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Lord Ted

Lord Ted

It seems likely that Ted Dexter will forever remain the only England cricket captain to be born in Italy. His heritage is undoubtedly English, but in the year of his birth, 1935, his family were based in Milan, where his father had built up a highly successful insurance business.

The outbreak of war saw Dexter sent to England, where he was put through a traditional and austere education at various preparatory schools throughout the UK, before completing his education at Radley, a public school near Oxford. The young Dexter, like his older brother John, was an outstanding sportsman. He was a fine cricketer, but there were plenty of other strings to his bow.

In Dexter’s time on leaving school there was still National Service to be done, and he joined the Army as an officer cadet, spending six months in Carlisle followed by 18 months in Malaya. Life was far from taxing for Second Lieutenant Dexter but, never quite getting used to the poor quality matting wickets in Malaya, began to fall out of love with the game of cricket. Fortunately his disenchantment proved temporary.

Once his spell in the Army was over in 1955 Dexter took up a place at Jesus College, Cambridge, following a path that had already been taken by his father and brother. At the old man’s request he played some Rugby to start with – he was a fine stand-off half who played for the University’s second XV – but he did not stick with the game for long. His sporting passion at this time was golf, a game at which he always excelled and, had John’s influence not rekindled his love for cricket, he might well have been selected for the 1957 Walker Cup, the amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup.

In the summer of 1956 Dexter made his debut in First Class cricket, for Cambridge against Surrey, who were then in the middle of their run of seven consecutive County Championships. The game was played at the end of April and, with the Championship campaign not yet underway, the champions were at full strength. Unsurprisingly they triumphed by an innings. Batting at first drop Dexter was unceremoniously yorked by Peter Loader for a duck in the first innings. Second time round he top scored with 44, and was forever grateful to Jim Laker who, uncharacteristically for a gruff Yorkshireman, deliberately sent down a rank long hop to enable him to get off the mark.

Dexter was never a man to hang around at the crease if he could avoid doing so, and an impetuous streak is illustrated by the fact that in each of his first four games for Cambridge he recorded a duck, although there was a positive side effect, as the failures drove Dexter into the nets, desperate to understand and eradicate what was going wrong. His first big innings, an unbeaten 118, came in the last of those four matches, against Sussex. The visitors skipper, Robin Marlar, was deeply impressed with the young Dexter who he persuaded him to join Sussex as an amateur during the long vacation.

A glance at Wisden shows that in fact Dexter did not appear for Sussex in 1956 despite that agreement, for reasons that Dexter later came to regret. A long-standing relationship had come to an end just before the Varsity match and afterwards, on the University’s end of term tour to Denmark, Dexter fell under the spell of a young woman in Copenhagen, and decided to stay on and pursue her rather than take his place in the Sussex side.

Despite his rather shabby treatment of the county Dexter was invited back in 1957, when he did fulfill his committment to them. He enjoyed a fine season, being in with a chance for some time of being the first man in the country to reach 1,000 First Class runs for the season. He made a superb 185 against Lancashire, an innings of particular significance as the Lancashire skipper, Cyril Washbrook, was an England selector. By then a professional cricketer for more than two decades Washbrook had always been a noted fielder in the covers. He was satisfied that he had never before encountered a batsman who hit the ball as hard as Dexter.

Despite his youth and inexperience as a result of an injury to Trevor Bailey Dexter found himself named in the England squad for the fourth Test against West Indies that summer. At that time he had played just three County Championship matches. Sadly for him however, and the more so the English cricket loving public, he did not play. He had to pull out of the squad before the start of the match after injuring his ankle whilst bowling for Sussex.

So the Test debut had to wait a summer. In 1958 England’s visitors were a weak New Zealand side, and by the end of the series the selectors were using the Tests to look at possible tourists for the upcoming Ashes series in Australia. Dexter received his call up for the fourth Test, and amidst a comfortable innings victory scored 52, adding 82 for the fifth wicket with his skipper, Peter May. The touring party was due to be announced very early, on the rest day of the match. The game was delayed by heavy rain, and Dexter did not bat until the Monday. Had he made his runs on the Saturday then he might well have gone to Australia as one of the original selections.

It will always be a moot point as to whether or not England’s Ashes experience in 1958/59 might have been less of a disaster if Dexter had been named in August. As it was he was flown out mid way through the tour as a replacement. There was no such thing in those days as having players on standby and Dexter, working with a contact of his father’s in Paris, took a bit of finding. He had just got engaged to the very glamarous Susan Longfield, daughter of a former Kent cricketer, and for the media they became the late 50s equivalent of David and Victoria Beckham. Dexter flew out as the man to save the tour, but the reality was he was still very inexperienced, had not held a bat in anger for the better part of four months, and to make matters worse was laid low by a virus as he left to join the party. Add in to that the fact that the team spirit in Australia was at rock bottom anyway and it was always likely that Dexter would, as he did, achieve nothing in his two Tests against Australia.

So poor was Dexter’s showing that the widely respected Australian scribe, AG “Johnny” Moyes, wrote on the form he showed he was one of the poorest batsmen to appear in a Test in Australia in the past 40 years. As a bowler Dexter was not even a good third change when it came to Test cricket, and his throwing lacked speed and accuracy. One can only wonder why there was such an agitation for his selection.

Trevor Bailey later summed up the reason for the public’s clamour; Nothing could disguise the authoritative sound of his bat, the high-back lift with the full follow-through, nor his build and swashbuckling appearance….. in full flow it was not too much to claim that he was worth at least double the admission price. John Woodcock put Dexter at 24 in his book on the 100 greatest cricketers. Not a man to waste words the “Sage of Longparish” said simply he was a truly majestic hitter.

Of Dexter the bowler Bailey went on At his best he was a lively attacking fast medium, moved the ball in the air, was a shade quicker than he appeared, and was always experimenting, before bemoaning his inconsistency with the comment his bowling reminded me of a whirlwind, potentially destructive and quite unpredictable.

By now Dexter had left Cambridge. He had originally gone there seeking a degree in French and Italian. He was nobody’s fool, and did put in some studying in order to pass his first year examinations, but after that his sporting and social committments meant that his studies took a seat so far back that they were lost sight of. He switched courses to English in the hope that may be easier to pass, but he was still fortunate that his second year examinations clashed with an invitation to play for the MCC against Lancashire at Old Trafford. A sympathetic tutor agreed that he should accept the invitation rather than sit the exams, so he got into his final year rather by default. Come the end of that year he did sit the first two papers of his finals, but that was enough for him to realise the game was up, so he left Cambridge without a degree.

On a purely statistical basis Dexter’s 1959 season, his first full one with Sussex, looks impressive. There were almost 2,000 runs at more than 44, with seven centuries along the way. But the England selectors were tinkering against more weak opposition. The Indian visitors were beaten easily, the first side to lose all five Tests in an English summer. Dexter was not given his chance until the fourth Test, and his 58 runs in three innings meant that he was no more than a fringe candidate for the party to tour West Indies. But youth and reputation won the day and he made the trip. Early performances got him into the side for the first Test and his unbeaten century in the first innings ensured that his place would never be in danger again. All the usual power and style was on display and, in coming back and batting on the next day, he demonstrated a resolve and determination that those who had misgivings about him had not been sure he possessed. He ended up averaging more than 65 for the series, and took a couple of important wickets on the way to England’s decisive win in the second Test.

Against a disppointing South African side in 1960 Dexter marked time in his Test career, but he enjoyed what was to remain his most productive season for Sussex, having succeeded to the captaincy on Marlar’s retirement. Dexter always thrived when faced with a new challenge, and the captaincy certainly didn’t affect his batting, and the county enjoyed their most successful season for years, spending much of the summer in contention for the title. It was never the same again, as Dexter became disenchanted with the daily grind, although the introduction of the limited overs game in 1963 stimulated his cricketing brain once again, and he was the first captain to treat the format with real respect, and led his county to the first two titles.

The first opportunity for Dexter and England to try and right the indignities of 1958/59 came when Richie Benaud captained the 1961 Australian tourists. When the visitors took a 321 first innings lead in the first Test it looked like another hammering might be on the cards, but 180 from Dexter in almost six hours meant the game was comfortably drawn. Australia won the second Test and England the third. The final Test at the Oval was drawn so the series turned on what is remembered as Benaud’s Match, although with just a modicum of support from the rest of the England middle order it would have been Dexter’s Match.

England made a fine start at Old Trafford but they needed Dexter to chip in with three wickets in each innings to dismiss Australia twice. With less than four hours left in which to make the 256 needed to secure victory a draw looked certain. Coming to the crease at 40-1 Dexter struck 76 at almost a run a minute, including 14 fours and a six. When he left at 150-2 England had plenty of time in which get the rest of the runs, but in the space of 25 deliveries 5-12 from Benaud changed the game and Australia ran out winners by 54 runs.

That winter England had a five month tour of the sub-continent with five Tests in India and three in Pakistan. May had retired, and his heir apparent Colin Cowdrey, along with Fred Trueman and Brian Statham amongst others, had decided to give the tour a miss. In Cowdrey’s absence, and after his success with Sussex Dexter was appointed captain. In the eight Tests he lost the toss on all but one occasion, and with the limited bowling resources available to him he was never able to bowl India out twice after fielding first. The Indian series was lost, but England managed to hold on the 1-0 lead they took in the first Test against Pakistan, largely thanks to Dexter batting for than eight hours at Karachi for his only Test double century, 205. He must have been a tired man at the end of that match. He only had two fit seam bowlers and one of them, Butch White, pulled up lame in his third over. So Dexter had to bowl more than 50 overs as well – he took 5-134 across the two Pakistan innings.

Like most of his teammates Dexter enjoyed a gentle workout against the 1962 Pakistanis who, had it not been for the intervention of the weather at Trent Bridge, would have emulated the 1959 Indians. Dexter averaged nearly 90 with the bat and did enough to convince the selectors that he, and not Cowdrey or David Sheppard, should lead England in Australia the following winter. Dexter could not bring back the Ashes, but he averaged almost 50 with five half centuries, two of them in a win at the MCG that put England one up, but sadly he couldn’t prevent Australia squaring the series and retaining the urn once more.

In 1963 Frank Worrell’s West Indians humbled England 3-1 in one of the best series of Test matches ever seen. The game that has endured in the memory above all others was the second Test at Lord’s, when Cowdrey came out to bat for the last over with a broken arm in order to secure the draw after a magnificent effort by England to chase down a victory target of 234. In the England first innings Dexter had played the innings generally acknowledged as his finest for England. He came to the wicket in the second over to face Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith at their fastest and most menacing, and scored 70 at not far short of a run a minute and gave the innings the impetus it needed to get close to the West Indies first innings mark. As John Arlott said on commentary as a Hall thunderbolt was nonchalantly despatched to the mid wicket boundary; I’ve never seen Dexter bat more assuredly or commandingly.

England’s record under Dexter was reasonable, nine wins and seven defeats in 30 matches, but he never won a major series. Like his batting his captaincy could be inventive and exhilarating, but without a bat in his hand he would sometimes allow games to drift. He had more theory than Darwin was the view of Fred Trueman. The Yorkshire fast bowler, famously intolerant of “fancy caps”, rated Dexter highly as a batsman, and was happy to admit that he didn’t dislike him as a man, but he didn’t like his captaincy. Dexter seemed aloof to his players, albeit all seemed to accept this was through a degree of shyness rather than arrogance, but he rarely socialised with the team. Those are characteristics that Dexter shared with Walter Hammond, Len Hutton and Douglas Jardine, so were no impediment in themselves to good captaincy, but those three had a single-mindedness that Dexter seems to have lacked, and he didn’t always make it clear to his players what he was trying to achieve..

Dexter’s last summer as England captain was another tilt at Australia in 1964. The visitors had been weakened by the retirements of Benaud, Alan Davidson and Neil Harvey and there was much optimism in England. Despite that in the end the only game to have a definite result went Australia’s way. England were well placed, 90 runs in front with three Australian first innings wickets standing when Dexter took off his spinners, Fred Titmus and Norman Gifford, who had Australia under the cosh, and brought back Trueman to blast out the tail. In the event those last three partnerships added 211, and the dynamics of match and series were turned on their head. Dexter and Trueman, who could not agree about the latter’s field placings, were both blamed.

Perhaps Dexter was at least in part distracted by another battle. For a man who started 1964 knowing, on his own admission, more about Italian politics than those of Britain, and who was not a great orator by any means, the decision to stand as a Conservative candidate for Cardiff South East seems an odd one. But then Dexter always relished a challenge. His opponent was future Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan, first elected as long ago as 1945. Dexter polled more than 22,000 votes, a thoroughly respectable result in a safe Labour seat. Callaghan’s majority was 8,000.

In order to fight the seat Dexter had had to, effectively, forego the England captaincy for his last tour, the 1964/65 trip to South Africa, in favour of Warwickshire’s Mike Smith. His acceptance that he was in reality cannon fodder is amply illustrated by the fact that he also negotiated permission to join the party late, a few days after the election, the thought of having to take a place in Westminster clearly not having been considered a serious possibility. The tour was a successful one, England winning 1-0, and Dexter averaging 57.

Dexter began 1965 with few remaining ambitions in the game, although he remained Sussex captain. He played in the first two Tests of the summer’s series against New Zealand, but then broke his leg in a bizarre accident. Dexter was driving back to London when his car, a much loved Jaguar, ran out of petrol. He decided to push the car to a garage, and in doing so lost control of it and sustained a broken leg. He decided to retire, and at just 30 England had lost one of their finest post war batsmen.

After leaving the game Dexter concentrated on build up his own PR company, in addition to the media work, including writing and broadcasting, that he had already been doing for some time. And then in 1968 he was lured out of retirement by Sussex. The first game back was against Kent at Hastings in late July. Even Derek Underwood couldn’t keep Dexter quiet, and he went on to 203, his highest score for the county, and that was enough to bring an immediate call to arms for the fourth and fifth Tests against Australia. The fourth was drawn and the fifth, thanks to a wonderful innings from Basil D’Oliveira, and a superb spell from Underwood after a downpour on the fifth afternoon, was won by England to square the series. Dexter’s contributions were 10, 38, 21 and 28 so nothing spectacular, but steady and tangible nonetheless.

There were many who hoped the 33 year old might extend his return, but he did not reappear in First Class cricket in England again, although there was to be another comeback of sorts. In 1971, at 36, Dexter decided he fancied a crack at the 40 overs per side Sunday League, and he played regularly for two seasons, not without some success. He batted at his usual number three, and there were five half centuries, and an average just shy of 30.

In 1978 The Times cricket correspondent, John Woodcock, expressed the view that Dexter should emulate his old Ashes rival Bobby Simpson and, in the wake of the World Series Cricket crisis, come out of retirement to lead England again in 1978. After a flurry of interest Dexter’s own letter on the subject appeared in the paper’s famous letters column. The contents of his missive disappointed all those who were championing his cause. There is a slight irony here in that Dexter had in fact by 1978 embarked on full-time sport again. He had, as noted, always been a fine golfer and many thought that had he tried he could have succeeded at the very highest level. Dexter himself always acknowledged the wide gulf between top club players and professionals, but he always wondered what might have been, and at 43 had decided to spend a year on the European amateur circuit. The ultimate aim was to qualify for the 1978 British Open, ultimately won by Jack Nicklaus at St Andrews. It was not to be, but Dexter went agonisingly close, a missed six foot putt at the final hole denying him what would have been a remarkable opportunity to mix it with the legends of the game.

I feel that everything I have done in life has prepared me for this job said Dexter in 1989, when he took over as Chairman of Selectors from Peter May. He was paid GBP60,000 as well, the first man to receive a “salary” for doing the job. He had a bad start though, having his first choice as captain (Mike Gatting) vetoed by Ossie Wheatley, Chair of the TCCB’s Cricket Committee, and then having to sack his second choice, David Gower, after the train wreck of an Ashes series that was 1989. At the end of the that series he gave the tabloids more ammunition by saying I am not aware of any mistakes that I have made this summer in the same press conference as, in desperately searching for positives from the season, he had said well, who can forget Malcolm Devon?

With Gower’s sacking Dexter had to turn to Gooch, a man who in his days as a journalist he had described as having the charisma of a wet fish, and he also had to tell Ian Botham he wasn’t going to the Caribbean in 1989/90 with Gooch and, more controversially, to give the same message to Gower. He had also had his job made harder by Gatting and his rebel tourists making themselves unavailable, but as things turned out another shellacking by Australia in 1990/91 apart, England’s fortunes improved markedley under Gooch. The series in the Caribbean was lost, but had begun with England’s first victory over the men in maroon caps for 16 years, and a moral victory in the second Test. 1990 saw Gooch’s golden summer against India and New Zealand and the following home campaign saw an exciting 2-2 draw against West Indies. That winter saw a comfortable series win in New Zealand and if defeat in the final to Pakistan was disappointing England came as close to winning the World Cup as they have ever done.

These highlights persuaded Dexter to sign a two year extension to his contract, but that proved to be a mistake. The 1992 English summer saw a hard fought series being conceded to Pakistan, before a winter of discontent began with three heavy defeats in India and a first defeat at the hands of “minnows” Sri Lanka. By the time that a recalled “Malcolm Devon” helped England to success at the Oval in 1993 Australia had already won four Tests, and Dexter’s career as his country’s cricket supremo was in tatters. In the end he was extremely glad to get away. It was the last high profile role he took in the game, although his influence behind the scenes was not lost, and he continued to give his time and energies in a variety of roles. Ted Dexter is now 78 and we rarely see him in the media, but he is an occasional blogger, and his views on a variety of subjects, never dull, can be found at www.teddexter.com .


His recall to England in 1968, after three years out of the game and just a couple of games for Sussex, seems incredible at this remove – but such things were more common in those days, although I wonder if the same thing would have happened to a professional cricketer without the same connections.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am BST 23 April 2014

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