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Ted Dexter: ‘Life felt pretty good. It was better than being in the army, that was for sure’

Ted Dexter: 'Life Felt Pretty Good. It Was Better Than Being In The Army, That Was For Sure'
by Ted Dexter 7 minute read

Ted Dexter CBE, a former England captain, chairman of selectors and much else besides, has died at the age of 86. In issue 41 of Wisden Cricket Monthly, he told the tale of his golden summer in the game, 1960.

The year began with great success in the West Indies, on a tour where I scored more runs for England than anyone else. I’d already made my maiden Test hundred the winter before against New Zealand, but the runs I made in the Caribbean felt more significant, just for the quality of the opposition.

It was all so new and exciting, playing at these great venues. We were the MCC team in those days and we were expected to sell the game to the locals. The crowds were so vocal, especially at Barbados where I made my first hundred. It was a rather flat pitch, but nevertheless they had three good quick bowlers – I batted at No.6 and the score wasn’t looking too healthy when I went out in our first innings, but Wes Hall soon took the new ball and that whistled to the boundary. It was the first of many invigorating battles I would share with Wes. In reply Garry Sobers and Frank Worrell batted for seven sessions!

I would make another hundred in the series, at Guyana on a slow turner. I batted most of the time with Raman Subba Row, a wise old head who helped me through that innings. I made my mark on that tour and arrived back in England to take over the captaincy of Sussex from Robin Marlar.

I was ready for it. I’d captained my school Radley and then Cambridge University, I’d been well trained and I brought that to bear. There was no great method, I just encouraged people to show their best. I used to say, “Just go out and show them how bloody good you are!”.

Early in 1960 I made a lot of runs along with Jim Parks. Both of us were in the running to make 1,000 runs by the end of May. By May 11 I’d made 429; by the 18th I’d made 721. At that time I thought I was pretty much nailed-on, but then there was some weather interruptions and neither of us quite made it, but it was pretty exciting.

As captain we won five of my first seven Championship matches. We beat Surrey for the first time since 1947. The records tell me that Dexter made 135 and Parks made 155, in a match we would win by an innings. Surrey had been the team to beat in the Fifties, and had been scrapping it out with Yorkshire since forever. Sussex on the other hand were a lowly lot, so it was a significant victory. It showed we could play with those grand institutions of the game.

We finished fourth in the County Championship, winning 12 of our 32 matches. I played in 20 games and made 1,771 runs at an average of 55 and took 33 wickets. Sussex put on 1,200 new members and gate receipts went up by £2,000, which is the equivalent of £45,000 now. It was a truly golden summer.

Our great fast bowler John Snow hadn’t even appeared yet; he would debut the following year. With Snowy, or even just another spinner, we could have won the Championship. In those days, on uncovered pitches, you really needed a couple of spinners to win games. I had Ian Thomson, who had one tour with England, a super bowler who got his wickets every year, and Don Bates and Tony Buss, all good seamers. I had one slow-left arm spinner in Ronnie Bell, who I looked after. He was a lovely spinner but he wasn’t the greatest. We did superbly well with modest resources.

I played for England that summer too. South Africa were in town, and we had a marvellously talented team. Cowdrey, Barrington, Parks, Subba Row, a young Ray Illingworth, Trueman, Statham. That was some side, and the cricket we played was very serious. Peter May was my captain for much of my early Test career and he handled me very well. I was a bit flighty, a bit chancy, and he used to play along with that. He didn’t try to knock me into shape. He’d just say, “Come on Edward, let’s see what you’ve got up your sleeve today!”.

I didn’t make many runs – we won the games pretty easily because their batting was poor but there was nothing wrong with their attack. They were low-scoring matches. Neil Adcock and Hughie Tayfield were fantastic bowlers. And of course there was Geoff Griffin, the chucker. He bowled me out at Lord’s, I hadn’t played against him before and the ball just appeared out of nowhere. Lord’s back then, batting at the Nursery End, was a nightmare. I don’t know how anybody got any runs. There were no sightscreens, just a red-brick pavilion with spectators in coloured blazers. These days if someone picks their nose by the side of the sightscreen the whole game is stopped!

It was around that time that I got to know Freddie Trueman. I’d barely met the man before being called out late for the Ashes tour of 1958/59. In those days we all had to share rooms but there was an odd one out, and they had decided to let Fred have a room to himself so he could get up to whatever tricks he fancied. And then I suddenly appear, and they couldn’t give us two single rooms so I was put in with Freddie. That was quite a culture shock…

TED DEXTER: WISDEN CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1961

We got on fine, Fred and I. The only slight problem we had, and it was something that scribes tended to pick up on, came later in the decade, when he lost half his bonus on the 1962/63 Ashes tour. As captain I thought that was what he deserved, after he didn’t turn up on the most important morning of the Melbourne Test match. It was half an hour before play was due to start, and he was nowhere. I looked around, “Where’s Freddie?” I asked if anyone had seen him at breakfast, but no one had. The game was there to be won and he was our No.1 player! God knows what he’d been up to, but what I do know is he’d taken two wickets overnight, and the ball was still quite new. So I was thinking of giving him the ball first thing in the morning.

Finally, with minutes to spare, he shows up. It was eight-ball overs back then, so he runs in to bowl and halfway through the over I’m looking at him and he’s puffing away. By the sixth ball, it was hardly reaching the wicketkeeper, he was absolutely bust. “OK, Fred, thanks very much.” I’d already decided to give him the second new ball when it came around, so I moved him around in the field and kept him in the shade until we were able to take that new ball. He took it and got the job done, and we ended up winning the game. I can still remember Swanton’s article in the Telegraph: “Only the young and inexperienced England captain can possibly explain how he failed to bowl Trueman, our best bowler, for most of the day…”

It was just a special time. I was young, I was enjoying what I was doing, and my dad was paying the bills! I’d gotten married to Susan in 1959 – though the honeymoon was cut short so I could play for Sussex against Worcester. We weren’t that well off; Susan was earning good money modelling, and that was an important part of our income. She probably didn’t enjoy it so much when I had £5 each way on a loser! It was quite a lively time, London was starting to perk up a bit, for the effects of the war lingered for a hell of a long time. After all, rationing was still there in the mid-Fifties.

We lived in Pimlico in a little flat that my dad bought us, and I could walk to Victoria, catch the 9am Bright Belle and be at the ground at Hove at 10.15am. I’d sit in my first-class seat in the corner and my Telegraph would be waiting for me: “Good morning, Mr Dexter, your usual, sir?” Life felt pretty good. It was better than being in the army, that was for sure. The Sixties were just getting going, and things were rolling our way.

Ted Dexter was born on May 15, 1935 in Milan, Italy, and died on August 26, 2021, at the age of 86. He made 4,502 Test runs at 47.89, with nine hundreds, and led England in 30 of his 62 Tests.

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