Episode 32: The thrill returns of Ted Dexter at the crease

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

In the pomp of his playing days, Ted Dexter filled cricket grounds with spectators. The former Sussex and England captain returns to the crease as the latest guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their regular cricket-themed podcast. This also includes an appeal from Mike Atherton for the MCC Foundation. For the week from 1 December donations will be doubled in value, and will help to give cricketing experience and access to coaching for disadvantaged boys and girls. See donate.thebiggive.org.uk Ted has generously donated to the Foundation the royalties from his autobiography 85 Not Out recently published by Quiller.


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Ted recalls one of his most electrifying innings, 70 in the Lord’s Test against the 1963 West Indians, which ended with all four results possible on the last ball, Colin Cowdrey with a broken arm at the non-striker’s end. (He pays tribute to the cool David Allen, who actually received the bowling of Wes Hall.) He was given lbw to Sobers, bowling left-arm over: “with DRS I would have reviewed it.”

Modestly (and wrongly) he denies that he had an aura as a player, but he always set out to the batting crease as if he meant business. Of modern players, he thinks that Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes and Steve Smith inspire awe in their opponents. Bradman in retirement had huge authority, and once silenced him in a memorable encounter.

So far the only Test cricketer to have been born in Milan, Ted speaks of his early life in Italy and then following his father on war service to distant parts of the UK. He pays warm tribute to his father’s support in his career, not least his response to a lordly President of the MCC who had criticized him as captain of the 1962-63 tour of Australia. The peer was a cactus aficionado, and Mr Dexter senior made a graphic suggestion of where his lordship might place a cactus. He discusses his relationship with the Duke of Norfolk, the unexpected manager of that tour. The Duke had once given him tickets to Ascot, and he tells how he hurried to complete victory on the fourth day of a Test against Pakistan so that he could use them on the fifth. He reveals how he himself acquired his unwanted nickname of Lord Ted as a  schoolboy at Radley (a story worthy of P G Wodehouse’s hero Psmith.)

He looks back at his cricket career at Cambridge University (which owed much to his father and older brother) and as an amateur at  Sussex. In his first year in the side, he sent a belated telegram pulling out of a Championship match to pursue a romance in Denmark – a story from a lost world of cricket. That romance came to naught but not long after he courted (to the background of Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging  Lovers) the beautiful model who became his wife of over sixty years. He and she became the most glamorous figures in world cricket and he speaks revealingly about the condition of professional sportsmen’s lives in the new cultural and social era of the Sixties.

As captain of Sussex (despite the romantic AWOL incident), he tells how he won them their first silverware (the initial two Gillette Cups) through his understanding of containment by accurate seam bowling. Although blamed for the long exile of spin bowlers from one-day cricket, he rejoices in the present paramountcy of leg-spinners in T20. He pays a warm tribute to his Sussex partner Jim Parks, a natural athlete. He is proud of his influence (with the aid of chairs) over John Snow’s development as a world-class bowler.

He speaks of his troubled entry into Test cricket  as an emergency replacement  on the losing Australia tour of 1958-59. An insight from another replacement, John Mortimore (primarily a bowler) led to a big redeeming hundred in New Zealand. That Australian tour was marked by no-balling pace bowlers: he discusses the present prevalence of no-balling among spinners.

He gives a robust defence of his record as a selector, especially the non-inclusion of David Gower for the India tour of 1992-93, and of the remarks he made on that losing tour which were mocked in the media. On one issue, the impact of low air quality on players, he thinks himself way ahead of his time. Reviewing his varied initiatives as an administrator, he is most proud of his work with Colin Cowdrey to enshrine the principles of the Spirit of Cricket as a preamble to the Laws.

Peter Oborne & Richard Heller

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.

Listen to more episodes of Oborne & Heller

See also: Episode 30: John Cleese shares his lifelong love of cricket

See also: Episode 31: South African cricket and the poisoned legacy of apartheid

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