Fred Titmus – Middlesex and EnglandMartin Chandler |
The First Class career of former Indian captain CK Nayudu stretched over six decades. England’s Fred Titmus could not quite manage that but he still managed to play in five, beginning in 1949 and, finally, turning out for Middlesex for one last time in the 1982 season at the age of 49.
There is an element of good fortune to the appearance in the 1940s as the 16 year old Titmus never dreamt he would be offered the chance to make his debut for Middlesex at Somerset in June of 1949. No fewer than five Middlesex players, including four batsmen, were on England duty, and an SOS was sent back to Lords for an extra batsman. Groundstaff boy Titmus was in the nets, nursing a grievance. In those days he was mainly a batsman but had not had an opportunity to bat in the nets for days. Having finally got his chance he vented his spleen by going after everything that came to him. As Titmus worked out his frustrations the Middlesex head coach wandered past in the company of the first team’s senior players, Walter Robins and Gubby Allen, who were looking for reinforcements for the first team. Skipper Robins took one look at the aggressive young batsman and had seen enough. The next day, instead of selling scorecards at the Test, Titmus was on a train to Bath. Allen apart, who he had bowled to in the nets, he had never met any of his teammates. Seventeen runs for once out was Titmus’s contribution to a Middlesex victory and he went back to the ground staff for the rest of the summer a happy man. To further illustrate his longevity one of Titmus’s teammates in that game at Bath was Horace Brearley, father of future Middlesex and England Captain Mike. It was the second and last of Horace’s two matches for the county – 33 years later when Titmus played his last match for Middlesex he played under Mike, who himself was at that point just four matches away from retirement.
For his second First Class match Titmus found himself selected to play for the MCC against Surrey in early 1950, a game which gave rise to one of the better known stories about him. Shortly before the start of play an announcement was made over the loudspeaker “Ladies and Gentlemen – a correction to your scorecard – for FJ Titmus please read Titmus FJ”. It was to be 13 years before the ancient barriers that existed between amateurs and professionals were removed, although despite his solid working class roots Titmus was not, unlike a number of his contemporaries, unduly concerned by the, by then, increasingly anachronistic distinction. As he said in his 2005 autobiography he took great pride in being a professional cricketer.
Middlesex were patient with Titmus and gave him a long run in the first team in 1950 even though his achievements with bat and ball were modest. In 1951 and 52 National Service intervened and while he played plenty of cricket for the RAF his appearances for Middlesx were limited. On his return in 1953, older and wiser, he started to make real progress. Up until then his bowling had varied between slow medium seam-up and off breaks. He made the decison to abandon the seamers and concentrated solely on his spinners. Titmus was a genuine slow bowler who became a master of flight. He was not the biggest spinner of a ball on the county circuit but was very accurate and was seldom collared – come September 1953 he had his hundred wickets for the season.
By 1955 Titmus’s batting had advanced and that season he achieved the first of what were to be eight season’s doubles of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets. He also chose a most propitious occasion on which to record what were, at that stage of his career, his best figures of 8-43. The opposition on that occasion were the touring South Africans and as a result he found himself called into the England side for the second Test at Lords. He was doubtless assisted by the fact that the match was being played on his home ground, although the decision to select him ahead of Jim Laker, particularly when Laker’s county colleague at Surrey, Peter May, was England captain, seems a little strange. Whatever the reasons for the selectors’ decision it turned out to be the wrong one. Titmus, who was retained for the third Test, scored just 39 runs in his four innings and his single wicket cost 101 runs.
For the next seven seasons Titmus did all that could reasonably be expected of him as he established himself as one of the most consistent all-rounders in the county game. He finally caught the eye of the selectors again in 1962 when, against a weak Pakistan side, he was selected twice more. In truth his figures were barely more impressive than they had been against the far stronger 1955 South Africans, but nonetheless the selectors decided to take him to Australia in 1962/63 where, despite competition from two other off spinning all-rounders in Ray Illingworth and David Allen he finally came of age as a Test player. In the build up to the Tests he did enough to get in the side for the first Test. He performed modestly in that, and must have considered himself fortunate to retain his place for the second Test, but he bowled pretty well in that game and then in the third Test he took 7-79 in the Australian first innings and had finally arrived – the only disappointment would have been that, like most of his better performances, it did not result in victory.
For the next few seasons Titmus was virtually an ever present in the England side. He lost form in 1966, and his England place with it, but he won that back the following season in time to secure his place in, and the vice-captaincy of, the party that toured the Caribbean in 1967/68 where he suffered a horrific accident that would certainly have ended the career of a lesser man. Having arrived in Barbados in February for the third Test a number of the players, and some of the accompanying journalists, were swimming in the sea near their hotel. In time the players gathered round a motorboat that Penny Cowdrey, wife of skipper Colin, was driving. The boat was of an unusual design in that the motor was centrally positioned, and Titmus eventually became conscious of a thud and a feeling of numbness in his left foot. When he investigated it became clear that his foot had collided with the propeller cleanly severing two toes and virtually doing so to two others, necessitating their removal by his surgeon.
Remarkably, and fortunately for Titmus’s career given that the compensation he eventually received was a mere GBP98, there was a Canadian surgeon on the island who, through extensive experience with Ice Hockey injuries, knew all about severed toes, and thanks to his skills Titmus was fit to start the new season for Middlesex – so complete was his recovery that he came within 76 runs of another double in 1968 but he was not selected to play against Australia, and with the appointment of his old rival Ray Illingworth as England Captain in 1969 it seemed that, at 36, his Test career was over.
After 1968 his batting went into decline and while his bowling was as reliable as ever Fred did not, as he moved into his forties, expect to play for his country again.
After Illingworth brought down the curtain on his own Test career at the end of the 1973 season, and England decided to take Pat Pocock and Jack Birkenshaw to the Caribbean to bowl off-spin, he must have been convinced his last chance had gone.
Neither Pocock nor Birkenshaw was hugely successful in the West Indies but the latter was 12th man for no less than four of 1974’s six Tests against India and Pakistan and, no other off-spinner being in the frame, he must have confidently expected to get the call to travel to Australia in 1974/75. In fact it was the 42 year old Titmus, who admittedly had had a very good season in 1974, who actually got the nod and it brought a neat symmetry to his Test career that he had to wait seven years between his first two series, and then another seven between the last two.
Titmus’s figures in that difficult winter for England are not impressive, but do not tell the whole story. By now a tailender his batting against Lillee and Thomson was braver than most, and he made a defiant 61 in the second Test which, while it made no difference to the eventual result, at least meant England avoided an innings defeat. With the ball his four Tests brought him just seven wickets at more than 50 runs each. His figures would have been much better, and perhaps the result of the series not quite so one-sided, had the home umpires not steadfastly refused to give out any batsman who was struck on the pad whilst attempting to sweep – as England’s beaten captain, Mike Denness, said of Titmus at the end of the tour “his art was being thrown out of the window”
After 1976 Titmus’s First Class appearances were strictly occasional, and indeed one in 1978 was for old rivals Surrey during an unsuccessful two year period he had there as coach, but they continued until 1982 when, after two years out of the game, he turned out for his old county alongside Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, neither of whom had been born when he made his First Class debut. He had only dropped into Lord’s for a chat with friends, but Mike Brearley decided the wicket needed a third spinner. Titmus was delighted to accept the offer so in borrowed kit he took the field – he went out on a high note, still good enough to take 3-43 in the final innings as Middlesex won, just as they had on his debut all those years earlier.
His playing days over Titmus was the postmaster of the local Post Office/Newsagents in the Hertfordshire village of Potten End. On his own admission the business was run, very efficiently, by his second wife Stephanie and their employees without the need for any interference from him. His own involvement was, in the main, marking up the newspapers in the small hours and, if his delivery boys or girls didn’t turn in, in delivering the papers. Between 1994 and 1996 he was an England selector, a duty from which he did not derive much pleasure. Later, in 1998, he was involved in the ICC’s investigations into illegal actions and in the course of that he worked with Harbhajan Singh to eliminate the concerns that had been expressed about his action. In retirement he spent a good deal of his time on the Meditteranean Island of Majorca where he owned a home. Fred Titmus died on 23 March 2011 at the age of 78 – he is survived by his second wife, his son and daughter from his first marriage and his daughter from his second marriage.
Fred Titmus played 53 Test matches in which he scored 1,449 runs at an average of 22.29. He took 153 wickets at 32.22.
In all First Class cricket he scored 21,588 runs at 23.11 and took 2,830 at 22.37.