RECALLING different days


SEPTEMBER 5. Fred Trueman, as broadly Yorkshire as ever, his eyebrows bristling, sits at the picture window of his bungalow in the Dales and recalls very different days 52 years ago. Trueman, magnificent fast bowler with 307 wickets when he retires to be the country's best known radio cricket voice is in the RAF completing his National Service and needs special leave to play in the final match of the Ashes series in 1953.

"There's enormous excitement around the country just as there is now. When we leave our hotel on the first morning a newspaper seller is standing on the other side of the road with a huge poster. He draws a sketch of the Ashes trophy and underneath he's written `They're Ours.' Trueman takes four first innings wickets including — "Neil Harvey, a great pal, cutting at a bouncer and sending it straight up in the air to our captain Len Hutton. In the end Tony Lock and Jim Laker win the match on a turning pitch. My grandmother has died the previous day but the family keep the news from me. She sees the last overs of the third day and says: `I'm glad to see the Ashes come back after 19 years and our Freddie playing.' Then she goes off to bed and dies — at 87. I don't wait for the celebrations. There's a huge cake and champagne but I don't drink in those days. I went to King's Cross for the train to Lincolnshire, catch a bus to the village and then walk to the camp. The sergeant of the guard says: `Back off leave, Trueman. I'll sign you in. Goodnight.' Not a word about the match."

Trueman is one of only four still alive from 1953 — the great medium pace bowler Alec Bedser, 86 whose twin brother Eric is not well, the elegant batsman Tom Graveney 77, president of MCC, and the all-rounder Trevor `Barnacle' Bailey, Trueman's old colleague on Test Match Special whose heroic batting in the second Test at Lord's keeps the Ashes alive. He is still in touch with all of them and his memory is as sharp as ever. Nothing changes for this legendary bowler, forever rolling up his sleeve, brushing back his great mop of black hair as he gallops in 20 yards and bowls round arm, swinging the ball away. "The sound of Australians crying or whinging is still music to my ears. I'll give a lot to hear that again. I'll see the start of the match, and perhaps a bit on Friday but on Saturday and Sunday I'll be in the annual golf tournament for the old county players. I never miss that." He returns to his golf swing, to the sight of the dozens of birds who inhabit his long sloping garden and, never very far from the surface, his belief that he can still run in from the Vauxhall End, even today, and bowl a couple of Australian batsmen.

September 6. There's a plan to take England from Lord's to central London and past the monument to the great naval hero Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. The sponsors npower ask everyone in the country to sing the hymn Jerusalem as England walk on to the pitch at 10.25 on Thursday morning. The whole country is up for it but are the England and Wales Cricket Board? "I meet David Morgan, the chairman, at Lord's. "I certainly hope we can pick up on this enthusiasm," he says.

September 7. As a schoolboy I wade through any sports book I can find on the shelves of the nearest library. Everyone of them can be read by a father to his youngest lad. Not so now. This evening I drop in on the book launch of Graham Thorpe's autobiography to try to find why in quick succession Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Thorpe bare their souls in such an overt way. Atherton muses on his own bloody-mindedness, Hussain admits that he is driven by his father's ambition for him and Thorpe dissects the reasons for the break-up of his marriage and his life since — new partner Amanda and their baby are at the crowded, noisy launch party — while he interlards his text with four letter words that never appear in Jack Fingleton's Brightly Fades The Don or Len Hutton's autobiography. In fact the most shocking revelation from my teenage years is that cricketers don't enjoy dancing, according to Denis Compton's life story. (Oddly enough, the Thorpe launch is held in Old Compton Street, Soho.) "Neither do musicians," says Benny Green, jazz and cricket man, many years later.

September 8. Geraint Jones drops another straightforward return, for no reason anyone can understand and a bowler from another era says: "If he is my wicket-keeper I will refuse to bowl." Not empty words. The same bowler once walks off the ground because he considers the pitch unfit.

September 9. I know the world goes completely pear-shaped when I hear that one of my relatives bets 42 pounds sterling on England to win the fifth Test. Something to do with The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The Inland Revenue are tracking down the people who are selling Test tickets on eBay; but don't worry, the tax man is only after those making more than 60,000 pounds sterling a year. Still that is only 60 tickets at the prices being charged in London this week.

September 10. As the light meters come out, as the autumnal mists descend, as umpires order the players back to their dressing rooms the voice of Andrew Flintoff booms: "We'll be able to play on if we can fix lights on top of the bails."

September 11. A solid blond figure marches across the Oval accompanied by a security man and climbs the six staircases that lead to the Channel 4 commentary box. "Can I have a word with Richie?" he inquires and goes on to hold a long conversation with the man he reckons makes his own art easier. It is of course Shane Warne who simply wants to know that Benaud is well, that he leaves British broadcasting without regrets and to say thank you to a few tips on how to bowl better and, after a ten minute conversation, takes his leave. An appropriate moment, I think, to add that encouragement from Richie Benaud 15 years ago, and a piece of advice, sets me off on a new career as a freelance after many years on the staff of a variety of newspapers around the world. So, from cricketers, and television staff, and radio reporters, and newspapermen too many to count, good luck in your new life in the tiny French town of Benaud, a romantic end to a life that has been a success which ever way you count it and many years happiness with Daphne on whom this great man has leaned since they meet many years ago.

September 12. The England players tour London on an open-top bus, past Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square. Richie Benaud and Daphne return to France, Tony Greig, his wife Viv and their children head back to Australia and Michael Slater, another of the Channel 4 commentators who might have done his country more good on the pitch, makes plans to attend a wedding in Sydney this week-end. The match referee Ranjan Madugalle plans to spend Christmas at home in Sri Lanka with his family for the first time in a few years after a spell of duty in New Zealand but we drive quietly home, to see if our friend the squirrel who lives in the old stone pine tree is well; after all travelling folk like us cannot keep any other sort of pet and he is a nice little chap and very fond of cashew nuts. Within 24 hours the excitement of the Ashes has to be forgotten while we make another trip to Leicester for a Twenty20 tournament. I put the diary to the back of the desk until — heavens, no, it's only 40 days or so before the tour of Pakistan — November and December when England will have to be at their best to prove they are worthy holders of the Ashes and good enough to top the world rankings. Then it's off to India and a serious testing of their mettle. See you there.