Fire burns out for FS, England's finest ever fast bowler

Cricket lost one of its greatest characters and English cricket its finest ever fast bowler on Saturday when Fred Trueman passed away at the age of 75. I never had the pleasure of watching Fred bowl live. He retired from Tests two months before I was born in 1965 and finished with Yorkshire in 1968, before coming back to play half a dozen John Player League games for Derbyshire in 1972.

Yet I, like any true cricket fan, can vividly remember the black-and-white images of him bowling, especially the moment when he took his 300th Test wicket at the Oval in 1964, when the Australian Neil Hawke edged a gentle outswinger to Colin Cowdrey at slip. The act was followed by an interview on the Pavilion balcony, where Fred was asked whether the feat of taking 300 Test wickets would ever be repeated. Characteristically, he replied: "Aye, but whoever does it will be bloody tired."

It was Trueman's honest, no-nonsense and competitive manner on and off the field that led to newspapers christening him "Fiery Fred". Yet it was the nickname he had within cricket circles that carried the greatest gravitas. Very few cricketers are instantly recognisable by their initials or first name. Frederick Sewards Trueman will always be known as FS.

Trueman's forthright views and reluctance to accept change led to him being ostracised by authority, and ridiculed by many now playing the game. This was a great shame because he had an immense knowledge and passion for cricket. He was kind and generous too, and had a huge amount to offer, and it is hard to believe England never used him to help to coach young fast bowlers. It was also sad because he became famous for his views, and people forgot what a great bowler he was.

Trueman was not a tall man but, the son of a Yorkshire miner, he was strong and fit. He had a broad backside and powerful legs, both vital for a fast bowler, and he was a wonderful athlete. A tough, physical upbringing - he left school at 14 to work in a factory - contributed to his physique, and he made his Yorkshire debut against Cambridge University at the age of 18.

Watching him bowl was pure theatre. As he walked back to his mark he would roll up the right sleeve of his shirt and then, on turning to bowl the next delivery, he would toss back his mop of black hair. He surged in at a slight angle, rolling to the crease like a wave building up before coming crashing down. He would throw his left arm high in the air and point it in the direction he wanted to bowl, before pulling it down powerfully.

A graceful side-on action allowed him consistently to swing the ball away from right-handed batsmen at a fast pace, and it was this combination that brought him the majority of his 2,304 first-class wickets.

With England he had Brian Statham as an opening partner. Trueman was the strike bowler. His hostility ruffled the opposition and he searched for wickets while Statham offered consistency and control. The new-ball pairings of Bob Willis and Ian Botham, Andy Caddick and Darren Gough, and Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard have each taken more than 150 wickets for England, but Trueman and Statham, with 284 wickets in 35 Test matches, is still the most successful partnership in the country's history.

The last time I saw Fred was in Johannesburg during England's 2004-05 tour of South Africa. Derek Pringle and I were chatting at the hotel bar when he walked in. For the next hour and a half Pringle and I just listened and laughed.

He made some extremely relevant observations about Stephen Harmison, and Jimmy Anderson, too. They were struggling at the time and Trueman suggested it would take him five minutes to sort them out. Both, he said, were falling away and throwing their front arm towards gully/backward point before letting go of the ball and this was causing them to spray it about. He was right, and Harmison is doing it again now. Trueman did not need 15 cameras and a computer screen to see that.

But my strongest memory of Trueman came when he was summarising for Test Match Special in the mid-Nineties. England were playing Pakistan and it was raining so the commentary team were filling in. I was driving to Trent Bridge to play for Middlesex.

David Lloyd was England's coach and he was going through a phase of attempting to stress the significance of being British. Lloyd had a compilation video produced, which included parts of speeches made by Winston Churchill, and he used it to motivate the team before a Test match that summer. Lloyd also had big placards pinned to the wall of the dressing-room with the words "Win", "Passion", "Determination" and "Pride" on them.

Jonathan Agnew mischievously asked Trueman what he thought of it all. Fred set off, probably starting with "I just cannot understand what is going off in there", and 15 minutes later he was still going strong. He finished with: "When I was playing for England I didn't need motivating. I had them three lions on me chest and that were enough for me. When I arrived at the ground I'd knock on the opposition's dressing-room door and say 'Five of you get your pads on coz I'm on fire today'."

I was in tears of laughter when I left the car and 15 minutes late for a team meeting, but I could not have cared less. FS, you will be missed.

In my day Life of 'Fiery Fred'

* 1931: Born in Stainton, Yorkshire, on 6 February.

* 1949: Makes his Yorkshire debut against Cambridge University at Fenner's.

* 1952: Makes England debut against India at Headingley and takes 8 for 31 against India at Old Trafford.

* 1953: One of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year.

* 1964: Claims 300th Test wicket against Australia at the Oval in August - the first bowler to reach that milestone.

* 1969: Retires from first-class cricket, having been part of the Yorkshire team which dominated the County Championship throughout the 1960s. He took 2,304 first-class wickets at only 18.29 each.

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