Almanac Cricket: The Ashes, John Arlott, Fred Trueman, and innocent times

Around this time of year my thoughts turn to the coming cricket season. With the Ashes Test series about to commence my attention is drawn to my first joyful experiences of test cricket, and Ashes cricket in particular.


An Ashes tour was always a highlight, and in those days without the immediacy of the communications of today, the wait to see our heroes, and soon to be heroes play seemed an eternity but anticipated with bated breath. Exciting times!


As a kid I’d buy, with my hard earned pennies, the  ABC Cricket book previewing the coming season, the tours, and the likely  selections for the coming season. I devoured that booklet!


Going to the MCG for cricket, whether a shield match or a test, always was a highlight and something I  endeavour to maintain today but the excitement has waned and not quite what it once was. Is it the over-saturation with so many games played in all its various formats, the win at all costs attitude, or the unacceptable behaviour of many of the players affecting my feelings for the game, or am I just older?


I’m not sure.


Here is a piece I shared on the Footy Almanac some years ago about my excitement for the game of cricket in more innocent times.



I loved listening to the cricket on ABC radio during the Ashes tours to England in the late 50’s and early 60’s. 


Dad would bring the old cream, bakelite radio to the sleepout on the back porch and set it up. Firstly, he’d unscrew the light globe from its socket on the ceiling then plug the wireless in. For some reason, and I cannot remember why, the wireless had a plug that only plugged into a light socket. A thin wire acting as an aerial was unwound and moved around the wall until a good reception was found; a pin or a tack or some tape appearing out of nowhere  was attached to hold the aerial in place. Very basic stuff but that’s the way it was in those days! It was such a treat for me to have the radio to myself, allowing me to stay  up later than my siblings, often well past our bedtime to their chagrin. 


Sometimes dad would lie with me on the bed and we’d listen to the commentary together. These were special moments for me. A real bonding time for father and son. I still picture him there; his hands behind his head on the pillow we shared together, his shoes off and legs crossed, looking at the ceiling as shadows from the flickering candle danced up and down the walls. 



Those mellifluous, melodious and magical tones from the voice of the doyen of cricket broadcasters were spellbinding to me to say the least. His superlative turn of phrase and description of events in front of him, his use of those wonderfully typical English words and names from half a world away completely entranced me  during these broadcasts.  


Dad tried to answer the frequent questions I sought  for explanation or clarification about aspects of the commentary I was not sure of. His responses reflected his own uncertainties, though he tried  hard not to let on  he didn’t always know  the answers. It didn’t matter  if dad mucked it up; I was grateful he was by my side. Anyway, the sound of Arlott’s voice fascinated me, even if I didn’t always understand what he meant. We loved our cricket.


The summer of 1962/63 the MCC toured Australia for an Ashes series so I was beside myself with absolute joy when dad took me to the Melbourne Test. At last I was able to see in the flesh many my heroes.



Still at the peak of his prime during that series, he was a cricketer fans either loved or hated. He played to win but he played in the true spirit of the game. I remember watching him charge into bowl; strong body supported by stocky bow legs, a rolling, rollicking gait rocking from side to side, as  his run up gathered pace  approaching the stumps. Fred’s shiny, well oiled mop of black hair flopped over his forehead and into his eyes. Every ball was bowled with maximum effort and the expectation of a wicket; and if that didn’t happen, his wide eyed steely glare menacingly transfixed the batsmen, the implication it was only a matter of time before his wicket was Fred’s.


On this particular day and early in Australia’s second innings Fred struck with a venom taking consecutive wickets. Firstly, Bobby Simpson was bowled playing backwards to a ball that appeared to keep low after Fred had softened Simpson up with some nasty bouncers, then, very next ball, Norm O’Neill skied a ball hooking off his middle stump, only to be caught by  Colin Cowdrey sauntering from slips to take the catch. Unfortunately, an over ambitious shot from a batsmen out of form and sadly not the shot to play first ball of your innings.


Their dismissals raised questions in my mind. To me, the Australian cricketers were invincible. My expectation was to vanquish the foe, not to be the vanquished as was happening. This was not meant to happen. Cricket is a great metaphor for life. 


At the end of his over, Fred confidently strutted back to his position near the boundary, a real swagger in his step, and slicking and flicking his hair back with his fingers, he pulled on his cap, and waved to the crowd in acknowledgement of their applause. His next action was remarkable and has remained forever implanted in my memory; Fred took a bow. 


But it was not just any bow, it was a majestic bow. He stopped, raised his head to the skies, stretched his arms out wide, crossed his legs and  with a flourish, perhaps a romantic flourish, he doffed his cap as he bent low, the loyal servant saluting his master. It seemed an eternity he remained in that position but in reality it was probably only a matter of seconds. His action had silenced the crowd, they were dumbfounded; they didn’t know what to make of it or what to do! Most of us had never seen such an extravagant reaction like this on a sporting field before. And Fred was enjoying our response. He had us in the palm of his hands. A real showman. 


Freddie Trueman loved his cricket.


Replacing his cap, he rolled his sleeves up, a big twinkling smile on his face, in fact you could even say it was a lecherous smile, and then directing his focus at the young boy peering meekly over the top of the picket fence he was firmly clenching, Fred winked then pointed to me. 


With a wave he then turned his back and walked towards the play as Brian Statham ran in to bowl the first ball of the next over.

I turned to dad; “he winked at me….he winked at me dad,” I said in disbelief. Dad just smiled, ruffled my hair and returned his gaze to the field of play.


I had been noticed. It was a magic moment.



M0re from Col Ritchie can be read Here.



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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Brilliant Col. Great story and morning read. Can see that wink.

  2. Grand memories Col. Our heroes were more memorable in those days because they didn’t have the overexposure of current day media and sportsmen. Our imaginations made them ten foot taller, wiser and braver than reality.
    Nothing we do for a child is ever wasted.
    (Sam Snead had a devilish wink – listen to the TGJ podcast).

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful story Col.
    Not sure what their commentary team will be this Summer, but I’ve always been an ABC man. Fond memories of listening until late in the night on the 1989 & 1993 Ashes Tours, featuring the BBC coverage with your man F.S.Trueman.
    The interaction with a star player when you are young is priceless. Thanks for sharing yours.

  4. Daniel Viles says

    That’s beautiful, Col. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks for the kind words everyone. PB you’re absolutely right! Imagination, my mind would become a theatre and I would play out all the scenarios presented to me by John Arlott et al converting those superb articulations into visualisations. And what a joy to see the Freddie Truemans etc in the flesh for the first time without any over exposure from TV, just like first time I saw Dylan at the Myer Music Bowl, sensational!

  6. Hi Colin

    I missed this back when. Great reflection, especially as a youngster doing something with dad.

    This has nothing much to do with your piece but you might enjoy it:

  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved the Dave Warner clip TS, certainly one of Australia’s treasures!

  8. Don’t think I have enjoyed any cricket commentator as much as John Arlott. Was listening when he took his final ball and exited with zero fanfare, although the crowd gave the game away, applauding as they were listening on their radios.
    Describing Dickie Bird, who had a dozen jumpers tied around himself at various places ” Umpire Bird, who looks like a pantomime goose”. Listening to him with the TV turned down….

  9. Col, you brought back wonderful memories of test and shield cricket, and listening to the ABC.

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