Thursday, May 23, 2013

At Headingley: A Freddie Trueman poem

A few days have transpired since the Lord’s Test. It was a setback like some of New Zealand’s Tests in the ’40s and ’50s but I’m now looking forward to the Second and final Test of the England series.
News from Leeds, Yorkshire (Freddie Trueman country), indicates it’s probable they’ll include Daniel Vettori and Martin Guptill in place of Bruce Martin and B J Watling who have ended their tours with injuries. McCullum will take up the wicket-keeping duties.
It would be great to see Vettori back in action for New Zealand. I hope he is there come match day. (They could play four seamers instead.) His experience would certainly calm the nerves of some of the younger players, just like having an old cricket great visit you in the dressing room.
Speaking of cricket legends like Vettori and Trueman, my last blog post mentioned the cricket writer John Arlott, also a poet and well-known broadcaster. I picked up some recordings of his broadcasts on cassette tape recently. Arlott was one of the greats of cricket writing.
I was lucky enough to pick up a selection of his writings at a Book Fair last year along with a copy of his biography of Freddie Trueman titled Fred.
When Trueman died in 2006, I wrote the following poem for him, recalling his visit to Wellington College where he spoke to us in a packed assembly hall.
I’ll share it with you on the eve of the Test at Headingley. Trueman formed a lethal bowling partnership with Brian Statham.
He ended his career with 307 wickets at an average of 21.57 from 67 Tests.


‘Fiery’ Fred

Freddie Trueman (1931-2006)

“…someone described him as a young bull and there was in his approach that majestic rhythm that emerges as a surprise in the Spanish fighting bull.” – John Arlott, Fred

Once the service
and the tributes are over,
and the dust settles as it must

History is what is left,
and History always looks
to change the strike.

Once, when on a visit
to Wellington, I met you
from a distance.

“Please welcome Freddie Trueman.”
The applause broke out
in our college assembly hall.

Different, I suppose, to
the unheeded noise as each
new wicket was snared.

That day, after assembly
and school had finished,
I went home and found my book,

looking for your action to follow.
In my room, I tried in vain
to arc my arm like the photo

as if I was a kid mimicking you
in the stands at Headingley
or The Oval. And now that you’re gone

records remain: the first 
to 300 Test wickets, devastating in
the home series against the Windies.

Those 300 wickets appear a long-broken
record now, especially in this
age of 700s, but I figure, even so,

you’d still be looking to include
yourself in any historical XI,
ruefully turning the strike over yet again.

Poem © Mark Pirie 2008

The book I mention with the photo of Trueman’s bowling action was Peter Arnold’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Cricket, Golden Press, Auckland, 1987. The book was my chief bedtime reading at the age of 13 along with the 1987 Shell New Zealand Cricket Almanack.
Trueman’s ‘devastating’ series with the West Indies in 1957 (referred to here) shows his bowling figures as 22 wickets in five tests at the average of 20.68 in Peter Arnold’s book, still just as handy like the cricket almanack despite online archives. Surprisingly his best Test figures came in his first series with India where he took 8-31 at Old Trafford, Manchester.  
Good luck to New Zealand for the Second Test. Square the series and make us proud!

‘Fiery’ Fred first published in Mark Pirie’s Slips: Cricket poems (Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, Paekakariki, 2008).

Article © Mark Pirie 2013

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