Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 19 on our list.
No. 19 – Fred Trueman
In this age of mystery spinners, slower deliveries and bowlers with actions jerkier than frogs in blenders, most of which has been induced by the advent of Twenty 20 cricket, it is rare to see a classical fast bowler. Not one of those trundlers serving up the 135 kph fast medium thoroughfare everyday on national television, but a genuinely fast bowler marking his run-up like a raging bull, then running in with the fluidity of poetry in motion and then scattering the stumps at the batsman’s end with a perfectly delivered yorker. Shane Bond was the last fast bowler who I think could fit into this mould; long before him, there was Freddie Trueman.
If you talk about records, Fiery Fred has his share of them – he was the first to 300 wickets, at a miserly average of 21.5. But statistics, as Navjot Sidhu would love to tell you, are like mini-skirts – they reveal more than they hide. What they cannot tell you is the level of fear he put into the batsman’s mind. His nickname “fiery” was attributed in part to the fact that he loved to psyche the opposition batsmen out by going into their territory (i.e. the dressing room) and needling them under their skins.
Trueman’s most memorable moment probably came in his very first Test. One fine June day in 1952, a young fast bowling debutant came bounding down the Headingley slope, almost hurling himself at the Indian batsmen and terrorising them to the point of submission. At one stage the second innings scoreboard read 0/4, i.e., 4 wickets for 0 runs. Unprecedented and unmatched ever since.
Trueman’s childhood was not bucolic by any means; he grew up in the bleak surroundings of a pit yard in South Yorkshire in a family looked down upon by the rest of the village. The mental scars he received as a result of the social discrimination in his childhood would spur him on to not just bowl his heart out and intimidate the enemy (in this case, the opposition batsman) but also be boorish and undisciplined both on and off the pitch.
This would also lead him to create an idyllic and self-inflated enigma about himself especially in the Yorkshire dressing room known for its history of internecine warfare and snobbery. His personal vendetta with Boycott is probably one of the reasons that robbed him of at least the satisfaction of 100 Test appearances for England, which was a distinct possibility at one point of time. His conduct on the tour of the Caribbean in 1953/54 also did nothing to help his cause. However, while Trueman himself may have been the catalyst of his own misfortune, he never stopped putting in the hard yards. After a first class career of nearly twenty years and 2,300 wickets mostly taken at Yorkshire, he would join the BBC Test Match Special team as a presenter and would dismissively harrumph the modern cricketing era with his trademark catchphrase “I don’t know what’s going off out there.”
But these were minor distractions, if at all distractions, from Trueman the cricketer. Even with their helmets and protective gear, I do not think any modern day batsman would look forward to the prospect of taking on Fiery Fred on a pacy and bouncy Headingley wicket in the English summer. If Bradman named Bill O’Reilly as the greatest bowler he had ever faced, Trueman received an endorsement from someone no less than the great Sir Garry Sobers, who said that Trueman was the most fearsome bowler he had ever faced. And those who watched him wouldn’t have disagreed – as Trueman ran into bowl, right sleeve unfurled and mop of black hair flopping all over, with a classic side-on action, he created one of the most indelible memories you’ll ever get to see on a cricket field.
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: