Fact stranger than fiction after Trueman helps take down India

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IT was Saturday, June 7 1952.

At five minutes to three, and with more than 25,000 spectators packed into Headingley, a 21-year-old Yorkshireman with an unruly mop of jet-black hair charged in to bowl from the Kirkstall Lane end.

His first ball to India opener Pankaj Roy was pitched outside off stump and allowed to pass through harmlessly to wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans.

His next delivery was short, Roy top-edged a hook and was caught at first slip by Denis Compton.

0-1 . . .

Fred Trueman, released from National Service at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire to make his Test debut on his home ground, had the bit between his teeth and the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears.

India had just started their second innings after Len Hutton’s England had scored 334 in reply to the tourists’ 293.

But the drama had only just begun . . .

After Alec Bedser struck in the second over, having Datta Gaekwad caught in the gully by Jim Laker to leave India 0-2, Trueman returned to bowl the third over of the innings.

His first delivery was arrow-straight, took Madhav Mantri by surprise and sent his middle stump flying.

0-3 . . .

In came Vijay Manjrekar, a 20-year-old playing only his third Test who had scored his maiden first-class hundred in the first innings.

Caught up in the drama of the occasion, and clearly disquieted by his team’s predicament, Manjrekar aimed a loose cover drive at his first ball from Trueman and was bowled.

0-4 . . .

In the space of 14 balls, India’s batting was in ruins, Trueman had three wickets in eight balls and English cricket had found a new hero.

“There was pandemonium in the stands,” recalled Trueman. “I couldn’t believe what was happening to India, to England, to me.

“I happened to glance across to Len Hutton. For a brief moment our eyes met. Then Len’s head fell, he sighed and shook his head from side to side as if saying, ‘I don’t believe it, Fred.’

“I was having trouble believing it myself.”

As England celebrated Manjrekar’s wicket, Hutton pointed to the scoreboard.

“Take a good look at it,” he told his players. “You’ll never see another like it in a Test.”

Such was the incredulity that followed the most remarkable start to a Test innings, the then sports editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post telephoned his reporter at the ground to check whether India, in actual fact, were 4-0.

But this was a day when fact was truly stranger than fiction.

One man lucky enough to be present was Geoffrey Boycott, who was 11 years old at the time and had gone to the game with friends from Fitzwilliam.

Trueman and Boycott had their ups and downs over the years but, of that fabled Saturday of fond reminiscence, Boycott retains only happy memories.

When I interviewed him for my biography of Trueman, Boycott told me: “We caught the train at 7.55am from Fitzwilliam and got the bus to Headingley and queued up there.

“Then we ran like hell to get behind the bowler’s arm to make sure we got the best seats possible.

“When Fred got his first two wickets, this fella said to us, ‘If he gets another wicket this over, I’ll buy you all an ice-cream.’

“Well, he bloody well did get another wicket, so we all had an ice-cream on Fred.”

After slipping to 26-5, India recovered to 131-5 on the back of a dogged stand between Dattu Phadkar and captain Vijay Hazare. But when Trueman bowled Hazare, the rest of the batting folded and the visitors were dismissed for 165.

Trueman had the best figures of 4-27 from nine overs before a half-century from Reg Simpson guided England to a victory target of 125 and a seven-wicket win.

There was an interesting postscript to Trueman’s triumph.

No sooner had the match finished than he joined a RAF cricket tour of Holland and Germany, from which he was then released for the second Test at Lord’s.

Trueman left Germany at 4am, caught a bus, a train, a ferry, a taxi, followed by another train and taxi, eventually arriving at the team hotel in London at 8.15pm.

Such a journey would be unthinkable nowadays just two days before a Test.

n ’Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography’ by Chris Waters is published by Aurum Press and available in hardback priced £20 and in paperback priced £8.99.

chris.waters@ypn.co.uk