Old Fred's timely tips

One of the saddest aspects of English cricket in the last 20 years is that the old and wise are ignored.


Fred Trueman displays the ball with which he took his 300th Test wicket. Fred's regret is that budding pace bowlers don't come to him for advice. But, recently, Steve Kirby, the Yorkshire quick, sought Fred out with beneficial results. — Pic. IAN WALTON/GETTY IMAGES-

JULY 14: One of the saddest aspects of English cricket in the last 20 years is that the old and wise are ignored. No captain since Ray Illingworth, leader 1969-73, holds a major appointment with the governing body; and we waste such eminently suitable chairmen of selectors as Tony Greig, Bob Willis, Ian Botham and Graham Gooch who are left to live abroad, rot in menial county jobs, or make millions commentating on television. Neither is this a new problem. Back in the 1960s there is a huge wastage when, just to give one example, Fred Trueman is ignored even though he has 307 Test wickets behind him and an unrivalled knowledge of how to bowl fast. You can say it is the-honest-to-the-point-of-bluntness Trueman personality that means the ruling class will not have him but surely some use can be made of this superb bowler. For the next 40 years Trueman lives like a king in every other way by dint of after-dinner speeches, television shows and his Test Match Special punditry. To his great regret, however, none of the many fast bowlers come to him for advice. "I see little things they do wrong, and which I can correct with just a word or two, but they don't approach me and I don't feel I ought to speak to them first.'' But now, for the first time as far as I can remember, a young fast bowler feels Trueman has something to offer. Steve Kirby, the 25-year-old Yorkshire quick, seeks Trueman out at a golf day and asks: "What do you think of my bowling, Mr. Trueman?'' The great man has to admit he never sees Kirby in action although he encourages him to ask more. "Have you any tips for me'' pleads Kirby. "You can watch the batsman's feet as you get into your delivery stride,'' says Trueman. "Then you may be able to tell which way, forward or back, he intends to play.'' After such a brief conversation you may expect little will happen, but in his last five first class matches Kirby takes 30 wickets and seems to be, among other things, a more confident batsman and fielder. Even so, he loses none of his aggression. When Shoaib Akhtar lets fly an accidental beamer in a county championship game at Durham, Kirby takes off his helmet, throws down his bat and goes down the pitch to explain just how dangerous is this delivery. When Shoaib is batting, Kirby has his revenge by getting him caught out. Trueman will like that display of forthright honesty.

July 15: I turn on the television and there is Andrew Flintoff telling it the way it is from a deckchair at Blackpool, the biggest British holiday resort. What a suitable venue. Surely he ought not to be on vacation but be playing in the Lancashire-Kent game 10 days before the first Test against South Africa. Under the new play-and-rest policy of the England coach Duncan Fletcher, both Flintoff and James Anderson are left out of this match while Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick are made to miss their county games too. This angers Jack Simmons, once a stalwart Lancashire off-spin bowler, now the county chairman — having made a lot of money meanwhile with an indoor cricket school — who demands to know why. "It's ridiculous,'' he says. Perhaps Fletcher knows best. The pitch is low and slow; certainly not the ideal rehearsal for a Test bowler. Kent make 400 in the day and their tall, 26-year-old batsman Ed Smith hits his fourth successive hundred and goes on to 203. Interesting chap, Mr. Smith. He is writing his second book — which he will not tell anyone about — and is already planning a third. "Writing helps me relax,'' he says. "Much like Jack Russell and his painting I suppose. You can have a lot of time on your hands around the county circuit.'' Smith is an intellectual cricketer: a double first at Cambs who spends a lot of time thinking about the game and wants to be a captain. Clearly, Smith is the new Mike Brearley. He is being watched by a selector Geoff Miller and thinks that Geraint Jones may be the next long-term England wicket-keeper. I wonder if Ed Smith may be the young England batsman to try to fill the place his Kent colleague Robert Key fails to secure.

July 16: Yawn. The Lancashire-Kent matches trudges along. Kent, very slowly, reach 600 and for all the excuses made by the commentators in an effort to keep their viewers awake it is clearly a very boring match. I try to concentrate hard on the keeping of Geraint Jones, the wicket-keeper of the moment, from the county that brings England Les Ames, Godfrey Evans, Alan Knott and Paul Downton. It's no good. This game has no energy, no purpose and both sides seem to accept that too easily. Kent cannot score a run, Lancashire take only one wicket in three hours, no-one attempts to turn ones into twos and the fielders wait for the ball to arrive rather than searching it out. I fall asleep. Better than counting sheep. I try to watch 39 Steps, a black and white film made years before I am born but that proves to be so far from John Buchan's book that I lose interest and go back to the cricket. And fall asleep again.

July 17: If only the Sky commentators will listen to their opposite numbers on the golf course and the gentler tones of, for instance, Gary Player who has the habit of asking the most pertinent questions: "Is Nick Faldo the greatest British golfer ever'' or "Don't you just love this guy's swing'' By the way I hear that Geoff Boycott may return to British television. He already makes an appearance in the columns of a newspaper and will write throughout the summer; a sure sign the man is fit and well and accepted after all his recent problems.

July 18: In Ian Botham's glory years it is often said that it is more difficult to get out of the England side than into it. Club England the cynics say. The choice of Alec Stewart again and the suggestion that he and Nasser Hussain can continue until pensionable age if they wish makes the name just as relevant 20 years on.

July 19: I look across at the old Trent Bridge pavilion, soaked in tradition and aged by the passing of 120 years and soon-to-be 50 Tests and wonder: Is this noisy, modern Twenty20 final the future of cricket? At least partly. The finals are played out, over 10 hours, to a packed audience. What more can the England and Wales Cricket Board ask? Families of fans poured into the ground from nine o'clock in the morning, clearly intent on enjoyment, obviously thrilled to be part of an experiment that has by and large gone to plan. As I leave I hear one old spectator say: "Well, that was a good laugh.'' Well done, ECB. Well done, the players who have entered into the spirit of this entertainment-based game, complete with braying disc jockey and the girl band Atomic Kitten. Compared with the county match I see earlier in the week it is not just a breath of fresh air but a great gale blowing away the cobwebs of a game in desperate need of new thinking, new people, new enthusiasm. Not yet time for the first international 20 overs a side competition centred on Lord's but it will come. Not yet time either to pull down the old architecture.

July 20: As Surrey carry off their new trophy after their nine-wicket win against Warwickshire in the final of the Twenty20 marathon, the scorers add up the figures that make their day a record too: 851 runs, 27 wickets, 118.2 overs, but only two byes. That is a lot of penmanship. Everyone knows that scorers, official or otherwise, don't make mistakes and that they only get rattled when some fool of a commentator says: ``He's out without troubling the scorers'' particularly in the middle of a hat-trick. So we will reserve the champagne for the wicket-keepers Jeremy Batty of Surrey, Trevor Penney and Tony Frost of Warwickshire, Stephen Pope of Gloucestershire and Paul Nixon of Leicestershire; busy men even if the ball rarely passes the bat.