`DON'T EAT THE PIE'

When the South Africans reappeared after years in the wilderness there were a lot of fans talking about the Pollocks, Richards and Procter as if they might reappear. Today the talk is all of the Ashes and it maybe that half the spectators expect a REPLAY of 2005, writes TED CORBETT.

May 8: Fred Trueman, now 75, is not well but he still finds a minute to comment on the strange way the world runs. "All the England players got MBEs for winning back the Ashes. Funny game, isn't it? I got an MBE for taking 307 Test wickets and Paul Collingwood got one for making 15 runs!" David Shepherd, the retired umpire, clearly has no regrets — aged 65 — as he tours the country, listening to speeches praising his wonderful life.

He replies with a series of anecdotes about his time as a Gloucestershire batsman. I particularly like the tale about his long car drive. He is getting thirsty and hungry when he spots a public house with a sign outside: It says "For a fiver — A pint of bitter, a pie and a kindly word." Shep orders the pint and the pie, but the barman says nothing. "Hey," says Shep, "what's the kindly word?" The barman laughs. "Don't eat the pie," he says.

May 9: Talking of those not in the best of health we must remember two off-spinners. Fred Titmus plays for Middlesex from 1949 to 1982 and then serves as a Test selector. Now he is 74 and feeling his age. So too is Eric Bedser, twin brother of Alec, in his 88th year. At least one organisation has reasons to be cheerful, however. Sunset+Vine, a production company with a growing reputation for excellence, win an award for their coverage of the Ashes Tests on Channel 4 and bring Richie Benaud to receive the biggest ovation of the night. Benaud quits the commentary box. The newspaper which sometimes reduces his 1,000-word offerings to a couple of paragraphs last season are now boasting that only in their columns can their readers enjoy his wit and wisdom.

May 10: There's a great kafuffle about the selection of Theo Walcott, a 17-year-old striker, for the England World Cup squad. I hope he turns out to be as brilliant as Pele, who begins in the 1958 World Cup at the same age, but he will capture the spotlight if he is as good as his father's cousin. Clyde Leopold Walcott is one of the three Ws alongside Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes., averages 56.68 in Tests, keeps wicket to Sonny Ramadhin, which cannot be easy and takes 11 Test wickets at 37.09. After a whole day's research I cannot find any evidence this 6ft 2in, 15st wicketkeeper ever complains of burnout. Fred Trueman goes into hospital facing tests to make sure what is causing his acute anaemia and Andrew Flintoff adds another first to his accomplishments by singing a duet with Elton John. Long before he was Freddie, the greatest all-rounder of his day and a successful England captain, little Andrew was a chorister which may explain why Elton joined in the applause as the song ended.

May 11: I take a walk down St. Johns Wood High Street at 7 a.m. and find that, four hours before the first Test is due to begin, the area is alive with spectators. It's a spin off from the Ashes, which demonstrates again just how strange cricket followers are. When the South Africans reappeared after years in the wilderness there were a lot of fans talking about the Pollocks, Richards and Procter as if they might reappear. Today the talk is all of the Ashes and it maybe that half the spectators expect a replay of 2005. Marcus Trescothick is a century maker at Lord's which may be a consolation for his removal from the list of those who talk briefly to a ghost and then find 750 words of finely tuned prose under their name in the next day's paper. I know from experience that some players — Richard Hadlee was one with ideas, a sensible view of what made news and a great set of phrases — take these matters seriously.

Others were far from zealous. I remember one I had to question about a story under his name. "Can you get me a cutting?" he asked. "I don't know what I am supposed to have said and, anyway, I never read that newspaper."

May 12: Sunset+Vine, the production company who give Channel Four their cricket for seven years and who now turn out the highlights package for Channel Five, take pride in their first day figures which are about three times those achieved by Sky's all day commentary. They also believe that any number of the richer and more educated in our society view the programme.

Emails to Sky describe their commentary team as "middle-aged" which cannot amuse Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain, both still on the right side of 40. A heated debate is held between Matthew Engel, editor of Wisden, and Giles Clark, who does the deal with Sky on behalf of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

No winner of course but a lot of frank talking. John Hampshire, an old friend and a former Yorkshire and England batsman and international umpire, tells me proudly he is "retired." Some retirement! He is still umpiring second team matches as well as under-age, MCC and school games. Still he looks well. Everyone will wish "Hamps" well. His wife Jackie dies five years ago and now he is married to the former wife of Chris Old.

May 13: David Lloyd, once a Lancashire player and captain, then an umpire; then Lancashire coach and Test Match Special commentator; then England coach and now one of the Sky pundits — which all adds up to a fair amount of fame or notoriety — goes for his supper to a pub near Lord's. The customer alongside him does a double take and reaches for his cell phone.

"Hey," he tells a pal, "you'll never guess who I'm standing next to — Duncan Fletcher!" Meanwhile the phone in a bungalow in the Yorkshire Dales never stops ringing as Fred Trueman's former team-mates send messages of good wishes as his cure for cancer begins. "He's a fighter," says one of them. "He'll beat this illness as easily as he once beats every batsman in the country."

May 14: Matthew Hoggard, hard working outswing bowler, says he hates the limelight but he can certainly make a telling remark. He is dragged in front of the press gang after taking his 200th wicket and asked what he thinks of the new boy Sajid Mahmood who breaks the back of the Sri Lankan first innings with three wickets in nine balls.

"Don't ask me," says Hoggard. "I'm the monkey not the organ grinder. You'll have to ask the captain or the coach." So what is this modest man's recipe for success? "So far as I can tell," he says, "the only thing I do that is different is taking the dogs for a walk. I can recommend that to anyone who wants to keep fit for any sport." When he retires he wants to be a vet and that is not an ambition for many cricketers.