THE Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman had a famously simple way of dealing with youngsters pestering him for his autograph.
As the writer and broadcaster John Arlott so memorably put it, Trueman “did not hesitate to tell them to bugger off or take other spectacular if improbable methods of leaving”.
Perhaps Mitchell Santner should have taken a leaf out of Trueman’s book.
Instead, the New Zealand left-arm spinner provided one of the talking points of day two of the first Test in Mount Maunganui when he only just made it back on to the field after stepping outside the boundary rope to sign autographs before returning to catch England batsman Jos Buttler at deep point.
It was, in fairness, much ado about nothing.
As England rather stumbled their way to 353 all out, squandering the strong platform of 277-4 before reducing New Zealand to a dicey 144-4, Buttler was ninth out for 43 when Santner suddenly reappeared from the crowd to take the catch off left-arm pace bowler Neil Wagner.
Santner was actually off the field when Wagner started his run-up before jumping back over advertising hoardings and the boundary rope before the ball was delivered.
As such, he did not technically break any laws of the game, and there were no protests on Buttler’s/England’s part or suggestions that Buttler did not think that the fielder was out there.
But if “Fiery Fred” was looking down from the great pavilion in the sky, he might well have said, through a thick cloud of pipe smoke, “Nah look here, Santner, sunshine, it’s all very well this promoting the game lark and being nice t’kids, but you’d have looked a reight idiot if you hadn’t got back on t’field to take t’catch.”
As well has taking a leaf out of Trueman’s book, Santner might also have borrowed one from that of Oscar Da Costa, a West Indian all-rounder of the inter-war period.
A renowned joker, Da Costa dealt with the demand for autographs by carrying a rubber stamp embossed with his signature. None of those painstaking hours spent scrawling out autographs for Da Costa, who said that his method ensured no-one left disappointed.
Either way, a quick “bugger off” or an impression made with a rubber stamp might have been a better way for Santner to go.
Trueman, it should be said, was often happy to sign autographs for youngsters provided that they addressed him properly – ie, as “Mr Trueman”. Indeed, he insisted on such courtesy and respect whatever the setting.
As he wrote in his memoirs: “I was always ready to sign autographs for people, but sometimes the way in which this was demanded angered me.
“I would be in a restaurant having a meal and chatting with a friend when someone would come up, push an autograph book – or, more often, a scrap of paper - at me and say, ‘Here, sign this.’
“These impolite and downright rude interruptions from people with seemingly no manners or social skills whatsoever would prompt the same response from me. ‘Do you mind?’ I would say. ‘Firstly, I am having a meal with a friend whose conversation you have just rudely interrupted. Secondly, in the humble home I come from I was brought up to say ‘excuse me’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. You have been rude and impolite, so I will be the same. Bugger off.”
What Trueman would have thought of England’s batting yesterday is not difficult to imagine.
Having played with such patience and restraint on the first day in scoring 241-4 from 90 overs, in line with their much-stated policy to be more old school and “bat time”, England lost 4-18 to collapse from 277 to 295-8 before Buttler and Jack Leach took them past 350.
Ben Stokes came down the pitch to Tim Southee and slashed to first slip, where Ross Taylor took a brilliant catch high in his right hand to end a magnificent innings of 91.
Ollie Pope went after a wide one and was caught behind to end a promising innings; Sam Curran was lbw for a golden duck to a hooping inswinger, and Jofra Archer caught in the slips.
New Zealand were similarly culpable, Jeet Raval slogging Leach straight to mid-wicket and Taylor pulling Stokes into the same area.
But there was little that Kane Williamson could do when Curran got one to climb from nowhere off a length, Williamson’s departure for 51 leaving England on top.