Frederick Sewards Trueman OBE (February 6, 1931 – July 1, 2006) was a Yorkshire and England cricketer, regarded as one of the greatest fast bowlers in history. Known as Fiery Fred, he was first man to take 300 Test wickets, and later became a popular and outspoken radio summarizer.
Fred Trueman was born in Stainton near Maltby, West Riding (now South Yorkshire). He is reputed to have weighed a whopping 14lb 1oz at birth and had he been born just 300 yards south, he would have been across the county border in Nottinghamshire and never have played for Yorkshire at all. He was educated at Maltby Secondary School. He made his first-class debut for Yorkshire in 1949, and quickly cemented himself at county level. He rose rapidly through the English cricketing ranks, becoming one of the best of his generation’s truly fast bowlers.
He was born into a country family, the fourth of seven children. His father, Alan, worked primarily with horses and for a time as a coalface worker at Maltby Main, and as Trueman related in his autobiography, As it was, he instilled in his children a strong sense of discipline.
Fed Trueman married Enid Chapman in 1955 and had three children: Karen, Rebecca and Rodney. After divorce in 1972, he married Veronica Wilson in 1973 who had two chlidren: Sheenagh and Patrick.
Fred Trueman played his early cricket for Sheffield United CC and his capturing six wickets for one run against a top English league side at the age of fifteen attracted the attention of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In 1948 was invited to the winter school at Headingley to perform under the watchful gaze of Arthur Mitchell and Bill Bowes. The first report on the young Trueman read, “superb action, fairly fast,” and he made his first team debut the following year when Wisden described him as a “spin bowler.” After National Service in the RAF, elevation to the Test side came in 1952 and he made a dramatic impact on his first appearance against India at Headingley. After 14 balls of India’s second innings, the scoreboard read 0-4, three of the wickets to the dashing tearaway. He finished the series with 29 wickets and, as the saying goes, never looked back.
Not particularly tall for a fast bowler at 5 foot 10, he nevertheless made good use of his wide shoulders and strong legs to produce genuine pace from his classic sideways-on action. Gary Sobers regarded him as one of the finest fast bowlers he ever played against. “Fiery Fred,” as he was known, also taunted batsmen with his Yorkshire humour and the icy glare that went with his aggressive nature.
Trueman was the first man to take 300 Test wickets, and no doubt could have taken many more had it not been for numerous clashes and problems with the Yorkshire and England cricketing hierarchies. He was dropped for the last Ashes Test of 1961 and, though among the best fast bowlers in the world at the time, was not present on the tours of Australia (1954-55), South Africa (1956-57) and (1964-65), India/Pakistan (1961-62) or India (1963-64). From the beginning to the end of his international career, England played 118 Tests and he missed 51 of them.
Trueman recalled in his memoirs: “Irrespective of the fact I was at the top of my game for Yorkshire and frequently topped the county bowling averages, I was often overlooked for England. To my mind the reason for this was personal. Quite simply, some of the selection committee did not like my forthright attitude, which they misinterpreted as being ‘bolshy’. Rather than pick the best 11 players for the job, the selection committee would often choose someone because he was, in their eyes, a gentleman and a decent chap. Such attributes often took precedence over someone’s ability to play international cricket. For this reason I was selected for far fewer Tests than I believe I should have been. To my mind, if I’d had the opportunity to play in those Tests, I’m sure I would have topped 400 wickets. But that was not to be, even though I was regularly taking 100-plus wickets a season for Yorkshire.”
Trueman took 2,302 first class wickets (including four hat tricks) at an average of 18.27. Bob Platt remembers: “If I close my eyes I can still see him pawing the ground like a bull in a Spanish ring, then running up to the wicket like silk. Whenever he came back from a Test match to play for Yorkshire, he would put a few thousand on the gate. The Yorkshire public idolised him, just as we all did.” In 459 first-class matches for the county, Trueman took 1,745 wickets at 17.12, a total bettered only by Wilfred Rhodes, George Hirst, Schofield Haigh and George Macaulay. He claimed 100 wickets in a season on 12 occasions, with a best return of 175 wickets in 1960.
He was liable to explode into action at a moment’s notice, John Arlott noting of him in his biography Ball of Fire. “The kindling could be sudden and unexpected. All that anyone knew was that suddenly he was going eagerly back to his mark; there was a belligerent spring in his run, he came over like a storm-wave breaking on a beach, and followed through with so mighty a heave that the knuckles of his right hand swept the ground....Where previously the ball had curved off the pitch calf-high, it now spat to the hips or ribs: wicketkeeper and slips moved deeper; the batsman, who had seemed established, was late on his stroke; and the whole match was transformed.”
Arlott contended that only a handful of batsmen played Trueman with certainty, which meant that the temptation for captains to use him was often irresistible. His workload over the years was consequently back-breaking; he bowled more than 99,000 deliveries in first-class matches. Despite this massive work load Trueman hardly missed a game through injury, in stark contrast to the gym honed but endlessly fragile fast bowlers of today.
He took a then world record of 307 Test wickets at an average of 21.54. He was an intimidating presence off the field as well as on it when he wanted to be. One of his favorite tricks was to go into the opposition dressing room prior to a match and say, “Right, there’s five wickets in here for me to start with.” Like all great bowlers he psyched out almost as many batsmen as he physically dismissed. He also holds the record for most consecutive first-class matches played (67) in which he took a wicket. He reappeared in six one-day matches for Derbyshire in 1972. Trueman also played football with Lincoln City F.C. during his spell of national service in the RAF. Trueman’s only concession to fatigue came after he had taken his 300th Test wicket at The Oval in 1964. Asked whether he thought his record would ever be broken, he quipped: “I don’t know, but whoever does it will be tired.”
His first class career spanned twenty years (1949–1969), a remarkably long time for a fast bowler, and when he did eventually hang up his boots he became renowned for telling tall stories and anecdotes from his cricketing past. Trueman wrote a column for a Sunday newspaper for 43 years and became an after-dinner speaker, which earned enough for him to have a large bungalow in the Yorkshire Dales and a Rolls Royce. In the 1970s, Trueman presented the Yorkshire Television ITV program Indoor League, which was broadcast at 5:15pm on a Thursday evening, after the children’s programs. This show had a notably Northern, working class focus, and featured pub games such as darts (broadcast for the first time on television), bar billiards, shove ha’penny, skittles and arm-wrestling. Trueman anchored the program with a pint of bitter and his pipe to hand, and signed off each week with his catchphrase, “al sithi”.
Famous for his dislike of many aspects of the modern game, especially one-day cricket and the injury rate of fast bowlers, Trueman was criticized by some, such as Ian Botham, for being unduly negative about modern players and for glorifying cricket “in my day.” He was an expert summarizer for the BBC’s Test Match Special radio cricket commentaries for many years, and his catch phrase, “I don’t know what’s going off out there,” summed up his dismay that modern cricketers lacked his knowledge of tactics. He was nevertheless respected for his unsurpassed knowledge of the mechanics of fast bowling, and many feel he should have been used as a bowling coach for England’s under-achieving sides of the 1980s and 1990s.
He was made an OBE in 1989, though, after Brian Johnston, a colleague on Test Match Special, had bestowed on him the nickname “Sir Frederick,” there were those who thought he had really been knighted. He gained further celebrity when his daughter, Rebecca, married the son of the film star Raquel Welch.
In the 1990s, he discovered that his mother’s mother had been Jewish. He said that he was happy to be called Jewish. Trueman made a guest appearance in “Dad’s Army”, a popular British television series. Trueman and Henry Blofeld appeared as the cricket commentators in the “Tertiary Phase” of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series.
Diagnosed with small cell carcinoma in May 2006, he succumbed to the disease on 1 July 2006, and died at Skipton in North Yorkshire.