Ted Corbett

Fred Trueman, who died on Saturday after a short battle with cancer, was the finest England fast bowler of his generation, and possibly the best there has ever been.

Bob Willis and Ian Botham have passed his final Test haul of 307 wickets but it has to be remembered that he was the first bowler to pass the 300 barrier and did so at a time when there were fewer matches.

Trueman, born on February 6, 1939, bowled about as fast as it was possible to bowl there was no speed gun in his era which stretched from the late 1940s to 1968 in 67 Tests but he was so much out of favour with the selectors that he missed another 50.

Famously, he destroyed an Indian batting line-up on his home ground at Headingley in 1952 when he took three of the first four wickets of their second innings.

Pankaj Roy was caught in the slips, R.S. Mantri bowled and Vijay Majrekar bowled on the retreat: India 4-0 and Trueman, then just 22, the hero of the packed Yorkshire crowd as he finished the innings of 165 with four for 27.

He should have gone on to play in every Test for which he was available but his refusal to kow-tow to authority, his resentment at being called "Trueman" and his belief that he was as good as his master caused fury in the class conscious days 50 years ago.

"I'd have taken 600 wickets if I had played in all the Tests I should have done," he reminded me more than once in the 40 years we were friends.

Another talent

Unfortunately Frederick Sewards Trueman had another talent. He was born in the Yorkshire coalfields, although he was not a miner himself, and was both bloody-minded and unwilling to back off if confrontation threatened.

This fast bowler with attitude so upset the MCC types who picked the England teams that he was repeatedly left out. He was chosen for matches in this country but repeatedly ignored for overseas trips when, it was felt, he might insult the wrong person.

This ban on Trueman grew stronger after a notorious incident in West Indies when he toured in 1953-4 under the captaincy of Len Hutton, another Yorkshireman and the finest batsman in the world at that time.

The story got round that during a formal dinner on one of the islands Trueman turned to an Indian diplomat and said: "Pass the salt, Gunga Din."

Apparently, it was not Trueman who said those words. The culprit has never owned up to this day so the blame still lay with Trueman until he died although any Yorkshire player of his generation knows the name of the guilty party.

So Trueman was left out of the famous England tour of Australia in 1954-5 when another side led by Hutton won 3-1 after losing the first Test by an innings. Trueman's place was taken even though he had taken 150 wickets the previous summer by Frank Tyson and Brian Statham who played major parts in the victory.

Ill treatment

His ill treatment by the England selectors was all part of the Trueman legend. "I've lost count of the number of times I have been accused of drinking a couple of pints too many," he used to say. "I am a gin and tonic man and I rarely drink beer but that does not seem to stop the gossip. I have been seen dead drunk in places I have never visited, seen escorting women I have never met and playing on grounds I had never heard of."

One famous cricket personality said in his autobiography that he had been bowled first ball by Trueman in a Yorkshire League match. "Funny," said Trueman, "at the time I was 12 and he was eight!"

What Trueman could do was to bowl the finest outswinger the world has ever seen. "I could pitch it on the leg stump and hit the top of the off stump and there is no batsman in the world who has a stroke to stop that delivery." That ball, the yorker and the bouncer brought him 2,304 wickets in first class games at 18.29.

His Test wickets cost him 21.57, a figure only the greatest bowlers of any era have equalled. He could bat too at about No.9 and scored 9,231 runs in first class cricket, including three centuries; besides taking 438 catches and throwing from the boundary right handed or left handed as the mood took him.

After his cricket career as Fiery Fred ended Trueman turned himself into an entertainer. He broadcast on the BBC Test Match Special for 40 years and his catch phrase "I don't know what's going off out there" summed up his dismay that no modern cricketer had his knowledge of tactics.

He also wrote a column for a Sunday newspaper for 43 years and became an after dinner speaker who earned enough to give him a large bungalow in the Yorkshire Dales, a Rolls Royce with the number place FST 307.

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper