A tribute to Freddie from India

Indians in the post independence India first heard of Fred Trueman at about the same time that they first heard of international cricket.

Half a century has passed since children in the ‘maidaans’ across the country could not afford to play with real cricket balls. Tennis ball cricket wasn’t yet popular and rubber balls were for “sissies”, meaning girls – an ultimate insult even then.

They had a cork ball, the size of a regular cricket ball – which was painted red – although the colour wore off very soon leaving the dirty blackish brown cork to surface, making it difficult to sight this crazily bouncing spheroid.

Alternatively, there was a plastic ball which stayed red – dark pink really – and bounced less but was much heavier and was liable to break their precious bats. The plastic ball would also get badly scratched, scuffed and even cut the moment it came in contact with sharp metal and there was plenty of barbed wire around our ground..

You might ask what these silly balls have to do with memories of Freddie Trueman.

The answer? A lot.

For those kids, these cork and plastic balls meant much more – not just broken bats.

They also resulted in badly bruised fingers and shins, not to forget the shaming embarrassment and deadly pain when one of them banged into unprotected groins.

And it is this pain, multiplied a million-fold (or so they imagined), or the fear of it being inflicted upon them, which scared the hell out of the Indian batsmen when they played the fast bowlers of England and West Indies.

Polly Umrigar, the champion batsman of Bombay was not a champion in 1956 outside Mumbai.

Horrific stories abounded of how he was refusing to go into bat every time an express fast bowler made an appearance for the opposition.

For those kids, of the 1950s and early 1960s, Umrigar was a champion only against medium pacers and slow bowlers, but against super fast bowlers, he was chicken.

And this ‘chickenhood’ had been bestowed upon him on June 7, 1952 at Headingley.

It was done – can you believe – by a 21-year-old rookie playing his first Test match whereas Umrigar was supposed to be an Indian hero of sorts – a god in the making.

Almost exactly four months before that disastrous day in Leeds – on February 9, 1952 – the young Umrigar had scored a superb 130 not out against England at Chepauk (then Madras). In a side full of ageing stalwarts like Amarnath, Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, Phadkar and Mankad, young Umrigar came as Indian cricket’s hope for the future. Just 17 weeks later that hope appeared shattered for good.

There was another Indian hero, this one from Bengal, in that home series of 1951-52 – opener Pankaj Roy. He had scored nearly 400 runs in the series including two centuries at Bombay and Madras, the second one in the same innings as Umrigar to help India defeat England by an innings and level the series to the eternal joy of a grateful nation.

At Headingley, in the first test, Hazare won the toss and decided to bat. Nothing very dramatic happened in India’s first innings as they put on a respectable (for those times) 293 thanks largely to a 222-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Hazare and young Vijay Manjrekar. India had lost three early wickets, one to the young Freddie but the Indians were more concerned about the crafty Bedser who snared two for 38 in 33 overs. Off spinner Laker (four for 39) did most of the damage after the fourth wicket fell. Trueman did take another two wickets but his 26 overs cost a hefty 89 runs and the Indians seemed to have put the young pretender in his place.

Significantly, though few realized it at the time, Trueman’s first victim was the young Umrigar, caught by Evans for 9. He had been promoted to number three from number seven after the Madras century.

England managed a 41-run lead with Indian off spinner Ghulam Ahmed doing most of the damage, taking five wickets. No sign yet of any mauling tocome from fast bowlers on this wicket as India came in a second time.


Bedser bowled a maiden first up and then Trueman removed Roy (caught Compton) for a duck. India 1 down for 0.

Then Bedser had Gaekwad caught by Laker for another duck. India 2 down for 0.

In his third over, Trueman had Gavaskar’s maternal uncle, Madhav Mantri clean bowled for yet another duck. India 3 down for 0.

Next ball he clean bowled Manjrekar. India 4 down for 0.

India had produced the worst score card at the start of an innings ever putting to shade Australia’s dubious distinction of 18 months earlier when they were 3 down for NOUGHT in their second innings of the Ashes series in Brisbane.

The Indian captain Hazare came in, prevented the hat-trick and proceeded to play a short gem of an innings of 56 and after Umrigar had fallen to spinner Jenkins (not Trueman as many of those kids believed). With Dattu Phadkar, Hazare helped India reach three figures.

Trueman bowled only nine overs in the innings for 27 runs. Hutton, unknowingly, did those kids a minor favour by not employing him again.

But the damage was done to the psyche of budding Indian cricketers.

However, it was not just Headingley but also what followed that destroyed their, and a cricketing nation’s, self esteem.

Pankaj Roy followed his second innings duck at Headingley with four more ducks in the next five innings of the series, three of them thanks to Trueman.

He, and not Agit Agarkar, was the original duck of Indian cricket – albeit a Calcutta variety.

A fine batsman, he could never live down the ignominy of this series though he played many fine innings there after including three centuries and was partner with Mankad in the still standing (though shared by another Indian pair) opening partnership of 413 runs.

Umrigar’s scores in the series read 8, 9, 5, 14, 4, 3 and 0 – Trueman getting him 4 times.

Thereafter, Umrigar and Roy – in fact all Indian batsmen – were eternally stamped as weaklings before sustained and hostile fast bowling and those kids were not able to live down the shame until Sunny Gavaskar arrived in 1971. This may help people understand why batsmen, who defy bowlers, particularly fast bowlers, not just by defending for dear life but taking the battle on to them, are treated like Gods by Indians.

Wherever there are demons, Indians sculpt gods to help them fight. If some of these gods are of blood and flesh in our real world, Indians feel as if we are momentarily transported to heavens ourselves. And a demon is what England had surely created for the Indians that fateful day in Headingly in the form and shape of Fredrick Sewards Trueman and my generation hated him since my heroes had fallen by fearing him.

RIP Freddie Trueman. I lay you to rest.

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