I have yet to get round to reading Chris Waters's new biography of Fred Trueman but clearly it is a volume of considerable pedigree and, indeed – with the accolades of Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year and Wisden Book of the Year – multi-award‑winning. As correspondent of the Yorkshire Post Waters is one of a declining breed of regional cricket journalists whose empathy with such a subject would extend beyond the superficial. He is a Yorkie writing about one of the great Yorkies and already the book is being spoken of as providing an even better insight into a complex character than what was hitherto considered to be the master work on the subject, John Arlott's book Fred, or as its subject suggested alternatively "t' definitive volume of finest fast bowler that ever drew breath". False modesty was not high on the list of Fred's characteristics.
With the full cooperation of the family, Waters has, according to Vic Marks, who chaired the MCC judging panel, presented a view of Fred (we shall call him that, although those playing at the time would know him equally well as FS) that showed the flaws that lurked behind the public persona of professional Yorkshireman and curmudgeon. Personally, I cannot claim to have been an intimate of Fred, but I did encounter him at various times, as player, as Test Match Special summariser, and, just once, when we found ourselves alone late one evening, as a brilliant analyst of cricket and the art of fast bowling.
Our first encounter sits vividly in my memory as if it were yesterday rather than 44 years ago come this August. It was shortly after my first-class debut, for Surrey, and we were in Hull to play Yorkshire in what was to be the match that clinched the last of seven county championship titles in 10 years for them. After 19 years, this, it transpired, was also Fred's final championship match for Yorkshire. He only bowled a dozen overs in the game and went wicketless, but it is the preamble that I recall.
We had all heard tales of how Fred would come into the visitors' dressing room before play and hold court and indeed here he was, pipe-puffing, sitting on a big solid table, totting up his victims. This was a young Surrey team but he knew all the old stagers: Michael Edwards, Kenny Barrington, Micky Stewart, Arnold Long, all of them, mentally, in his bag already. Then, finally, after going methodically round the room, he got to me, sat meekly in a corner. As a university student I was in my Sergeant Pepper phase, with longish hair, and droopy moustache. "And what," he said incredulously, pointing his pipe stem at me, "the fook is that?" " That," said Kenny, "is young Selvey." " Well he looks like fookin' Pancho. I'm going to call you Pancho." He never did again.
Paths never crossed again until after I too had retired from the game and we began working together on TMS, where Fred 'n' Trevor were the established and acknowledged double act: not an easy school into which to break. It was obvious, however, that superseding what was a vast reservoir of cricket knowledge was an overwhelming desire to ham it up, to exaggerate tales of himself while playing the curmudgeonly figure "not knowing what is going off out there" when not only did he know, but was being paid to convey that.
What, he was once asked at Headingley, did he think of a young Test match debutant hurling himself down the slope? "There are many fine fast bowlers who have come down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane end," he replied, "and I can tell you [dramatic pause], he is not one of them." The points he made rarely lacked real validity or insight, but all too often he decorated them unnecessarily with "in my day" grudgingness doing himself and the listeners a disservice.
I just felt that he had a lot more to offer than he was prepared to convey, which was a shame and a view reinforced one evening at a small Nottingham hotel. I'd been out to dinner and returned to find Fred alone, sitting in an armchair in the small lobby area, nursing a glass of white wine. He'd been "doing" a function, he said, and was unwinding. I joined him, and for the next hour or so, away from his audience and with no need to play it up, was given the sort of discourse into the art and science of fast bowling that would have been gold dust to any paceman, aspiring or established. It was spellbinding stuff.
Fred was a genuinely great fast bowler who 60 years ago this June, on his Test debut on his home Headingley turf, came bounding down the slope and so terrorised the India batsmen that the second innings scoreboard at one stage read 4 wickets for 0 runs, unprecedented and not matched since. I just wish people could have heard him that Nottingham evening.
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