No, there has never been another like Fred Trueman © Getty Images
No, there has never been another like Fred Trueman © Getty Images

England failed to regain The Ashes in 1962-63. All that, however, could not dampen Fred Trueman’s legendary sense of humour. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a few gems.

Fred Trueman’s one-liners were legendary. Perhaps the most famous of these were hurled at poor Raman Subba Row when the latter had dropped a catch. The story is probably not true, but it always induces good laugh.

“Sorry Fred, I should have kept my legs together,” apologised Subba Row.

“Not you, son, your mother should have,” came the prompt response.

There was also the instance when Trueman walked out at the fall of Johnny Wardle’s wicket. “What a bloody stroke,” uttered Trueman on his way out. Trueman himself fell shortly afterwards, and Wardle used the same words.

Trueman replied with: “Ay, I slipped on the pile of sh*t you dropped at the crease.”

There were plenty of these, but perhaps none matched the ones he let go of during the 1962-63 Ashes. Australia held the Ashes since 1959. After a draw at Brisbane, England went 1-0 up after winning the Melbourne Test. However, Australia levelled at Sydney. Two more draws (at Adelaide and Sydney) meant that Australia retained the urn.

On the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand, Trueman sent down 2,563 balls in 12 matches (35 six-ball overs a match) and took more wickets (55) than any of his teammates. In the Tests he had 34 wickets at 20.14 in the Tests. Fred Titmus also took 34 (at 24.79) — but no other Englishman got more than 13.

It was a long, tiring summer for Trueman, one in which he toiled hard, almost never losing pace and keeping himself fit. To make things worse, he played the first Test despite a spine injury: he needed pain-killing injections to take field.

Trueman was not exactly having fun. He responded in the best way he could.

The first of this, however, took place en route Australia and had nothing to do with his workload on the tour. The Englishmen took a flight to Aden, from where they were supposed to board a ship, the Canberra, after two days.

They were hosted lavishly by locals during these two days. During one of these events, one of his hosts mentioned that a sheikh, present at the party, had 196 wives.

“Does he know that with another four he could have a new ball?” interrupted Trueman, causing much hilarity.

Note: At that time the new ball could be claimed after a batting side scored 200 runs. This often led to deliberate wides and byes gifted by the bowling side to hasten the process.

England were led by the Reverend David Sheppard, the only ordained minister to have played Test cricket. Sheppard later became the Bishop of Liverpool, but that is another story.

Sheppard was a solid batsman. When England were set 234 at Melbourne, he masterminded the chase with 113. Unfortunately, he was not the greatest of fielders. Even that would have been fine, but he did something unpardonable: he dropped a catch off Trueman.

The growl was audible: “Kid yourself it’s Sunday, Rev., and keep your hands together.”

Sheppard’s presence obviously caused a stir in the religious circles of Australia. When the Bishop of Perth met the English cricketers, Trueman asked Sheppard — somewhat audibly — “I suppose he’s your senior pro?”

Despite all that, Trueman was aware of his responsibilities as senior member of the side. He carried himself well, replying to the usual questions diplomatically.

He hailed the Perth beer as the finest he had tasted, the German lager included.

He called Melbourne Cricket Ground the greatest sporting arena in the world, including Lord’s.

At Adelaide he hailed the excellent South Australian wine. Unlike his biographer, great friend, and ardent fan John Arlott, Trueman was hardly a wine connoisseur, but that did not stop him.

But at Sydney, when they asked the obvious “what do think of our bridge?” he could not take it anymore.

Bang came the legendary response: “Your bridge? Our bloody bridge, you should say: and bugger it, a Yorkshire firm, Dorman and Long, built it — and you bastards still ain’t paid for it!”