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Freddie Trueman

Home truths.

My friend Johnnie Stephens handed me a copy of the Chris Waters biography of the late Freddie Trueman: "Ferocious" to some, FST and even Frederick Sewards on occasions.
" There are a few brickbats thrown in your direction" Johnnie told me " but nothing you can't handle". And he is right. They are more pinpricks than anything but perhaps the more irritating for that. Not to say it isn't a good read.

I am flattered to be mentioned on 10 separate pages, the same number as Peter May which means very exalted company in my book but the emphasis on put-downs, however minor is wearisome. Take the Gordon Pirie incident on board the Canberra when Fred decided not to join in the gentle exercise routines. Fred is depicted in all his rugged, no nonsense Yorkshire colours as something of a hero. What people forget is that in those days there was no "squad" system. A number of the younger players may not have ever met Fred, let alone played with him in the same team. Finding some joint activity seemed like a good idea - I believe "bonding" is the modern term - and yet Fred declined. The sequel is that Fred was the only player to break down on the whole trip.

Then Fred is quoted as " advising me to play two spinners" in the third Test which we lost. I take full responsibility as Captain for making the mistake of keeping the winning side from Melbourne but any idea that I wilfully went against his advice is way wide of the mark. I remember a whole group of us looking at the pitch including all the senior players, not to mention Alec Bedser and my other co-selectors. It was a close call - and anyway, who can say with certainty that we would have won had the extra spinner played.

Perhaps some of these niceties might have found their way into this Trueman story had the author taken the trouble to spend a little more time in my company. Most of the people who are treated less than kindly are passed away and unable to respond. Yet here am I, reasonably compos mentis and casually bypassed. I shared a room with Fred in 1959 and nobody else alive that I know has enjoyed that somewhat dubious privilege. I toured with him in West Indies in 1960. I captained him in 1963, In fact I spent the whole of my career playing with and against our Fred.

The only direct quote from me is in answer to a question concerning Fred being docked 25 percent of his bonus after the 62/63 tour. This one/off enquiry is dignified in the book with the word "interview" which seems unlikely, given the brevity of my response saying how Fred was "always going on about" his supposed shabby treatment. I had no intention of washing dirty linen in public then and I will not do so now. But as to whether some minor rap over the knuckles was in order, I feel the same way now as I did then.

The supposed North South antagonism gets a fairly regular airing throughout the story though I don't feel that this old saw was very high on Fred's agenda. We were certainly on the best of terms personally at all times, whether as room-mate, opposing player, team-mate and indeed as Captain. In fact the last time I saw him was when Susan and I stayed the night with him and Veronica in their cosy home in Flasby. " Bring your dressing gowns. There are no en-suite whathaveyous here. We don't want any embarrassment".

Indeed, there was nothing other than warm hospitality, a nice drop of champagne and a short' informative lesson on the local birdlife which he loved so much. That is as pleasant a way for me to remember him as any, though his larger than life cricketing character will always loom large in the background.
Another potential niggle is that from friend and foe there is a strangely repetitive theme going the rounds concerning my Captaincy style on the 62/63 tour . It seems that my decisions were taken on a whim or a fancy under the general heading of a new theory every minute. With an older and wiser head at the helm the critics suggest we would have won the Series and flown back with the Ashes.

Ho! Hum! A gentle reminder of the situation may not go amiss. We were up against a settled and successful Australian side, playing at home under one of their most successful Captains, Richie Benaud, who had a reputation for dynamic and aggressive leadership, Press interest in the Poms was lukewarm and the bookmakers were quoting odds against us.

As it turned out it was the underdogs who made the running. Twice in the warm-up games we scored over 400 in the day which made people sit up a bit. We made good on my pledge to bowl our overs at 15 overs per hour - only the current ICC requirement, you may think - except that we are talking about 8 ball overs!! And boy o boy was the media heat turned up when we went one ahead at Melbourne. It took me a couple of hours simply to get away from the airport on arrival in Sydney after interviews with every newspaper and radio station in the State.

But down to the nitty gritty. Was it by chance that the brick wall defences of the great Bill Lawry were first undermined and then dismantled? Was it down to the great fast bowler Freddie Trueman? No, it was down to careful planning between Edward Dexter and the Worcestershire medium pacer Len Coldwell. Between us we cut off his oxygen supply of quick singles used to rotate the strike. As we marooned him at one end, so the frustration of his partners grew at the other. We halved his run rate and forced him to rethink his whole game plan. His scores thereafter were 8,8,10,16,11 and 45.

Fast forward to last summers series against the South Africans when the demolition of England in the first Test was not a pretty sight. I sent an e-mail to Andrew Strauss in similar vein to the Lawrie strangulation. I had no clever plans for two great players like Amla and Kallis but I had a plan for Graeme Smith who had just scored 131. Once again it worked nicely, cutting off his singles on the leg side getting it into his head that life was no longer so easy. In his next five inning he averaged less than 30 and took twice as long to get them.

This current England team makes a virtue of seeking continuous improvement. This is admirable but I see no obvious signs of it happening. Short term I would insist on the fast bowlers bowling a regular supply of slower balls, something they do every other week in 20/20. It is not that the slower ones take the wickets but they keep the batsman guessing, playing fractionally later at the quicker ones. I would ask the batsmen to reserve 15 minutes of every net session to ensuring that the back foot remains parallel with the crease at all times. The number of times I see false strokes made with both toes pointing straight up the pitch is both alarming and distressing.

Longer term I would insist that Monty Panesar runs up straighter and plants his feet in a line going towards the target. Currently he starts moving from half-way behind the umpire and winds up with his front foot way out in the line of the return crease. Now he has to bowl all round his front leg and never gets his left hip through properly. The result is lack of turn which is amplified by the angle of attack. And that is not all - as if it were not enough!

When a bowler approaches the crease from a wide angle (as John Emburey did in his later unproductive years) he may think that he has "cocked the spring" i.e. wound up his shoulders against his hips, whereas he has done nothing of the sort. Monty should put down some cones to straighten himself out.

So there you are. Another of those whimsical Dexter theories.