England’s Prince Philip once famously remarked that “When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.” On the night of 7th of July 1961, Fred ‘Fiery’ Trueman may well have wished for both as he spent the night with his big frame curled up on the back seat of his car in a Leeds car park, having been locked out of home by Enid, his incensed spouse.
If his performance the next day against Australia at Headingley was anything to go by, the England selectors would doubtless have been tempted to stoke the marital fires a bit at the Trueman home to keep him in the car more often.
But now we are getting ahead of our story!
Headingley, Friday, July 6, 1961
Australia and England face off at Headingley in July 1961 on a strip that Wisden report describes as ‘a whitish-green piebald surface’, undoubtedly dangerous for the batsmen facing up to some quality fast bowling on it. The English players are not a happy lot. They are coming into the match one-nil down and are faced with an Australian batting line-up featuring no less than six men who would score at least 1000 runs each that summer.
Given the batting at their disposal, it is no surprise that Richie Benaud chooses to pad up after winning the toss. His decision appears to be fully justified when the teams troop off for tea on the first day with Australia only 2 down for 183 and Neil Harvey and Norm O’Neill at the crease.
And then Trueman strikes
With the Aussies cruising at 187 for 2, Trueman’s first ball after tea induces a false shot from O’Neill that is taken low at gully by Colin Cowdrey. That is the turning point of the day, and perhaps the match.
A few balls later, a Trueman delivery to Neil Harvey kicks up from a good length and Tony Lock at backward short leg takes a lovely catch. Leslie Jackson, the 40-year old Derby opening bowler, filling in for the injured Brian Statham, picks up Peter Burge and Ken MacKay in quick succession.
Trueman, bowling with his long run up and getting appreciable speed through the air, traps Bobby Simpson in front of the stumps and bowls Richie Benaud for a duck on the first delivery he faces. Then he gets Wally Grout to edge the ball to his counterpart John Murray behind the stumps.
In a spell of six overs, Freddie Trueman sends back 5 batsmen for 16 runs. Australia collapses to 237 all out, with the last 8 batsmen being dismissed in the ninety minutes after tea for 54 runs. The English openers bat out the time till stumps and the English pair walks back at the end of the day’s play unbeaten on 9.
England take a lead
The next day is a Friday and belongs to the English batsmen. On a difficult pitch, their batting gives new meaning to the word ‘dour’. At one stage, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May do not score a run for twenty minutes. Australia finally takes the new ball in the 94th over and Alan Davidson induces a false stroke from Peter May. He departs having scored 26 from a three-hour stay at the crease.
Ted Dexter keeps Cowdrey company until the latter fails to keep his bat away from a Graham McKenzie delivery, and Grout gratefully snaps it up. The next morning Lock plays a cameo innings scoring 30 in 3 overs of Richie Benaud’s leg spin with seven boundaries and boosts the bottom half of England’s batting card, which otherwise reads 6,6,4,5 and 8. England is all out for 299, taking a 62-run lead.
Trueman blows away the Aussies at his home ground
Having spent an uncomfortable night on the back seat of his car, despite his house being a few miles away, and the constant procession from the dressing room in the morning not having allowed much rest, Fred Trueman is in a nasty mood, and his team mates know enough to stay well away from him. Despite his huge cricketing brain, he is known to let his temper get the better of him. And when that happens, it is immeasurably preferable to be silent and on his side rather than in the opposition with a bat in your hand.
But it is Jackson who once again gets the first breakthrough, knocking back Colin McDonald’s leg stump on his fifth ball. Trueman is less effective. Neil Harvey puts his head down following Cowdrey’s example, and with England due to play last on a steadily declining pitch, the lead of 62 starts looking slender.
Then with the score at 98 for 2, Peter May brings Trueman back into the attack. He begins will his full run up and on his third ball, Harvey plays too early to a delivery that stops on him, and the ball spoons up to Ted Dexter at cover who makes no mistake. Australia is 99 for 3.
Harvey’s dismissal draws Peter May and Trueman into a deep conversation. They have both noticed the dust gathering on the pitch which is making the ball stop. Together, they take a decision that will decisively take the game away from Australia.
May sets a leg trap for Trueman who starts from a much shortened run up and proceeds to bowls off cutters into the rough. With the metronomic accuracy that he is known for, bowling on an unpredictable wicket, and dropping every ball into a patch of dust, Trueman sends down one of the most remarkable bowling spells in history.
It is a torrid 35 minutes that faces the Aussie batsmen. Trueman takes the wickets of Norm O’Neill, Bob Simpson, Richie Benaud, Ken MacKay, and Alan Davidson in rapid succession. In fact, in taking these wickets, he doesn’t give up a single run. In a remarkable 27-ball spell, Trueman takes these 5 wickets for zero.
The final figures from the time Trueman comes on at Australia’s score of 98, read 7.5-4-5-6. Australia is bowled out for 120. England rattles up the 59 runs needed without much ado and squares the Ashes 1-1. Trueman has single-handedly turned the match around and brought the series alive with his 11 for 88, a performance that will forever label this Trueman’s Test.
A Wonderful Career
That five for zero on the 8th of July 1961 would remain one of the high points of Fred Trueman’s career, but by no means would it be the crowning glory. He would go on to play 67 Tests for England in a career spanning 13 years and take 307 wickets at a remarkable average of 21.57. In fact, he would be the first bowler ever to take 300 wickets in Test cricket, a record no one could ever take away from him.
Notwithstanding his temper and his several run-ins with authority, Trueman remains immortal for his bowling and his ready wit. In one of the legendary tales about him, the story goes that during a Test match, Raman Subba Row fails to hold on to a catch off Trueman in the slips. The ball goes through Subba Row’s legs. At the end of the over he tells Trueman, “Sorry Fred, should have kept my legs together.” Trueman’s reply is classic – “Not you son, your mother should have.”
In another, the Rev. David Sheppard is having a torrid day in the field and drops a couple of catches. When he drops the third, which is off Trueman’s bowling, he walks up to Sheppard and with a deadpan face, remarks: “Kid yourself it’s Sunday, Rev, and keep your hands together.”
It is mind boggling to think what Trueman could have been if he had not missed multiple Test matches and tours on disciplinary grounds. He could easily have ended up as the first bowler to take 400 wickets instead of just 300. John Arlott perhaps summed up his career best in the context of the times when he remarked: “Statham was accurate; Tyson was fast; Trueman was everything.”