Clayton Murzello: At least they didn't forget Fred!
Greats like Hobbs, Compton and Hammond may have not made it in ECB's best England Test XI, but Trueman's selection is heartening
What better way for a country to celebrate its 1,000th Test match than to get their cricket fans to indulge in a bit of fantasy. The England and Wales Cricket Board got 6,000 enthusiasts to participate in a poll to decide on the best England Test XI. The fact that three members of the current team — Alastair Cook, captain Joe Root and pacer James Anderson — are in the XI indicates that a lot of young followers of the game participated in the poll.
Like in any dream team, there will be big-name omissions. How dare Geoff Boycott is left out, die-hard Yorkshiremen will remark while they console themselves with Len Hutton's inclusion. No Jack Hobbs, the original master of cricket — that would not have been easy to accept for many Londoners. Ditto the absence of Denis Compton, the original Brylcreem boy of cricket. Wally Hammond not making it either must have caused some consternation.
As for me, I was disappointed to discover that the XI did not have Colin Cowdrey. At one time, he had played more Tests (114) than anyone else in international cricket, spanning 21 years. He scored an abundance of Test runs (7,624) at 44.06. He also pouched 120 catches. But what's most impressive about Cowdrey was that he never shied away from a challenge. Remember how he came out of an English winter to face Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1974-75?
While Cowdrey's courage and class have been ignored by fans who decided on England's greatest XI, it is heartening to note that Fred Trueman has not been forgotten. Would the Yorkshireman have made it to the dream team had he not continued to be popular and gregarious long after quitting international cricket in 1965? I would think so, because he has been arguably England's best fast bowler. Sure, he didn't play on the sub-continent, but that wasn't because he ducked those challenging tours. He just wasn't picked.
Sometimes, Trueman reckoned he was not picked for overseas tours because the authorities feared his controversial nature would cause public relations disasters. He came to India for benefit games though. Trueman was the first man to claim 300 Test wickets and he did full justice to all the accolades that came his way. India faced his wrath during his first series in 1952. On Test debut at Headingley, he dismissed Madhav Mantri and Vijay Manjrekar off consecutive deliveries, only to be denied a hat-trick by captain Vijay Hazare.
Another great spell against India that summer was his 8 for 31 in 8.4 overs at Manchester. While the 1963 West Indian tourists provided him 34 scalps, an incredible spell was his five for no runs against Australia in the Leeds Test of 1961. The media called it the finest piece of fast bowling but they didn't know that the hero had spent the previous night in his car because there was yet another row with his then wife Enid at home. Trueman got to the ground before anyone else, freshened up and gave it his all against the Australians.
To say he didn't suffer fools gladly would be an understatement. Autograph hunters displaying a trace of rudeness were denied his inscription and even team managers were not spared. One of them — the Duke of Norfolk — once during the 1962-63 tour of Australia called out to him, "Trueman, come here!" Trueman shot back by saying he had a dog at home who he summoned like that. The Duke took it well and they ended up the best of friends.
Trueman could also be the perfect team man. To ensure England won the Sydney Test of the 1963-64 series he pleaded with captain Ted Dexter to play an extra spinner but Dexter emphasised that Trueman, Len Coldwell and Brian Statham had bowled so well in the previous Test at Melbourne that none of them could be dropped. Trueman offered to stay out of the XI to accommodate the second spinner, but the tour selectors didn't budge and England ended up losing.
On some occasions, he would literally grab the ball from his captain. While in pursuit of his 300th wicket, he sensed captain Dexter was clueless about who to put on against Australia on Day Three at the Oval during the 1964 Ashes. When Trueman heard Dexter wanted to give Peter Parfitt a bowl, he took the ball and put himself on. It resulted in the dismissals of Ian Redpath and Graham McKenzie. A little later, when the new ball was taken, he bowled an outswinger which Neil Hawke snicked to Cowdrey at slip for Wicket No. 300.
There was no shortage of media frenzy that day at the Oval. But he soon excused himself and walked to the dressing room, then into one of the bathrooms and locked himself in to let the tears down. "I had done it, despite all," he wrote in Ball of Fire. He would have been a proud man had he been living today to see himself in the best XI. He'd even utter his favourite quote about himself: "The finest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath."
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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