“Did you ever bowl a plain straight ball?” Freddie Trueman was asked late in his career by a young Richard Hutton, son of his first Test captain Len. The reply was instant: “Aye, I did – and it went straight through like a stream of piss and flattened all three.”
When a batsman edged too often, he remarked “You’ve got more edges than a broken piss pot.” Or sometimes he threw a question: “Where did thee learn your cricket, at Edgbaston?”
He was called fiery, and his balls flew fast and furious. Yet, he never held a grudge against fielders who grassed chances off his bowling. Not to say that his acerbic wit did not peep through the disappointment. Raman Subba Row, profusely apologising for a catch that went through his legs in slips, offered, “Sorry Fred, should have kept my legs together.” Trueman's answer was legendary, “Not thee son, tha’ mother should ’ave.” And when Reverend David Sheppard, touring Australia after a long break, dropped a number of catches, he was advised, “Kid yourself it’s Sunday, Rev, and keep your hands together.”
Peter May's attempts at inspiring him into bowling one more over with the famed "England expects" fell with a thud after hitting the armour of deadpan humour. “England always expects, doesn’t she? No wonder she’s called the Mother Country.”
The lightning wit was matched by the speed of his deliveries. When he reached 300 Test wickets, the first bowler to do so, Trueman was asked whether anyone else would get there. His response was typical: "Whoever does will be damn tired."
And his wit did not always limit itself to the cricket field. When someone in Aden pointed out a local Sikh saying, “He has 196 wives,” Trueman shot back, “Does he know that with another four he can have a new ball?”
And of course he knew he was a great bowler. When John Arlott asked whether he had a suggestion for his classic biography (ultimately called 'Fred') Trueman answered "‘T’ Definitive Volume of t’Finest Bloody Fast Bowler that Ever Drew Breath’"
Freddie Trueman was born on February 6, 1931. They don't make them like him any more.
Text: Arunabha Sengupta