Our idols

Freddie Trueman was always determined to have his say.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Fred Trueman was another hero of mine. I was not a true Yorkshireman — born in Birmingham, in fact — but brought up in that cricket-crazy county and played most of my cricket there, writes Ted Corbett.

They say you should never meet your heroes and I have sometimes thought that introducing myself to men I had only seen from a distance but still managed to admire has often been an embarrassment.

There was, for instance, the time I offered Sir Leonard Hutton and Lady Hutton a lift in my taxi because an aggressive Australian had barged them out of the way as they stood in a queue outside the Gabba ground in Brisbane.

They were both in their late seventies and I felt sorry for these old folk, treated so roughly in a foreign land. Besides Len Hutton had been my hero when I was a schoolboy in Yorkshire, where he was so venerated that most people would have allowed him to walk over their prone body to get into any taxi and considered it an honour to be of service.

He and his lady thanked me graciously — it was in the high 30s centigrade and neither had a hat so you can see they did not want to stand around — and of course I was curious to find out what sort of people the knight and his lady had become.

It turned out that Sir Leonard was a man who knew the cost of everything but not necessarily its value. He had been offended by the amount taxis charged and reeled off the fares he had been asked to pay on his brief visit.

(That was his reputation; short arms and long pockets we say in Yorkshire but I did not care. I had to make the journey anyway and his wife was clearly very kind and you don’t often get a chance to ride alongside your boyhood hero for only ten Aussie dollars.)

The taxi driver was not amused by the Hutton rant but managed to contain himself until they got out and then turned on me. “Who on earth was that?” he demanded in rather rougher words than I dare commit to print.

“That was Len Hutton, now Sir Leonard,” I said. “You may remember . . .”

He did not let me finish. “Yes, I remember him,” he said. “Opening batsman, robbed Australia of several victories and then he was captain when they finally got a win. He’s not still playing, is he?”

I had to assure him that England, poorly as they were performing, did not need old age pensioners in their Test team. He eyed me curiously. “I know who you are too,” he said. “You are that Fred Trueman.”

You can see why I was happy to pay up and get out of his cab. I knew Trueman for ten years afterwards but I thought it better not to tell him that story.

Trueman was another hero of mine. I was not a true Yorkshireman — born in Birmingham, in fact — but brought up in that cricket-crazy county and played most of my cricket there. Other former county players — Geoff Boycott, Ray Illingworth, Brian Close, Brian Bolus, Jack Hampshire — became friends because they trusted a man with the same accent and background as their own.

They are a tight-knit bunch for all they are jealous of one another’s success; their dressing room — described by one of them as “like a parrot house when I was a lad” — was an interesting place, full of characters, replete with stories, drama and scandal; not known for its dull moments.

Cricketers of the 1950s were mostly grumblers and to be fair they had something to grumble about. Wages were low, Test fees were abominable, the snobbery which resulted from the amateur-professional divide made life difficult for men like Trueman, who believed he had a right to be heard, and that he had ideas worth recounting.

Fred was not the only cricketer determined to have his say. The Lancashire fast bowler Peter Lever, red-haired and keen on his own rights, persuaded me to help him write an essay on the future of the game which he mistakenly showed to a county club official.

This county secretary, an experienced official in many sports, tore it in half and threw it in the nearest wastepaper basket. “He betrayed my trust,” said Peter, whose anger was beyond measure.

The third hero was Brian Lara, the finest batsman of my lifetime, twice holder of the Test world record, still holder of the first-class record and scorer of that 277 at Sydney which is the most admired innings I can remember.

Of the captains Tony Greig rates higher than most; of the fielders Chris Lewis; of the bowlers I have been privileged to be the pal of Dennis Lillee, still an inventive bowler in his middle 30s, still a great fast bowling coach in his 60s.

Heroic wicketkeepers are contained in a list without end: heavens how I have enjoyed watching the art form that came with Jack Russell, Bob Taylor, Alan Knott, Jeff Dujon, and Chris Read, for all he spent much time in the wilderness.

Read’s men won the Yorkshire Bank 40-over tournament recently and I noted he was still smooth as silk, batting and keeping and, I hear, independent enough to run his own life for the benefit of his team and himself.

I rate Ian Healy as the finest of all the keepers although I have a lingering admiration for M. S. Dhoni who may well surpass all these heroes as he adds leadership to his batsmanship and his dextrous hands and looks as if he enjoys it all, as well he might.