He bowled every variety of ball

AP

Fred Titmus finished, aged 49, after being recalled to the side in 1982, with 2,214 wickets, 21,588 runs, 53 Test caps, 153 Test wickets and 1,449 Test runs.

Fred Titmus, one of England's greatest slow bowlers, who has died after a long illness at 78, will long be remembered for his performances in the 1962-3 tour of the sub continent.

Brian Bolus, eight times an England batsman and captain of both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire after being sacked by Yorkshire, said: “I was on that tour to India with Fred and I never saw better spin bowling. There was no turn and very little bounce but his length and flight and changes of pace were perfect.”

Titmus was born in London, brought up on a council estate and destined for greatness after bowling no more than half a dozen balls at the Middlesex nets in 1948. The county's coaches decided as soon as those balls hit the back of the net that they had a special talent on their hands and Titmus went on to play for Middlesex in every one of the next five decades.

He finished, aged 49, after being recalled to the side in 1982, with 2,214 wickets, 21,588 runs, 53 Test caps, 153 Test wickets and 1,449 Test runs. He was 42 — and his career had almost ended when he lost four toes during a boat accident in the West Indies — when he went on the 1974-5 trip to Australia and avoided the bouncers from Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson by standing outside his off stump.

He had had a remarkable Test career with a seven year gap after his first two England matches in 1955 because Jim Laker, Ray Illingworth, David Allen and John Mortimer all stood in his way.

Titmus was often described as an off break bowler but that is not the whole story. He bowled every variety of ball at a brisk slow to medium, rarely relied on turn and got most of his wickets with changes of pace. His quicker ball often caught batsmen asleep.

After his county career ended he was appointed a selector under Ray Illingworth — alongside Bolus — but, by now slightly deaf, he had a spectacular fall out with the England captain Mike Atherton who criticised him in his autobiography. Titmus responded that Atherton was “one of the worst England captains since the Second World War.”

He was a typical London wide boy even when he was supposed to have the dignity of a selector. During a New Zealand tour Richard Hadlee claimed he changed the ball that had been selected for the start of the England innings. I had to ring him to check the facts. “Of course I swapped ‘em round. All's fair in love and cricket,” he chuckled.

He received the ultimate compliment from Mike Brearley who called him the best he ever played under and once won a Man of the Match award just for his captaincy. He did not like the intellectual, university-educated Brearley, suggesting he was typical of the old amateur cricket leaders.

Titmus was sent to view an Edgbaston Test pitch and pronounced it “all right.” The first ball from Curtly Ambrose flew over the wicket-keeper's head for four byes and the game ended in victory for West Indies on the third morning. Titmus later helped to modify the action of Harbhajan Singh's action after he had been accused of throwing. He was awarded the MBE for his services to cricket but most of his last few years have been in charge of a village post office.