August 15, 1964. After rather listless bowling, Fred Trueman suddenly ran through the Australian lower order. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day when the Yorkshire fast bowler got Neil Hawke caught by Colin Cowdrey, thus becoming the first bowler in the history of Test cricket to capture 300 wickets.
The Oval 1964
Even 1963 had been a fantastic year. As many as 34 wickets had tumbled in front of the fiery Yorkshire fast bowler in the five Tests against the West Indies, the victims beaten as much by pace and as by guile. However, by the time Bobby Simpson’s Australians arrived in 1964, the powers of the 33-year-old Fred Trueman seemed to be on the wane. The stare, scowl, the hair that was whipped across his forehead and fire that he breathed while propelling the ball towards the batsmen had all remained the same, but the wickets column had stopped registering.
True, five wickets were added to his bulging kitty in the helpful conditions of Lord’s, but the third Test at Headingley turned out to be a disaster. Having been dismissed for 268 to the combined attack of Graham McKenzie and Neil Hawke, England had Australia on the defensive at 178 for seven. Ted Dexter called on his old trump card to finish the tail. And Trueman, in a frantic and farcical attempt to bounce Peter Burge, bowled a series of medium-paced long-hops which the batsman hooked and pulled with ridiculous ease and obvious delight. Hawke settled down to help Burge put on 105 and then Grout proved another obstinate tail-ender. Australia reached 389, and England lost.
The ageing Trueman was dropped from the next Test, Fred Rumsey and John Price chosen as the opening pair, with Tom Cartwright running in as first change. The former express bowler was left in the wilderness with his career tally reading 297 wickets.
The fourth Test at Manchester turned out to be a nightmare for the bowlers. Australia piled up 656 for eight, led by a colossal 311 by skipper Simpson. The figures of the new crop of fast bowlers looked pitiful. Rumsey ended with two for 99, Price three for 183 and Cartwright two for 118. Ken Barrington amassed 256 and England replied with 611. The yawn of the match petered out into a tall-scoring draw. For the last Test at The Oval, England, down 1-0 in the series, sought experience and recalled Trueman in place of Rumsey.
The conditions were difficult when England batted first. None of the batsmen managed to get going and the hosts were bowled out for 182 — Hawke accounting for six of them. Bad light brought an early end to the day’s proceedings.
Throughout the second day, Trueman’s bowling remained listless. It was mainly due to some accurate showing by Cartwright and off-spinner Fred Titmus that the Australians were restricted to 245 for five when stumps were drawn on the second evening. Bill Lawry scored a typical, obdurate 94 in five and a quarter hours.
On the third morning, Trueman’s bowling did not really improve and Australia made steady progress till the over before lunch. The score read 343 for six, with Ian Redpath going strong and off-spinning all-rounder Tom Veivers striking the ball with a lot of panache.
It was at the stroke of the break that Trueman sent Redpath’s middle-stump cartwheeling with a fast straightening delivery. The next ball moved away, taking the outside edge of McKenzie’s bat and flying to Colin Cowdrey at slip. Trueman was suddenly on a hat-trick, and also on the brink of becoming the first man ever to capture 300 wickets.
But, the two dismissals had hastened the lunch interval, and the players left the field with anticipation hovering in the air.
By the time they returned, spectators had scurried back to their seats with haste to witness the moment of history. However, Hawke survived the hat-trick delivery. In fact, he proceeded to bat rather well in the company of Veivers. A small partnership was soon being built with 23 runs coming in 34 minutes. By now Trueman was charging in with a scowl that accompanied every ball he hurled towards the batsmen. And according to John Arlott in the commentary box, the looks that he threw towards his own fielders were no friendlier.
Now Veivers ran a single from a push to the leg side and it brought Hawke on strike. Two slips and two short legs crouched in wait. Trueman, after wasting a ball down the leg side, bowled outside off. The ball left Hawke a little and took the outside edge of his half-hearted prod. Cowdrey was alert at first slip. The crowd and Trueman went up simultaneously. The stadium erupted in applause. And as Hawke walked away, Trueman shook him by the hand.
Arlott’s voice rang out, “There was no nicer touch than Trueman congratulating Hawke … Neil Hawke couldn’t have come into the pavilion with a greater ovation in his life, but they weren’t looking at him.”
Fred Trueman had become the first man to capture 300 Test wickets. It had come in his 65th Test match.
A Geoff Boycott hundred in the second innings wiped out the large deficit and by the end of the fourth day England were comfortably placed at 381 for four, a brisk 126 already added by Cowdrey and Barrington. There were prospects of an early declaration on the morrow followed by some exciting cricket. However, persistent rain did not allow a single ball on the final day.
At the end of the Test Match, Trueman was asked whether any other bowler would ever capture 300 wickets, The Yorkshireman responded in characteristic fashion: “It he does he’ll be bloody tired by the time he does it.” Well, down the years the circumstances and frequency of Test matches have changed and there have been a select band of bowlers who have gone past 300 and taken many, many more. However, Trueman is still remembered for being the first bowler whose thunderbolts broke through the long lasting barrier. He played in just two more Tests, finishing with 307 wickets from 67 matches.
England 182 (Ken Barrington 47; Neil Hawke 6 for 47) and 381 for 4 (Geoff Boycott 113, Colin Cowdrey 93*, Ken Barrington 54*) drew with Australia 379 (Bill Lawry 94, Brian Booth 74, Ian Redpath 45, Tom Veivers 67*; Fred Trueman 4 for 87)
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)