85 Not Out

Published: 2020
Pages: 327
Author: Dexter, Ted
Publisher: Quiller Publishing
Rating: 4 stars

Ted Dexter played cricket full time for less than a decade. He was gone at the age of thirty so, sadly, I never got to see him bat. He waltzed fleetingly back into the game three years later in 1968, slapped the great Derek Underwood around for a double century and played in two Tests against Australia and letting no one down, before riding off again into the sunset. He was still only 36 when he decided on another comeback, strictly Sunday afternoons only this time, and although I must have watched him play then I never did see in full flow the man who my father’s generation would stop whatever they were doing to watch.

Despite the limited span of time that Dexter’s cricket career took up he packed a great deal into it. He was capped by England in 62 Tests, and led his country in 29 of those. He captained his county, Sussex, for six years and in the course of those 1960s summers led them to victory in the first two English limited overs trophies in 1963 and 1964.

Now 85 Dexter has decided to write an autobiography. He has been the subject of books before, initially giving his name to a fairly mundane ghosted autobiography, Ted Dexter Declares, in 1966. In 1989 Derek Lodge wrote The Test Match Career of Ted Dexter, concentrating as the title suggests on cricketing matters, and in 1995 Alan Lee published an unauthorised biography, Lord Ted, a book which Dexter did not even bother to read at the time it was published.

In his acknowledgments Dexter does credit another author, Peter Burden, but I get the impression that a great deal of the writing in 85 Not Out is actually done by the man himself, an experienced journalist amongst his many other talents. This is a genuine autobiography and deals with every aspect of Dexter’s life, and it is one of its strengths that it does. Also impressive, and thereby avoiding the leaving of unanswered questions, is the way in which Dexter does not shirk from telling the stories of not only his wife and his children, but his extended family as well.

In the course of reading 85 Not Out I learnt much about Ted Dexter that I had not realised before, or at least had not fully taken on board in the past. I knew, for example, that he was a high class golfer, but perhaps not that he was just as good as he actually was. I also knew he liked a punt, but not that he did so to an extent that on occasion caused him problems. I certainly didn’t know that he was a committed christian, nor that his range of business activities was quite so wide. It was interesting to say the least to learn about everything he had tried, and his honesty refreshing. Some ventures came off, and on others he came unstuck, but above all he was a man who, during his working years, seldom seems to have put his feet up for very long.

As far as Dexter’s cricket is concerned the book contains, naturally, his take on how that unfolded and is a reminder of how different English cricket was in the days before the old distinction between Gentleman and Players was removed in 1962. In addition to events on the field Dexter also deals at some length with two of the better known stories about him, those concerning the broken leg inflicted on him by his own car, and his attempt in the 1964 General Election to unseat Labour’s Jim Callaghan from his Cardiff constituency. That Dexter got within 8,000 votes of the future Labour Prime Minister in the context of an overall defeat for the Conservatives was not by any means a bad result, but it was Dexter’s first and last dalliance with politics.

For most readers the main memory of Dexter will be his period at the helm of the England Test team between 1988 and 1993, one not generally remembered with any fondness by anyone involved. I was slightly surprised to see that Dexter dealt with that time in just one relatively brief chapter, and even more so that I ended that account in complete agreement with everything he said, and regretting judging him so harshly at the time – or perhaps he does have a gift for politics after all? I shall have to look again at some of the contemporary accounts.

There are a couple of rather odd passages in the book however, which do cast some doubt on Dexter’s memory. The first relates to his 1962/63 Ashes tour when he led England to a 1-1 draw. One of Dexter’s memories of the series involves the Northamptonshire fast bowler Dave Larter, of whom he writes; up until now on the tour he hadn’t played in a single match, and then goes on to cast doubt on his willingness to bowl at all, a serious accusation to level at a bowler. The trouble with Dexter’s memory is that before the game in question (the first Test in New Zealand) Larter had played in as many as 15 matches in Australia, and his biographer* has found no support at all for Dexter’s comments about his man’s attitude to bowling.

The second oddity is a story from Dexter’s time as a journalist. He tells a tale of his time at the Sunday Mirror in 1975 and getting a scoop on the subject of Australia cheating by applying lip ice to the ball. He writes that his instincts were confirmed in a phone call to England captain and former Sussex teammate Tony Greig. So far so good but the problem arises when he expands on his complaint, the ball was swinging more than I had ever seen before – and not just a little, but maybe fifty per cent more. It was especially noticeable in their medium pacer, Massy (sic). Bob Massie did indeed hoop the ball round corners at Lord’s on debut and was rewarded with 16 wickets, but that was in 1972. His Test career was over by the time the 1975 Ashes came round.

Moving on to the finished product I am pleased to see an index in 85 Not Out, although there is no statistical appendix. For once though that doesn’t feel like a great omission, no doubt by virtue of the fact that the book is far from ‘all about cricket’. There is also an excellent selection of photographs, many of which have not appeared in print before. One that has is an image of Dexter leaving the pavilion with Jim Parks to resume a no doubt entertaining partnership. The image is little more than a thumbnail. It appears insignificant which is a great shame because I have seen it before, much larger and in black and white. In that format it is quite striking, demonstrating just what a powerful and athletic figure Ted Dexter was in his pomp.

Despite the odd grumble 85 Not Out is an excellent book and certainly leaves its reader with a good understanding of the way Ted Dexter thinks, and what makes him tick and consequently, perhaps, just why some of his contemporaries found him so difficult to fathom at times. It is highly recommended.

*To be published in the New Year

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