Riding into the sunset perhaps happens only in the movies. And Ted Dexter’s passion forces the stiff British upper lip to yield a grin. Ask him about the man in the mirror and he might well say, “I just see cricket.
“It’s tough to split the willow game from Ted Dexter’s psyche. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) president is a sum of many parts with cricket being its denominator. Former England captain, top-notch batsman, useful medium pacer, ex-chairman of selectors, die-hard fan and a man who wrung his hands at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium while Nasser Hussain flung everything at Sachin’s feet. A ploy that drew the faultlines between strategy and spirit and made Dexter say, “I think I will go back to the hotel.” Perhaps straight-from-the-heart words stem out like the way he wielded the bat.
His blistering 70 at Lord’s introduced the word ‘ouch !’ to Wes Hall. “My philosophy towards batting is simple – reverse the tables. When I walk in, the bowler is the hunter. When he walks up to the bowling mark, I want him to feel like the hunted,” he says. Quality hinges on 4,502 Test runs averaging 47.89. And a history that mirrors a patient Old Trafford 173 against the most favoured enemy – Australia, coats a flashing blade with the odd dour hue. “That 173 was special. We had to save the match,” he whispers.
Spell ‘India’ and watch memory’s rainbows and the odd dark cloud tease his forehead that mulled over 66 summers. “I captained England for the first time when we toured here in 61-62. We lost two Tests. Unfortunately a lot of seniors like Cowdrey, Trueman, Statham didn’t come here. I can’t explain for that. But it was a tremendous education for the young players. Ken Barrington did exceedingly well. It was full house in all the Test matches and I made some wonderful friends in Chandu Borde, Nari Contractor and Polly Umrigar. We used to stay in Government and Corporate Guest Houses then,” he says.
A flicker of resentment smudges an ever-present smile when reminded of England’s 1993 tour where Graham Gooch shook hands with Father Time. Dexter, then England Cricket Board (ECB) selection committee chairman, had reportedly attributed India’s eight-wicket victory in the first Test at Kolkata to the vagaries of the “Calcutta smog’.
And lost in the fumes of pollution was Azhar’s 182 that pushed magic-realism into the realm of Eden Gardens. “It was quoted out of context. And the reporter who wrote that never attended my press conference!” Smog might have wafted into thin air while the MCC gifts bouquets to India, the latest being christening a suite at Lord’s after Dilip Vengsarkar. “We want to honour great players. Who knows, may be ten years down the line we might well have a Sachin Tendulkar box out there in Lord’s,” he says. Sometimes home truths surface while tucking into a bowl of corn- flakes. Dexter chewed on his breakfast and nearly said “Good Morning England” while thoughts dived into the Thames. “We have won a few series abroad and I’m happy with the way our team has evolved. Yes we lost to Australia but once Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne leave, you could well hear a different story.
Ted Dexter with his family. – THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Look there is always an urge to say that past teams were great but that’s a myth. Saw what happened to us in 1961-62 ? We lost the series here. Now we have Darren Gough. He is a character, warm smiles, et al… he is there in the current list of top ten bowlers. That’s great,” he says in a ‘English-cricket-sees-light-and-tunnels-don’t-exist’ tone. But speed-breakers are never in short supply while he discusses the English system. “To be honest, we need a regional set up in cricket. Right now we have around 18 Counties and nearly 27 minor Counties playing in the circuit. The increase in numbers does affect quality but that’s the way its played and I guess that’s the way it will be played for a long time.”
Talk Ashes and you could see tradition and past souls tango in a voice that trails reverence. “Ashes is always significant. A match between England and Australia is special. May be they have had the edge recently but they have two world-class bowlers; McGrath and Shane Warne; and a set of terrific batters. Ponting’s pull is special, then you have the Waugh brothers and Adam Gilchrist is special. But I’m sure things will change,” he says. Dexter shifts his gaze towards Nasser Hussain’s men. “They have done exceedingly well. Flintoff has improved tremendously, perhaps Mr Rod Marsh kept a bomb under him at the Australian Academy. Gough should have come, it’s a shame. The tactics against a great batsman – Sachin – did not leave me entirely happy. I guess the umpires could have done something but they are out in the middle, I am hundred yards away,” he says while the rule book stumbles out of his (MCC) president’s garb. “I am in Bangalore as the MCC president. You might be aware that the MCC guides cricketing rules and we are busy preparing ‘the spirit of the game’ clause as the guiding preamble of cricket.
“Ninety-nine per cent of times, the game flows in the right spirit, sometimes it errs like the other day here when there were a few words spoken. I was interested in it and made enquiries with match referee Denis Lindsay. It was good that it got sorted out,” he says. Every script has that grey zone which tugs at self-pity. However Dexter sidles past his chairman of selectors tenure (1989-1993) with remarkable grace despite seeing England courting despair with 21 losses and rare smiles topping nine victories. “The high was our early wins against Australia and the lows were losing against the Windies, India here in 93. In fact in the 1992 World Cup we were the best team, unfortunately we ran into an inspired Pakistan in the final,” he says.
Obstinacy surfaces while dealing with David Gower’s muted swansong. “He had a shoulder injury and was cramped in his strokes, he was past his prime. And we had to leave him out. It’s sad but it happens to most great cricketers because they don’t retire. Even when we had Gower and Botham we didn’t win all matches, did we ?,” he says in a cut and dry voice. ‘Old is Gold’ could well define the refrain of a few former cricketers.
“Every era produces champion cricketers. A decade back perhaps you guys would have asked, ‘after Sunil (Gavaskar), who ?’ and then came Sachin. I love the way he bats. I missed Laxman’s 281. When I see him, I see talent and I also see that he is not as safe as Sachin. Tends to play away from the body. But he has talent, you could see that,” he says. Muralitharan, Lara and Shane Warne also trigger his ‘switch-TV- get-me-the-remote’ command. The bustle of time blushing in a drizzle outside helps reality scythe past. Dexter looks at his watch, shuffles out. He walks towards his room. Not to rest but to hurriedly get ready for the third Test’s fourth day’s play at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. “Cricket taught me character. It’s life. Helps us handle ups and downs.”
His last words trap eternity.
This interview was first published in The Sportstar on January 12, 2002.