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In this 16 part series, Arunabha Sengupta captures one special moment from each of the 16 previous Indian tours to England. In the fourth episode, he looks back at the Leeds Test of1952, which saw Fred Trueman make his debut and reduce India to zero for four.
“Asked if he had a title for this book, he (Fred Trueman) rolled it off his tongue, pat as if rehearsed — ‘T’ Definitive Volume of t’Finest Bloody Fast Bowler that Ever Drew Breath’ — and where is the batsman who would have dared to challenge that description when Fred was in his pomp?” — thus wrote John Arlott in Fred.
No such batsman of audacity could be found among his opponents, least of all in the Indian team that toured in 1952. That year, Trueman burst into the international scene, breathing fire and scorching Indian batsmen with his pace at Headingley. When he reduced them to 0 for four, he walked right into the English imagination and stayed there forever.
The country had hoped and hankered for a bowler of searing pace who could do unto the Australian batsmen what Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller had done unto their own. And when this earthy Yorkshire youth ran in to bowl, he emerged as an answer to their ardent prayers.
When Trueman was called to the telephone at the RAF base and informed of his selection in the Test team, he was certain that it was a prank. In his colourful vocabulary, he asked the caller to “bu**er off”. It was only when former fast bowler Bill Bowes rang him up, the rookie fast bowler was finally convinced. He approached his commanding officer for time off — and it was wheedled in exchange of tickets to the match.
Ironically, the Indians did not suffer from too many misgivings going into the first Test at Leeds. The batsmen were in form, especially Polly Umrigar. Ghulam Ahmed and Gulabrai Ramchand had been brilliant with the ball. They had won one, lost one and drawn the remaining of their nine warm-up matches.
Len Hutton tossed the coin, thus becoming the first professional to lead an English team. Vijay Hazare called correctly and India batted. Trueman did bowl quick and Alec Bedser got his leg cutters to talk, but Vijay Manjrekar’s 133 and Hazare’s 89 carried the team from 42 for three to 264 before a late order collapse to Jim Laker’s off-spin limited the total to 293.
Ghulam Ahmed’s five for 100 kept the lead of the home team to a manageable 41. In the pavilion, during the change of innings, Hazare supposedly announced that the batting order would remain unchanged.
Spell from hell
However, Madhav Mantri, the Indian wicket keeper who had batted at No 8 in the first innings, soon received summons from the captain, who asked him to pad up and go in at one-drop.
Trueman had taken three first innings wickets and had given glimpses of his destructive pace. He now started proceedings from the Kirkstall End. His second ball was a bouncer which Pankaj Roy tried to hook but ended up skying it high for Denis Compton to move some yards from first slip, wait an eternity and safely pouch it in those famous hands. Hurriedly strapping on his pads, Mantri managed to walk out and see through the over. India: 0-1.
In the next over, Bedser made a ball — according to The Times —”rear up like a cobra”. All Datta Gaekwad could do was to fend it to gully where Laker held on. India: 0-2.
Umrigar walked in at No 4. Trueman’s first ball of the next over was a slower one which comprehensively fooled Mantri and ended up hitting his off stump. India: 0-3.
As the wicket-keeper walked back, he passed the new batsman and noticed that it was Manjrekar. There was still no sign of the captain.
Later Mantri recalled that Manjrekar had looked at him with a pale face and had muttered in Marathi, “Mala bakra banola” (I’ve been made a sacrificial goat). Manjrekar suggested that he was pushed ahead in the batting order so that the captain could excuse himself from walking into the mayhem.
The first ball that the new batsman faced was full. He tried to drive through the covers, but got an inside edge onto his leg-stump. India: 0-4. In 14 balls, India had lost four wickets without a run on the board and innings defeat looked a serious threat.
According to The Times, “The crowd danced and waved as if it were a cup tie while a young Yorkshire hero stood on the verge of a hat-trick. Here was a disaster produced by pace and panic.”
The Yorkshire Post, reading the total as 0/4 on the teleprinter, called the ground to check if the score was four without loss and if there was an error in the copy received.
Hazare finally made his way to the middle. Hutton crowded the Indian captain’s bat with almost all the fielders under his command. Trueman turned and steamed in, producing pace like fire and a streak like lightning. However, Hazare survived, the ball missing the edge by what Trueman later termed, “A fag paper’s width.”
Umrigar did not last long, but from 26 for five, Hazare and Dattu Phadkar took India to 131, before Trueman sent the captain’s off-stump cart-wheeling five minutes before close of play. India finished the disastrous day at 136 for six.
As the teams departed for the rest day, darkest part of the night seemed to be over. But the nightmares continued throughout the tour. The first Test was eventually lost by seven wickets, and the margin of subsequent defeats kept increasing as the tour progressed.
India was finally rescued by rain in the fourth and final Test at Oval after looking down the proverbial barrel. Thus a series whitewash was averted, but only just — or should we say, “By a fag paper’s width”. Trueman, who had to make a 17 hour trip from the RAF base in Germany to play the second Test at Lord’s, finished with 29 wickets in the series at 13.30.
India 293 (Vijay Hazare 89, Vijay Manjrekar 133; Jim Laker 4 for 39) and 165 (Vijay Hazare 56, Dattu Phadkar 64; Fred Trueman 4 for 27, Roly Jenkins 4 for 50) lost to England 334 (Tom Graveney 71, Allan Watkins 48, Godfrey Evans 66; Ghulam Ahmed 5 for 100) and 128 for 3 (Reggie Simpson 51) by 7 wickets
(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://twitter.com/senantix)
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