The England and Sussex captain had aura, flair, majestic batting, and impossible glamour – and that was just on the field
“There is about Dexter, when he chooses to face fast bowling with determination, a sort of air of command that lifts him above ordinary players. He seems to find time to play the fastest bowling and still retain dignity, something near majesty, as he does it.”
– John Arlott
The West Indians of the day – Conrad Hunte, Garry Sobers, Wes Hall – thought that innings the best played against them by anybody, though Dexter himself would modestly say it was just one of those days where everything came together and the bat swung freely in just about the right arc. He was well miffed to be given out lbw, however, insisting later that the DRS would have saved him. Who knows how many careers might have been changed by the sliding doors of the DRS.
The word majesty sits well with Dexter’s batting, primarily because of the way in which he attacked through the off side off his back foot. This is a stroke so difficult to master that more prosaic batters choose to ignore it. It is no great surprise that Dexter thought Gordon Greenidge and Martin Crowe the two most technically correct right-hand players that he saw, citing their ability to stay sideways-on and to play the ball alongside their body as the prime reason for the accolade.
“Ted was a man of moods, often caught up in theories, keen when the action was hot, seemingly uninterested when the game was dull… a big-time player, one who responded to atmosphere, liked action and enjoyed the chase and gamble. Maybe this was the reason he was drawn to horse racing so that a dull day stalking the covers might be enlivened for him by thoughts of how his money was faring on the 3:15 at Ascot or Goodwood.”
– John Snow
And Snow would know for he was not the type to rise above those grey days of county cricket when the stakes were so low. Snow and Dexter, my first heroes, along with Jimmy Greaves and George Best, Muhammad Ali, the Beatles and the Stones – all of them important figures at 29 Queensdale Road, where the young Nicholas grew up with vinyl records and cared-for willow, narrow-grained and well-oiled for the garden Test matches that England forever won.
Much of the 1960s were about rebellion, revolution even, in response to the age of austerity. After the long and mainly drab post-war years, the young simply broke free and changed pretty much anything they could get their hands on. Music and fashion led the way, leaving sport’s establishment to stutter in their wake. Only a few precious players could transcend the inertia, using both their talent and expression to delight the crowds and influence the young. Cricket was my thing, Dexter and Snow were the wind beneath my wings.
In Snow there truly was rebellion, against authority and the system it supported. This was not so in Dexter’s case, though his free spirit and somewhat cavalier approach to responsibility gave the impression of one determined to ruffle feathers. From the outset he adored sport, worked harder than some might think at his books, and embraced diversions with the enthusiasm of a man who had more to do than could ever be done.
In many ways Ted was a contradiction: at once a conformist, as shaped by the early years of his life at home and school, and a modernist, whose lateral thinking did much to reform the structure of English cricket during his time as chairman of selectors. Richie Benaud observed that Ted’s imagination and drive “will be of great benefit to English cricket in years to come. Equally, I’m in no doubt that others will take the credit for it.” The rebellion in Ted was hardly radicalised but he loved to challenge conservative thinking, to take risks and to invest in his life as an adventure. Both on and off the field, this made for a terrific watch.
On a Zoom call a couple of months back, with tongue firmly in cheek, he said, “Having a rather high opinion of myself, I can safely say that had the rankings been in place sometime around the mid part of the 1963 summer, I would have been the No. 1-rated batsman in the world.” We had special guests on these calls – Mike Atherton, Michael Vaughan, Ed Smith, Robin Marlar, Sir Tim Rice and more – all keen to share a drink, chew the cud and have a laugh with the game’s most original and forward-thinking mind.
We cannot jump past golf without mentioning the game at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney when Ted partnered Norman Von Nida against Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. So enamoured of Ted’s golf were they that Nicklaus suggested Ted follow him back to the USA for a crack at the tour. Player has long said that Ted was the best amateur ball-striker he ever saw and Von Nida just thanked him for securing the one-up triumph that day. Eighteen months ago Player told me that in their one head to head with each other, Ted beat him up the last at Sunningdale, receiving only four shots. “Little so-and-so,” said Ted, “we played level!” They were due for a game last summer but Covid stood firmly between them. The last time I played with Ted, two summers ago now, he beat his age, shooting 83 round the Old Course at Sunningdale without breaking a sweat.
This was a man of Jaguar cars, Norton motorbikes, greyhounds, race horses and an Aztec light airplane that, in 1970, he piloted to Australia with his young family beside him, to cover the Ashes as a journalist. They flew 12,000 miles and made about two dozen stops at British military bases along the way.
Ted married the very beautiful Susan soon after returning from Australia and New Zealand in the spring of 1959. How she is hurting today. So too Genevieve, Tom and the grandchildren.
It was in my last term at Radley College when I had a hard game of rackets in the morning, scored 3 tries with two conversions for the 1st XV in the afternoon, was heard listening to operatic voices in the early evening, before repairing to the Grand Piano in the Mansion and knocking off a couple of Chopin preludes. “Quite the Renaissance man it seems” said my Social Tutor and I admit I liked the sound of it, if not quite knowing what it meant.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica description of Renaissance man (or polymath) is as follows: one who seeks to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development and social accomplishment and in the arts. A point is made that you do not need to excel at any one activity. It is enough to tackle it seriously and see how far you get. I like the physical development bit obviously and I feel the social accomplishment bit is covered by my willingness to take on responsibilities all my life. Perhaps the arts bit is a bit shaky but a love for music, and particularly opera, and love of language – being fairly fluent in French, Italian, rudimentary German and Spanish – may be some modest qualifications.”
Some different cat, huh. What a man. What a cricketer. Goodbye Ted, and thank you.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, is a TV and radio presenter and commentator