Cricket, it's not all fun... So says former Former England Cricket Captain Ted Dexter, recently settled in Nice. He talked to Patrick Middleton.
"English to the core" is the kind of thing you might well say of Edward Ralph Dexter, both in respect of his appearance and manner, but, rather surprisingly, he was born in Milan. "My father was in business there in the nineteen thirties. We had to leave when the war came but we returned in 1945 and my parents remained there for some years while I travelled up to school in England every term.
Actually, there was some cricket locally and I seem to remember that my older brother John was a founder member of the Milan Cricket Club which still exists. He got me interested." When did he realise that he was unusually good at the game? "Well, they seemed to see something in me at Radley where I went to school and I was soon in the first team. Funnily enough, when I went up to Cambridge - that was after the army in Malaya - I'd decided not to play but my father and brother said I should and so I did. I played for the university against Yorkshire, Lancashire and Surrey and that meant confronting some of the top cricketers of the day. There was no room for false modesty. I knew I was very good indeed and after Cambridge I went to play for Sussex."
"A kind of guru"
There followed an outstanding career. Dexter captained Sussex, played for England, became captain of the national side and was soon recognised as one of the greatest cricketers of his time. "I played against every test country, both at home and away, scored centuries in every country and had some great moments." Although he doesn't agree, I found, cricket historians seem to be at one in recognising his most notable achievement the 71 for 76 balls he scored against West Indies bowler Wes Hall in 1963. "That's what they always say, I know. But there are other times I recall with pride and pleasure, notably during the Australian tour of 1963-64." At 33 he decided to step down from the first class game. "I was an amateur, don't forget, and I had to make a living, and to be frank playing cricket isn't all fun.
Facing a vicious fast bowler or spending a couple of hours in the outfield under a blazing sun aren't altogether comfortable experiences. Of course, I had moments of great satisfaction but they were the highlights." So he hasn't played much for pleasure since retirement? "Hardly at all. I put everything I had into the game when I was playing for my country and my county but I've never been attracted by the village green scene, if you like."
That doesn't mean though that Dexter cut his ties with the game. "Absolutely not. I've been involved in all sorts of things over the past thirty years ago and a lot of them have concerned cricket, though not only. I've been in journalism and sports marketing and I've done quite a lot of pioneer work on computer applications - for graphics for TV commentaries and for calculating rankings." A spell as Chairman of Selectors in the early nineties was rather controversial. "It's a tough job," he admitted, "but not all the criticism I got was fair. Decisions were taken by the committee, not just by me."
He's also long been considered as a kind of guru within the cricketing world who has reflected creatively on his own experience. "Well, I do follow the game closely and I've got clear opinions." So what advice would he give to England's newish captain Michael Vaughan? "Make it clear that he's the man in charge. Then identify, encourage and exploit the individuality of his men. Cricket's not a team game in the same sense that football is. A captain's job is to get the best out of each member of the team and grow his specific talents."
"Getting rid of Archer"
For eight years until 2002 Dexter was closely involved with administration at the MCC, culminating in the presidency. "That was very hard work but immensely satisfying." He chaired the meeting which decided to expel Jeffrey Archer, a move which I thought was rather harsh. "Not really. A lot of thought and discussion went into that and we just didn't see an alternative. Getting rid of Archer was in the best interests of the MCC and that's what counted most." He was also involved in the bitter wrangling over the admission of women to the Club. "I'm absolutely in favour. I'd like to welcome women to Lords on equal terms and I'm a supporter of the women's game." This, I realised, was typical Dexter in whom I recognised the best kind of small-c conservative (we didn't get around to politics). He has principles but keeps an open mind on the issues. When I brought up the case of Shane Warne, the brilliant Australian player who recently completed a year's suspension after failing a drugs test, he was sympathetic. "He got himself into a mess by playing about with a diuretic of some kind and that was silly but he's done his time and he's cleaned up his act. I met him not long ago and he impressed me. He's an outstanding cricketer and I wish him luck."
"We've done well to come here"
And why, finally, retirement to Nice? "Couldn't face another English winter. I wanted somewhere I could play golf at any time and not need to wear an overcoat very often. It's also an easy place to get in and out of by air. And there's another more personal reason. I've still got family around Milan and that's just a three hours' drive away. Anyway, we've settled in the middle of town - just up the road from police headquarters which could be useful - and Susan and I have decided we've done well to come here."