers by and large knew their place; if they did upset the applecart, on or off the field, at home or abroad, they had to take their punishment. Trueman was by no means a rebel and was, in fact, to grow into an establishment figure, proud of both his MCC membership and his Dales home, but by his very nature and appearance, his charisma, he attracted attention and stories.

He became a man of legends and, when he failed to propagate them himself, the media did it for him. In later years he would shake his head: "I can't believe some of the tales I hear about myself." He was never a heavy drinker, not in the same street as his great mate Statham, who firmly believed in recovering of an evening the liquid he had lost in bowling 27 overs at around 90mph during the day. Trueman's sins were usually verbal and he certainly fell foul of two captains, both Yorkshiremen, Hutton with England and Vic Wilson with the county, who disciplined him.

His reputation almost certainly cost him at least a couple of tours for, in a golden age of fast bowling, England could also call on Statham, Tyson, Alec Bedser, Trevor Bailey, Peter Loader and Bob Appleyard to use the new ball. To his last day Trueman firmly believed that he would have taken a total of Test wickets that would have been unchallenged, possibly until the advent of Walsh, had he played in all the matches for which he should have been selected on merit. When he did retire (after playing a few Sunday League games for Derbyshire) he had taken 2,304 wickets in his 20-year career at an average of 18.29 and had been a member of a county team that won seven Championships.

He became a broadcaster, a member of the Test Match Special team, and I worked with him for several years on his weekly column for The People. He was a joy: he always had a good line waiting and, very often, a good news story too. A natural raconteur, he became a star after-dinner speaker. He also joined the Yorkshire committee but his disdain for Boycott, and Boycott's supporters, cost him his seat and thereafter he kept his distance although, as an honorary life member, he was never far away and despite his professed lack of interest could usually be prevailed upon to pronounce upon the club's latest controversy.

He was appointed OBE in 1989, an unforgivable delay for a reward for "services to cricket" after being proclaimed "the greatest living Yorkshireman" by the Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

In his later years he became a regular churchgoer at Bolton Priory, near his Dales home, and when his old antagonist Boycott developed throat cancer was one of the first on the telephone. The pair's mutual deep respect and love of the game brought them together and, if they did not appear at Headingley as often as a newly PR-conscious Yorkshire would have liked, they never lost interest in the club's forever fractious governance.

Trueman's 2004 publication As It Was was probably the best of his autobiographical ventures.

Derek Hodgson

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