Skip to content

Timing is everything (2002)

Dexter copy for the Cricketer magazine.

Mixing with the present generation of Test cricketers can be slightly unnerving for older players, mainly because theyounger men are almost all two or three inches taller than they look on the TV. Not Michael Atherton, who is our sort of size and approachable at normal eye level. Our stalwart opening batsman is also more at ease than some of his contemporaries when discussing the game and life in general. That is what comes with experience, being sure of who you are and what your responsibilities are.

The occasion in question was a farewell and God speed lunch to the touring team on the day of their departure to South Africa. The England Cricket Club, membership automatic to anyone who has played for his country, was invited by the England Cricket Board to provide a novel send-off - and a good turn-out by both sides ensured a happy occasion. Or so it seemed to me and a few direct contemporaries including Peter Richardson, Raman Subba Row and Alan Smith.

But I wonder how it felt for the first time tourists. It was certainly a gentle enough introduction to the social side of the game which tends to be more formal overseas.
The speaking was kept to a minimum with Lord Maclaurin as the genial host and Sir Alec Bedser finding just the right light touch in reply. There will certainly be times when patiences are more thoroughly tested by the proverbial local politician who cares more for the sound of his own voice than the sensibilities of his audience.

I had the pleasure to sit next to Yorkshire's Michael Vaughan and the conversation got off to a bright start. Yes, he toured India with the under-19 side. Yes, he opened the innings at Delhi and made runs. Yes, I had been there as Chairman of the England Committee to watch him play. So far so good. My gaffe came when I wondered whether he was a fully capped Yorkshire team member. The answer was that he was capped in 1995!

But despite having to wait four years in the county game for his first chance to play International cricket, I got the feeling that he was quietly confident and self-assured. He told me that he had played successfully in all the England junior age groups, which obviously gave him no God given right to the next step up but at least meant that the final selection came as no great surprise.

It made me think of the whole business of getting the timing right when first putting a player into the International arena. There is the celebrated case of Graham Hick who finished his lengthy qualifying period just in time to catch a home series against the West Indians with Marshall and Ambrose firing on all cylinders. It is arguable that he would have had a more productive career if he had encountered easier opposition
at the beginning.

Which leads me on to the selection of Chris Adams at the age of 29 with anything but a solid background of run scoring to give him that essential belief in himself if the time comes and he is able to force his way into the team. For the past two years his name does not appear in the list of “leading current players” which means that he is out of the top 36 headed incidentally by Graham Hick!

Adams had a highly successful season leading Sussex brilliantly in the CGU Division Two and often bringing home the bacon with his bat. But he again missed out in the leading batsmen list in the PPP Championship and failed to reach the acceptable level for a top class player of 1000 runs in the season.

I am not making these rather damning points to suggest he is not a good striker of a cricket ball or that he will necessarily fail if and when a good opportunity comes along but I do think that he will have a number of psychological obstacles to jump as he walks out to bat which will be of no concern whatsoever to the younger players. They carry very little baggage with them. Mostly unmarried and fancy free, they see the world as full of opportunity, whereas the older players trying to get a foothold tend to see a lot more of the pitfalls.

It is not long since another leading Sussex player, Alan Wells was asked to make his Test debut at the Oval in 1995 against the West Indians at the age of 33. I remember with a wince the apparent state of nervousness which produced an awful prod at his first short ball, caught at forward short-leg for a duck. 3 not out in the second innings in a drawn game was not enough to draw his name to the selectors notice again.

I remember when I was brought out of semi-retirement back into the England side in 1968 that I felt decidedly different walking out to bat without much personal conviction and this state of mind was pretty well reflected in the way I played. At the time I had a decent record behind me so it cannot be much fun when even that comfort is missing from the mental equation.

Of course there have been successful come-backs such as Cyril Washbrook against the Australians and indeed David Sheppard on the 62-63 Tour. His only hang-up was his usually safe hands mysteriously developed a severe case of butter-fingers.

There was a recent newspaper photograph of the new team manager (name?) with the young players forming the future of England cricket. Sadly Chris Adams was not included. That does not stop me wishing him all the luck in the world, even though the selectors have set him a mighty formidable task.

ECB Coaching Manual Under Critical Analysis (2001)

Ted Dexter copy for the Cricketer Magazine
Deadline July 7th

I was cordially, if somewhat warily received, when my delayed meeting with the E.C.B. technical staff finally took place, not at Lord's as I expected but in a back office buried in the stands at Edgbaston.

What were they to make of a sixty-five year old blast from the past taking issue with what turned out to be carefully researched pieces of cricket coaching in their official manual? Should they treat him as a well intentioned old buffer who still believed that all our yesterdays were golden or listen seriously to what he had to say.

I was delighted to find that Hugh Morris, Technical Director, and Gordon Lord , Coach Education Manager were perfectly open minded and gave me a good hearing. That is not to say that I persuaded them to change their minds all that much. But they were kind enough to call it a fascinating discussion and to agree that we all held the same aim which was to ensure that “ all support to coaches should be of the highest quality.”

In fact, thinking back, it was I who was the more intemperate particularly over the explanation given for the “eyes level” requirement in the batting stance. I felt I was being blinded with science when the language reached the level of vertical and horizontal receptors. When I talked about “sideways” play, they started talking about biomechanical advantage and at one stage I regret to say that I called their approach a load of balls.

On this subject we basically agreed to differ. I cited the case of the squash player picking up shots in the back corners of the court. How ludicrous it would be to tell him that he had to have his eyes level before he could assess where the ball was going to be. For their part they pointed out that we were talking about cricket, not squash, and were able to quote from an optometrist report. “Balance is effected if the head and eyes are not level. Look at tight-rope walkers and dancers.” Now who was going off at a tangent?!

I return to my central point. Relaxation in the batting stance is essential. This is best achieved by standing with the left shoulder pointing to mid-on and the head turned to the bowler only so far as is comfortable. The left shoulder is then brought into the sideways position as part of the backlift and held there through all the straight bat shots.

This will usually mean that the head and eyes are tilted up to 25 degrees and I believe that attempts to keep the “eyes level” are a major factor in so many modern batsmen playing open-chested, toes pointing up the pitch as in French Cricket. Of course they can get runs. Anyone who wields a cudgel 4 ΒΌ inches wide against a ball of 9 inches circumference should be able to make contact from time to time. But are they as effective as they could be? That is the point.

On the subject of the right elbow position in the backlift, I am prepared to give a little ground when faced with the following .
“ Biomechanical analysis of players, including Greenidge, Tendulkar, Crowe and Richards shows how the unit created by the shoulder, arms, hands and bat retain a figure 9 shape, the plane of which adjusts according to the intended direction of stroke.” So be it. For my part, as long as they get the tip of the bat pointing to the sky with the face pointing to cover rather than at the ground ( see Lara, Gower, Botham ) they can do it any way they like.

Hardest to come to grips with was head position at release point when bowling. Here I maybe gained a point when Gordon Lord writes “there are examples of world class bowlers who clear a path for the bowling shoulder and arm by dropping the head away to the off-side. (see Curtley Ambrose and Darren Gough)
…… by achieving this position I accept that performance in terms of pace or rotation may well be enhanced. Well, now then, isn’t that what I have been saying all along?

Finally I made my point about the hand position for the high catch and the sheer impossibility of making a finger pouch for the ball if the catch is attempted at “eye level”. Here the technicians were prepared to go back to the drawing board but the matter failed to get a mention in the two-page follow-up letter to our meeting.

However there was an oft repeated slow motion sequence of Ricardo Powell being caught off a skier on the boundary at Bristol in the first match of the Triangular Series and it was comforting to see that the catch was made at chest height with the fingers parallel to the ground rather than facing skywards.

There may be a sense that you have to see your hands in front of your face by way of good preparation but that is nonsense. Nobody misses their mouth with a forkful of food. We know where our hands are without having to check before making a catch.

Finally a subject which really gets my goat i.e. when bowlers in the media start pontificating about batting. Simon Hughes is my current bete-noir with his simplistic notion that too much coaching stifles ability.

He cites Aravinda De Silva's precocious ability to whip straight balls through the on-side as evidence. What he seems to miss is that without perfect head and body positions such a move would be doomed to failure. Any coach who knew the most simple basics would recognise such perfection and leave well alone.

All balls!! (2000)

Ted Dexter Copy for the Cricketer Magasine
Monday 4th September 2000

I like listening to Angus Fraser on the radio. He is an agreeable man with a dry wit and his attitude to the game seems to have preserved a freshness which long service in county cricket sometimes dulls.

It was intriguing to hear him debating the cricket ball issue, especially the notion that all Test cricket should be played with a standard product. Apparently David Lloyd had suggested the machine stitched Kookaburra as the answer with less prominent stitching. This could mean more emphasis on swinging the new ball and a need for spinners if the “old” ball was no help to the “seamers”.

Angus felt that since batsmen were free to take their pick of the world's best bats, bowlers should have the same opportunity to pick the ball they like best. It is entirely logical and I tend to agree. Where he slipped up was saying that bat technology had progressed while the ball was still the same. Wrong!

Cricket balls are definitely not the same. The main difference is that the core of the ball has changed significantly, from strips of cork bound in layer by layer with twine, to a composite lump of cork and latex which constitutes two thirds or more of the overall sphere. The change was made largely in the cause of uniformity from the administrators point of view and was embraced by manufacturers because the process was less labour intensive.

I heard umpires Shepherd and Harper saying that the balls had lasted well in the recent Test series – not surprising when some of the innings have been rather short – but one reason must be that the core of the modern ball remains unchanged for the whole 80 overs, before a new one becomes due. It is self evident that the ball therefore remains harder for longer and gives the faster bowlers a lot more chance of success with the old ball. More broken fingers is another result.

It may even be that the “discovery” of reverse swing was due to this basic change.The cork and twine ball became too soft for the quick men to bother after 30 overs, so the opportunity to experiment with rough sides, smooth sides, wet sides and dry sides and different seam positions barely came along.

Going back to the bowlers’ free choice argument, they are lucky that the authorities have the need to maintain competition between manufacturers to keep the price down. They stipulate as closely as they can what the ball should be like and then test them to ensure that they conform to a standard. But there will always be variations and bowlers will always find the one that feels smallest in the hand and gives the most chance of swing and seam.

All that is fine until five day matches are reduced to two with thousands of dissappointed spectators. Repayment of hundreds of thousands of pounds for unused tickets is something the game can ill afford so it would be simply bad business not to look hard at the ball and the pitches to ensure as far as possible the right balance between bat and ball.

It is just as well that the Oval Test lasted into the fifth day and it was a delight that the West Indians included the leg-spinner Nagamootoo. Without him they would have hardly fared as well as they did because he broke up the key Engand partnerships in both innings, Trescothick in the first and Stewart in the second. Such a long, thrilling match will at least keep the arguments for change of ball or different pitch construction in perspective.

The series overall confirmed some of the eternal truths of Test cricket. That the outcome is usually determined by the best bowling attack and at long last England were able to put three experienced men together, Gough, Caddick and Cork with three hundred or so Test wickets between them. Often enough in recent years we have gone in with raw talent alone and you only have to see what happened to the promising Reon King to know that is not enough. When Craig White suddenly joined the party with a vengeance, there was no doubt where the advantage lay. Obviously Walsh and Ambrose would have been first pick for either side from the start but the support bowling was not enough to sustain the pressure they created.

It was definitely not a series for fancy stroke making, Lara excepted, with major contributions made by Atherton and Vaughan for England, Adams and Sarwan for West Indies, all of them prepared to defend correctly and wait for the scoring opportunities. It was gritty stuff for most of the time but never dull, all culminating in the full house thiller on the fifth day at the Oval.

A final word for Simon Hughes who made a spirited response to my comments two months ago about bowlers and their views on batting techniques.Simon's gentle barb in my direction was that he took time to accept my view of his bowling “because I was a batsman”.

Sorry to do this to you Simon, but the 1969 Playfair career records section tells me that Dexter.E.R took 419 first class wickets at an average of 29.9 – 5 wickets 9 times, 10 wickets twice.

The 1994 edition reveals that Hughes.S.P took 466 wickets at 32.48 – 5 wickets 10 times and 50 wickets in a season twice. I went back to 1969 to check my own season by season tallies to find that the criteria for a mention in the final column used to be 100 wickets, not 50. I did not get a mention.

New Year Resolutions (2001)

opy for Cricketer Magazine from Ted Dexter

New Year's day at Sunningdale Golf Club resounded to the hum of good resolutions. No drink for a month ( with occasional lapses allowed ) was a popular choice. Then there was my own determination to keep the head steadier and more behind the ball in the downswing.

Top of the bill was the ageing scratch player who ordered his usual large tot before a twinge of guilt made him switch to mineral water. Only the night before he had embarked on the most stringent of remedies for recent poor form which involved a stone of weight loss, a two month course of lessons in the art of Seniors golf and a commitment to intensive physiotherapy for a stiff neck. In the cold light of day the immediate future looked a trifle bleak!

I found myself wondering whether cricketers are prone to the same kind of good intentions at this time of year. And, if so, what general lines of self-improvement would be the most useful. Obviously there is the whole fitness issue which is mighty important whatever the level of play, but setting yourself more technical goals is no simple matter.

I suppose it would be possible for a batsman to learn a particular stroke like an on-drive if that shot is not in an existing repertoire. Or a course in letting the ball go outside the off-stump would be a good exercise for anyone. The trouble is that serious work on such skills almost certainly needs a bowling machine for some of the time and a couple of competent bowlers to provide variety thereafter. Not everyone has access to such facilities.

Perhaps the first resolution should be to genuinely earmark rather more time for practice than normal during the rest of the winter, stepping it up a gear once the Spring comes round. When the summer is in full swing, then only the most dedicated have the drive and inclination to add practice time to what may be an already arduous day's play. At the highest level, it was Geoffrey Boycott above anyone else I can think of, who regularly found the extra hour or two in every day to bat against all-comers in the nets whether it was early in the morning or late into the evening.

By comparison the golfer has a far easier task. As a much more repetitive game with a still ball to boot, it is merely a question of defining your problems and then working hard to eliminate them. Hitting hundreds of balls is almost essential to reach a high standard even if the amazing Colin Montgomerie is a current exception.

Because of the cricketers difficulties in defining specific problems plus often inadequate practice facilities, I am going to suggest a couple of more general points to consider where some hard concentration in an armchair may be worth many actual hours of hands on activity.

We all know that the best batsmen appear to have more time to play the ball and that the best bowlers have plenty of rhythm, but when did you last hear of cricketers working exclusively on those two key factors. Brian Statham worked at nothing other than his rhythm, for a short time before each day's play and then again the moment he had the new ball in his hand.

When lucky enough to be captaining this wonderful bowler, he would give me bulletins on whether it was feeling right or not quite right or whatever. Unlike some who would be fretting about lack of swing or spin or bounce, all results of their efforts rather than the root cause. It may be that a few home sessions with eyes shut imagining your best bowling action in perfect rhythm would prove more productive than repetitive slogging in the indoor nets.

To find extra time as a batsman may be a little harder, but time spent in studying the problem objectively will not go amiss. It is mostly a matter of believing that there is extra time available and being prepared to take a leap of faith when the actual equations of feet per second and hundredths of seconds tend to disprove any such notion.

One of the most commonly asked questions by young batsmen is how on earth it is possible to play the fastest bowlers when at 90 miles per hour there is only a quarter of a second to actually play the stroke after an even shorter slice of reaction time. It seems impossible until you put it another way. If you say that you have 35 hundredths of a second to play the ball it seems just that bit longer.

There are two essentials in finding extra time. One is to wait for the ball to come to you rather than rushing around trying to get to it. And the other is to have a pre-determined reaction to the kind of ball you most expect. Some of the greatest players may have played each individual ball strictly on merit but for the rest of us, a certain amount of pre-planning is essential.
So shut your eyes and imagine the ball leaving the bowler's hand while you, the batsman, are still simply relaxed and ready. Take that leap of faith which is to believe in your natural reactions and that there will be time enough for them to put you in good position to play the ball when it arrives. If Gary Sobers can stand stock still against Dennis Lillee until the ball is nearly half way down the pitch, then it must be possible for most of us to play the majority of bowlers with time to spare.

Changing tactics (1999)

Ted Dexter Copy for the Cricketer Magazine June Issue

Development of techniques for limited overs cricket has been going on steadily ever since the first major matches were played under the banner of “The Knock-Out Cup” (sponsored by Gillette) in 1963.

They were 65 0ver matches and the modern player will wonder how on earth there were enough hours in the day to reach a finish. There was ,of course, the famous televised match at Old Trafford in the sixties which went on into the late evening with Jim Laker telling us what was happening in the dark, but that was an exception. Mostly we completed in normal working hours.

The difference is that it is now a ball by ball game rather than over by over. A Captain is not thought to be worth his salt unless he intervenes regularly to reset the field, and if that means walking with due ceremony from slip to the end of the bowler's run-up, then so be it. If a batsman has the temerity to hit a four or six early in an over then it is obligatory to bring the game to a grinding halt while everyone regains their composure.

There were no fielding restrictions except the limitation of two behind square on the leg side but it was not long before circles were drawn and the first 15 over rule came into being. From these artificial impositions came the age of the “ pinch-hitter” with strict instructions to hit the new ball in the air into the open spaces.

But I have moved on too quickly. Individually there was experimentation from both bowlers and batsmen with the one trying to respond to each new move by the other.
“Giving yourself room” by stepping to leg was nothing new, already a feature of run chases in three day championship cricket but the advent of the blockhole ball and the importance of regular changes of pace came along more gradually. Meanwhile the essential agility in ground fielding was leading to longer training sessions and much practice in throwing direct at the stumps.

It was clear enough in the early days that the ball should be pitched up and straight and there is a case for this simple formula to this very day. However, the advent of heavier bats meant that thick inside edges went for twos and threes and pushed the bowling line more to the off-side - hence the sweeper fieldsman on the cover boundary employed by most teams nowadays.

Statistical analysis was perhaps a little slow to get going but it showed soon enough that quality bowling was nothing like the panacea it assumes in Test cricket. With restricted overs it is a fact that wickets are spread pretty evenly amongst the great and the fairly ordinary. Even more surprising is the fairly small differential between the runs per over conceded. The faster bowlers tend to be edged for four on an unlucky day with the slower men containing well for some, but not all of the time.

It was the winning Sri Lankan side that rather confirmed what the figures were suggesting i.e. that the ideal one-day side is made up of eleven batsmen who can all field like Jonti Rhodes and just do the best they can with the ball. Ideally this type of side prefers to bat second and backs itself to get the runs, however large the target.

The latest innovation which only appeared this winter is for the best fast bowlers to mount a full scale attack on the opening batsmen showing scant regard for the more restrictive playing condition regarding short pitched bowling. This tactic is only part of improved awareness of Captaincy which sometimes demands real aggression and quick thinking as opposed to the bad habits of some who kept defensive formulae to the finish, even when defeat was staring them in the face. Shane Warne was seen in a very good light in this respect during the games he captained when Steve Waugh was out of action.

It would be wrong not to mention the reverse sweep, given a rather permanent bad name by the infamous attempt by Mike Gatting in the final against Australia in India.
Less in evidence these days, it remains a powerful weapon in the right hands and it is probably only a matter of time before we see the first of a generation of switch-hitters, equally capable left and right handed. I believe they exist in baseball and there is no doubt that they would have value against the fair number of leg-spinners who are succeeding in tying down the lesser right-handers. How the umpires will deal with switching guard from one over to the next and even from one ball to the next remains to be seen.

Talking of umpires, they have had to move with the times as well, slowly redefining what is and what is not a wide ball, and finding it quite a struggle to achieve consistency between individual umpires and between the various stages of a fluctuating match. What is a wide to one batsman standing still, may not be to another who moves across his stumps and this is only one of a number of anomalies which the experts are trying to sort out in the Laws rewrite which is going on apace behind the scenes at Lord's.

So the shorter game continues to change and develop. On the few occasions when I coach batsmen these days, there is a different session for full scale attack when the only crime is “dot-balls” and getting out is preferable. Those who saw me bat will be relieved to know that I give no instruction on the sweep or indeed its reverse counterpart. Never fancied it myself for fear of getting a top edge into my nose. But if I had had a helmet?