At Edgbaston in the First Test between Australia and England in 1961, the first there between the old enemies since 1909, the home side began their second innings 321 runs behind the visitors’ score. Pullar and Subba Row put on an opening partnership of 93 before the fall of Pullar brought Dexter to the wicket who was immediately dropped twice at second slip off Davidson in failing light.
The sun shone brightly on the Tuesday morning when Subba Row and Dexter resumed the England innings. There followed a glorious attacking innings by Dexter of 180 including thirty-one fours ably assisted by Subba Row (112) and later Ken Barrington 48 not out.
Dexter admits that generally, “If I’ve not felt myself I’ve always had a go — tried to take a reasonably calculated risk.” Is this what happened that day?
Dexter had a wonderful talent but it is often forgotten what a reformer, thinker, even worrier about his own game and technique he was, which may explain why he was also a restless experimenter.
Trevor Bailey recalls an Essex v Cambridge match*. ‘Dexter was in the thirties looking secure and impressive if not quite at the top of his game’. While they waited at the fall of a University wicket, Dexter admitted that ‘he was not entirely satisfied with his grip’ and that he was therefore ‘experimenting with a new one’.
Bailey was more than a little surprised that this young man, rather than experimenting with a new grip ( always a dangerous thing to do) in the nets, was choosing to do so against a full-on county attack.
The most famous of all Dexter counter-attacks came at Lord’s against the West Indians in 1963. Charlie Griffith had shot out the England openers, Stewart and Edrich (first ball). Dexter batting 3 was joined by Barrington at 20 for 2. Dexter proceeded to drive, hook and cut the bowling of Hall, Griffith and Sobers reaching his fifty in 48 minutes – and Hall and Griffith did not exactly rush back to the start of their run – and when out lbw to Sobers he had scored 70 in 72 balls with ten 4s. It was electric cricket, perhaps not seen again until the Sri Lankans brought their total counter-attacking cricket to the 1996 World Cup finals.
When the selectors had passed Dexter over for the 1960/61 tour of Australia, E.W. Swanton described them as “Blind fools, triple bandaged moles”.
Some years later, when batting at the Oval, Dexter’s Grey Nicholls bat split vertically in two to the consternation of spectators who thought it was his off-stump cart-wheeling towards the slips and to the even greater consternation of John Newbery, then the head batmaker at Grey Nicks. “We had begged him not to go on using that bat, but it was a favourite,” Newbery told Third Man in the Robertsbridge factory soon after the event.
By the end of his relatively short career, even a triple bandaged mole knew Dexter was one of the greats, though his own later selections might have betrayed a touch of myopia.
UPDATE: Mr Dexter, the restless experimenter is blogging here.
* Trevor Bailey, The Greatest of My Time.