“If you are going to lose, you might as well lose good and proper and try to sneak a win”
During my childhood, my father used to tell me stories about the cricket and football greats during his playing days. My father was a renowned footballer in the Faridpur district and he played as a centre-back. Thus, he was extremely interested in sports and despite the popularity of football in then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, cricket was another sport, that attracted him very much.
He told me the stories of Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Mushtaq Mohammad, Saeed Ahmad, Nasimul Gani, Alimuddin, Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Subash Gupte, Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the giants of West Indian, Australian and English cricket. It was through my father I came to know about a dashing English cricketer named Ted Dexter, who was equally loved by the people in Dhaka alongside Wes Hall, Sir Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Hanif, Mushtaq and Fazal.
Dexter was a fan favourite back in Bangladesh during the 60s and the reason had been his dashing and charismatic nature. We Bangladeshis are addicted to dashing characters and usually don’t relishes the softer ones, no matter how much they are glorified – in the end, in our list of favourite personalities, the dashing heroes always win the race. Thus, people like Hall, Sobers, Dexter or Fazal had always been the fan favourite – my father loved Dexter and it seemed, his linking, somehow, represented the choice of the people of Bangladesh in the pre-independence period.
The 60s were a time when conservativeness was the order of the day in cricket. Most of the teams used to play more cautiously that ultimately led to the dwindling of spectatorship. But, alongside the conservative-minded cricketers – a bunch of colourful cricketers arrived in the scene to kill boredom and charm the crowd across the cricketing world.
Back in those days, few cricketers had shown the audacity with the bat against genuine quick bowlers and in that pre-helmet era, one had to be brave enough to exhibit an absolute nonchalance. If you are soft, then, Hall, Charlie Griffith or Alan Davidson would devour you in no time. Caution was needed according to the demand of the situation, but when someone mixes poetry with audacity – cricket creates a separate platform for such characters – the platform of heroes who captures the fantasy of the fans.
Certainly, Dexter captured the fantasy of the fans in Dhaka and worldwide like no one else from England back in those days.
As John Moyes wrote, “Dexter’s power amazed everyone who had not had the joy of watching him in other innings in England and in Perth. He took chances – thank goodness for those who look on batting as a challenge! – but he made superb strokes, with his driving tremendous in power and placement. Sometimes, in fact, the placement didn’t matter so much because the power sent the ball through men recognized as outstanding fielders. Once such stroke, a cover-drive, was through Thomas’s legs just as he got his hands there. I felt glad that the ball went between his legs and that his hands were not behind it. Not even Jehu drove more furiously than Dexter, and a direct hit on the leg or hands might well have put this accomplished fieldsman out of action.”
The true nature of his batting could be witnessed during the West Indies tour in 1959-60, where he drove Hall and Griffith at will and with maximum power. He hit 132 not out in the First Test, 110 in the Fourth Test, made 526 runs (65.75), topping the England batting averages, and was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1961.
In the famous Fourth Test at Old Trafford, he played a spectacular innings of 76 in 84 minutes to take England to 106 runs from victory with 9 wickets in hand and the Ashes in sight, but his dismissal set off an England collapse and the series was lost.
With Trueman, Statham, Peter May and Colin Cowdrey declining to tour India and Pakistan in 1961–62 Dexter was chosen to lead the MCC team. With a weakened team, Dexter beat Pakistan 1–0 but lost to India 2–0, their first series victory over England.
He made 712 Test runs (71.20) on the tour, including his highest Test score of 205 at Karachi, and another 446 runs (89.20) when Pakistan toured England in 1962 and were beaten 4–0.
Peter May finally declared his retirement in 1962 and the selectors had to choose who would captain the English cricket team in Australia in 1962–63.
Dexter captained England in the First and Second Tests against Pakistan, winning two big victories, but Colin Cowdrey was put in charge for the Third Test.
Cowdrey had been May’s affable vice-captain, had a shrewd cricket brain and was seen as his natural successor, but had inherited his cautious tactics, which did not impress the English think tank.
Dexter was made the captain of England that toured Australia and New Zealand back in 1962-63.
He made 481 runs (48.10), the most runs by an England captain in Australia, and this remains a record.
He had a quiet home Test season against South Africa, but in the First Test at Edgbaston in the 1961 Ashes series England started their second innings needing 321 runs to avoid an innings defeat. Dexter made 180, the biggest century for England against Australia since the war and studded with 31 cracking boundaries, but typically he was stumped in the last minutes of the match trying to hit Bobby Simpson for six so he could make a double century.
In the tour match between the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and an Australian XI Dexter hit 102 in 110 minutes, including 2 sixes and 13 fours. John Woodcock of The Times wrote “I doubt if it is possible to hit a cricket ball any harder than Dexter did today. Melbourne is a huge ground and no one who hits a six here is likely to forget it. Against Veivers, an off-spinner, Dexter twice cleared the sightscreen, once by a good 20 yards.”
At the Adelaide Oval Dexter included “a six from a gigantic hit onto the roof of the stand – one of the biggest hits ever seen at the ground.”
He was the main draw in the England team and over a million spectators came to see the tourists, the most since 1936–37. The tour returned a record profit for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) of £24,000, beating the £17,000 of 1946–47.
Dexter continued his good run of form to equal Patsy Hendren’s England record of six consecutive Test 50s – 85 and 172 against Pakistan and 70, 99, 93 and 52 against Australia – which he soon shared with Ken Barrington and more recently Alastair Cook. His powerful innings enlivened the First and Second Tests and gave England a 1–0 lead in the series.
Ultimately Australia bounced back and drew the series which meant England would not leave the Australian shores with the urn.
The West Indies of Frank Worrell toured England in 1963 and it was a Caribbean unit at the height of their powers.
Dexter carried on facing the heat and treated Hall and Griffith like he did in 1959-6- – this time it was in a more cultured fashion. His 70 off 75 deliveries was one of the daring knocks at Lord’s in the second Test and those who watched that knock live, felt that a warrior with a brave heart was carrying the pride of the British Flag all his own.
In the second innings Colin Cowdrey came out to bat with a broken arm with victory, defeat or a tie still possible in the last two balls, but David Allen blocked them for a draw.
England levelled the series in the Third Test thanks to Dexter’s bowling – 4 for 38 and 1 for 7 and Trueman – 5 for 75 and 7 for 44 – but lost the last two Tests and the series.
In 1964 Dexter was again in charge in the rain-soaked 1964 Ashes series.
Famously in the decisive Third Test at Headingley, he removed the off-spinner Fred Titmus after he had taken three wickets to reduce Australia to 187 for 7, still 81 runs behind England.
Dexter took the new ball and gave it to Trueman who bowled a series of bouncers which Peter Burge hooked and pulled to 160, hoisting Australia to 389 and a 7 wicket win.
From a cricketing point of view, it was a logical move because the new batsman, Neil Hawke was no one special with the bat and Trueman was expected to run riot.
But, the decision boomeranged and Dexter was heavily criticized.
In the Fourth, Test Australia made 656 for 8, but thanks to a stand of 246 between Ken Barrington (256) and Dexter (174) England reached 611 and avoided defeat.
It was the first time that two teams had made 600 runs in an innings in a Test, and the draw meant that Australia regained the Ashes.
Dexter might have come under criticism several times, but he never stepped back from taking risks.
He was the first person who revolutionized limited-overs cricket with innovative field placing and risk-taking ideas.
As a captain, he had “more theories than Charles Darwin, “sometimes shifting fielders on a whim and was hailed as a genius if a wicket fell as a result. He was dictatorial on the field, rarely consulting with his bowlers about field placing and pulling them off by saying, “You’ve had enough now. Get down to third man.”
Dexter declared himself unavailable for the 1964–65 tour of South Africa as he contested Jim Callaghan’s Cardiff South East seat for the Conservative Party in the 1964 General Election.
Finding himself free to tour after his defeat he was made vice-captain to M.J.K. Smith, who won the series and continued as captain.
His cricket career was virtually ended by an accident in 1965. His Jaguar car ran out of petrol in west London, and he was pushing it to safety when it pinned him to a warehouse door, breaking his leg.
He left Sussex and played occasional Sunday games with the International Cavaliers, and made 104 when they defeated the 1966 West Indians by 7 wickets.
He returned briefly in 1968, making 203 not out in his comeback match against Kent, but failing in the 1968 Ashes series. He played Sunday League games for Sussex in 1971 and 1972.
Dexter retired from cricket to concentrate on other interests in 1968, remaining a journalist, becoming a broadcaster and founding a PR company.
In the late 1980s, he joined Bob Willis to find new fast bowlers for English cricket.
In 1987, Dexter had the idea of developing a ranking system for Test cricketers. He developed the system with statisticians Gordon Vince and Rob Eastaway, and it was launched as the Deloittes Ratings. The Ratings steadily gained credibility, and were formally adopted by the International Cricket Council in 2003, and have become the official ICC Player Rankings. In an article in The Cricketer magazine in 2005, Dexter was quoted as saying: “The rankings idea was my biggest contribution to cricket. Much better than being known for hitting a couple of extra-cover drives.”
What a man!
He always had that impact factor in cricket and I am sure he would have that impact in the heavens as well.