'Denness warned both captains before the match'

Print edition : January 05, 2002

Interview with Ted Dexter, President, Marylebone Cricket Club.

Edward Ralph Dexter, former English cricket team captain, is today better known as 'Lord Ted'. His batting, both on the front foot and off the back foot, was notable. Born in 1935 in Milan, Dexter represented England in 62 Tests (30 of them as captain) between 1958 and 1968. He had an aggressive approach to batting, which was unusual for players of his time. Not many can forget his 70 runs off 73 balls in 1963 at Lord's against the West Indies when Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were at their fearsome best. His eight-hour 173 against Australia at Old Trafford in 1964 showed that he could play the waiting game as well when the situation demanded.

After retiring early (with a Test average of 47.89) he turned to his other passions of golf, business and horse racing, before returning to cricket as a journalist, commentator and administrator. Dexter contested the 1964 British general elections on the Conservative ticket and lost to James Callaghan of the Labour Party, who went on to become Prime Minister. His four-year stint as the Chairman of Selectors of the English cricket team was a difficult and controversial one, and it ended in 1993 after indifferent performances by the English team.

In Bangalore, in his capacity as the President of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) - it has its headquarters at the Lord's cricket ground in London - Dexter took a break from the engrossing first day of the third Test between India and England at the Chinnasamy Stadium, to speak matters cricket. Excerpts from an interview he gave Ravi Sharma:


Do you see today's cricket as vastly different from your playing days in the 1950s and 1960s?

Well, much of it I don't see as different at all. Everybody imagines that it is a new game because of colour television and replay. I don't see it as a new game. Take yesterday's cricket (the first day of the third Test between England and India at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium). With three spinners bowling and some good batting on a flat track, it was just like any match played in any era.

But today you have day-night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls, new regulations....

I'm talking more about Test cricket. You may be right about one-day cricket. But then colour doesn't change the game. Well, one-day cricket has suddenly introduced new features into the game, which the crowds love. But I think it has limited appeal, like watching draughts as compared to a chess match. But it is wonderful that the game can embrace both these disciplines.

So you see no difference between the best in any of the different eras?

I see no difference at all. The best players in any era compare almost exactly. There was the Viv Richards period, a magnificent, powerful, punishing batsman. Then the Gavaskar era, the fantastic number of runs he made against all the different attacks. And so forth. Bradman obviously remains supreme because he was that much ahead of all his contemporaries.

Spectators the world over already prefer one-day cricket to Test cricket. Do you see one-day cricket taking the sheen off Test cricket?

Oh yes. I understand that. But people will come to their senses at some stage. I also feel that to some extent it is our fault as administrators. I don't think we have sold people the idea that one day of a Test match can be a wonderful experience as opposed to a one-day match. A one-day match provides a definite result but you can go away from one single day in a Test match with so much. Like yesterday (at the Chinnasamy Stadium, in the match between England and India) - you had the 'handled ball' incident, you had the run-out, the tensions, the stresses, and the game going one way and then another. It was a day of Test cricket to be relished.

You said the administrators had not done enough. What can they do?

I mean communication is everything and the cricket world has some highly professional communication experts. I would encourage cricket to spend some money and get people to communicate the idea that a single day of a Test match is a wonderful experience.

There probably will not be much cricket without the paying spectator. Yet not much has been done to make the players more accountable. Slow over rates, negative bowling tactics, deliberate time wasting... Only the Australians under Steve Waugh seem aware of consciously playing positive cricket. Can the other teams not emulate them?

Steve Waugh's approach to the game is from the cricketing point of view. I don't think it is from the spectator's point of view. He has a wonderful side, and in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne two of the greatest bowlers of all time. They can both win matches, and Waugh can afford to be very aggressive both in the field and with the bat. He is playing his team for all its worth and that's wonderful for cricket. But if you don't have the resources, it's no good playing "bright cricket" and losing the match.

Are today's cricket administrators in tune with the changing times?

Young people think they invented sex. But sex has been around for a long time. So has cricket and so have cricket administrators. I played to far greater audiences than any modern player both in England and in Australia. The only difference now is the huge television audiences. Now, do the administrators know what they are doing? Yes, I think cricket administration is strong and cricket is still a strong international brand. But, sadly, because the Americans haven't taken to playing cricket so far, it is still not a worldwide sport. I think the International Cricket Conference's (ICC) efforts to globalise the game are laudable. It is not an easy task and will take a very long time coming. We have a new Chief Executive of the ICC in Malcom Speed, who has very strong views about how the game should be administered, and I think the game will go forward under him.

There was a plan a few years ago to take cricket to Disneyland as part of the attempt to globalise the game.

Yes, absolutely. Take it wherever it can go. The idea has been around for a long time. But the problem is nobody can quite identify who the American cricket authority is. Because there really isn't one, the project has been slow in coming about.

In the aftermath of the betting scandals in 2000, is it a sensible idea for the ICC to continue holding matches at non-traditional centres such as Sharjah and Toronto?

I'm not a world administrator. I'm President, MCC, and my brief is to represent a great cricket club. Global matters of cricket aren't my responsibility.

You mentioned your role as President, MCC. There was a time when the MCC was English cricket...

Yes, it was more than that. It was world cricket. The MCC had the responsibility for running cricket worldwide. Of course that does not apply any more. But there's the traditional importance of the MCC. We still have the responsibility for the laws of the game. We have just rewritten the laws - Code 2000 - and there's a very important addition, which was the brainchild of Colin Cowdrey, Lord Turnbridge. The 'Spirit of Cricket'. This is a preamble to the laws of cricket, rather like the etiquette of golf.

This has been well-received within the game, particularly by the ICC. And they have been very supportive because they believe, as we do, that cricket has a special place in the sporting family and to degrade it by being rough and rude on the field is not a development that we like. It can be a chivalrous game and still be mighty competitive. You don't have to have a lot of sledging (bad-mouthing of the batsman) as well.

What role do you see for the MCC in today's changed situation?

The MCC remains a private club. We have 18,000 members. We have a very important ground tradition (the MCC owns the Lord's cricket ground) but we also now have a very modern, well-attended ground. Our private ground (Lord's) produces 40 per cent of the total revenue of English cricket. So it is very important that we administer that ground well. If we don't, there'll be a big hole in the revenues of English cricket.

We still wish to fulfil a public role, which we do with the laws (of cricket). We do it within English cricket by playing some 400 matches during the year, probably more than any other club in the world. We also take the game out to schools and anywhere where a visit from the MCC can help to further the game. And, increasingly, we are sending teams abroad to do exactly the same. The ICC asks us to take teams to places where the game is developing. For instance, they asked us to take a strong team to Bangladesh as part of the process of Bangladesh being introduced to the Test cricket family. This year we are sending 10 teams abroad. These are all very expensive projects, but these are our contributions to the game.

Steve Waugh's Australians seem to have taken the 'Spirit of Cricket' to heart. They have certainly been better behaved both in their recent series against New Zealand and in the first Test against South Africa. Will it take time before other countries fall in line?

It probably will. Some of the worst reports of bad behaviour were not at the international level, but certainly in England at the club level. The whole gamut of trying to cheat the player out, excessive appealing, intimidating umpires. It was time to do something about it. The way to do it was not to keep telling people to stop doing something, but to give them a vision that cricket is something different and that it is admirable to be a player and still play hard.

Steve Waugh at the beginning of the last Ashes series in England pledged to clear up his act and suddenly we saw McGrath stopping all the mouthing, cursing and swearing at the batsman. He always said that it was just to motivate himself. But it was very unattractive and when he stopped doing it his bowling actually improved (laughs), and he became a much more attractive figure. So far so good.

The falling in line of the Australians, who have traditionally been masters at sledging, must bring some satisfaction.

I'm certainly delighted and it is only the start. In England we now have a full-fledged programme to make sure that all cricketers, especially young cricketers, are fully aware of the 'Spirit of Cricket'. We have a 'Poster in the Pavilion' campaign so that the 'Spirit of Cricket' will actually be on the wall in every pavilion in the country. We also expect every cricketer to carry a plastic card with the 'Spirit of Cricket' printed on it. We are spending a lot of money, time and effort to make sure that everybody is aware of his responsibility.

Has the MCC introduced any new laws in the recent past?

The biggest change in Code 2000 was to introduce a penalty of runs against the fielding side for various misdemeanours, like running on the pitch, negative tactics, and so on. And that had never happened before in the game. Frankly, we didn't want to introduce it. But the umpires wanted to be empowered with some sanctions, which they could impose against erring players. The fact that they have the possibility of applying a five-run penalty has improved the behaviour of some players. Reports after a year are that it is effective. Though I must add that I haven't seen it as yet being used in Test cricket.

Do you think umpires should be given the benefit of more technology to help them make their decisions?

It is a very thorny question. The ICC Cricket Committee spent two days discussing whether to use more technology or less, and there are a great many difficulties associated with it. They decided that for the time being things will be left as they are. I suspect that there will reluctantly be some further use of television replays. But the difficulty is simply that if every appeal is referred to television replays the game will come to a grinding halt. Of course this applies only to international cricket, where umpires have the benefit of replays. Ninety-nine per cent of the game is still played without television, so the umpire still has the same authority that he always had. More than anything, what we need are the best umpires.

Thanks to technology, umpiring decisions are increasingly coming under scrutiny...

Yes. We in the MCC have offered to the ICC to do a review of how umpiring works the world over. How people are trained, how they come into umpiring, what their aspirations might be. The review is currently going on and we have our representative (Nigel Plews, who is himself an international umpire) going around to pool together information from every country. And by the time the ICC appoints an umpires' director worldwide, which should happen quite soon, he (the director) will absolutely have the whole world of umpiring in his hands. The director can then make informed judgments as to how to go forward.

Would the introduction of punishment in the form of yellow and red cards as in football ensure better behaviour on the field?

They are being used in Australia and New Zealand. But reports are not particularly favourable. It doesn't seem to have changed anything for the better. I don't think anybody in the ICC is thinking of going down that route.

ICC Match Referee Mike Denness' decision to penalise six Indian players during the second Test of India's recent tour of South Africa has come in for a lot of criticism in India. What are your comments on this?

As I understand it, he (Denness) warned both captains prior to the game that the behaviour of the two teams had been unacceptable in the first Test and that unless there was an improvement he was going to do something about it. Unfortunately it seems the South Africans heeded the warning, the Indians did not. I think that's how it came about. It was most unfortunate that the incident became a cause celebre, which was unnecessary because in the end really nothing changed. Perhaps it is a lesson to everybody that it is better to play the game straight and fair so that we don't get involved in these problems.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India was highly critical of Denness' decisions, accusing him of targeting the Indians while letting of the South Africans.

That's in the eye of the beholder.

How can you explain Denness' decision to penalise the Indians but overlook some of the misdemeanours of the South African players? For example, captain Shaun Pollock's long, long appeal? Where is the consistency?

Anybody who has been sent to prison always complains that he has had the worst sentence. Are judgments always consistent and fair? People are human, some judges see it one way and others in another way. To make absolute consistency a goal and otherwise to scrap the whole thing (ICC referees) is foolish. So you have to monitor them (referees' decisions) and see to what extent it is possible to make them consistent. This is what the ICC has agreed to do in the light of what happened at St. George's Park.

But the feeling is that players from the Indian subcontinent always seem to get the stick, while players from, say, England, Australia and New Zealand get away.

I really don't know.

Many cricket writers dubbed the one-match suspension of Indian cricketer Virendra Sehwag as the game's fourth major crisis after bodyline, the Packer upheaval and the betting scandal...

A storm in a tea cup. Nothing has changed and when the game was finally played (the first Test between England and India at Mohali) nobody missed Mr. Sehwag. The game went ahead and everybody forgot all about it (Denness' decisions). I think it was a small affair.

At the height of the crisis there was even talk of the ICC being split down the middle with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and any other country sympathetic to them breaking away from the ICC.

What! I can't see the point of doing anything like that. What's the point of splitting the ICC? I can't imagine how it can be of any value to anybody. I mean it would be ridiculous for India to play Pakistan all the time. Good luck.

Are you an advocate of ICC match referees?

Yes. The reason referees were introduced was because umpires were not prepared to exercise their powers under the laws. Referees are meant to see that the umpires do their job.

Last year's betting scandal certainly cast a shadow over the game.

You can preach all you like from the pulpit and tell people you must not do this and you must not do that. But badly motivated people, silly people and evil people will behave badly and there's nothing to stop them from doing exactly the same tomorrow.

Was the life ban imposed on players like Hansie Cronje justified?

Yes. I think the punishment must fit the crime. I'm not the judge but I think that's what must apply.

Australia and England were at one time 'the' powers in world cricket. But today the Indian subcontinent is where the crowds and the sponsors are. Do you see countries like India and Pakistan holding sway at least economically in the ICC?

I'm not sure. The ICC is what it is. There are votes within the ICC. And matters will be resolved democratically. There are more votes now in the ICC and each country has an equal vote. Whether you think Zimbabwe should have an equal vote to Australia is problematic. But that is the way it is.

Do you see too much of international cricket being played today?

No, I don't think so. I think it's wonderful. As long as there are audiences, let's play it.

Bangladesh was given Test status even before it was ready. Some would say it still is not ready.

They have to start somewhere. Sri Lanka didn't look like it was ready when it got Test status. Yet it is a match for anybody now.

All is not well in English cricket; standards in the domestic circuit have really fallen. Why?

We have had a very bad period and we are not really out of it. We have three one-day competitions and one championship. So every county, whether it likes it or not, is trying to win at one-day cricket. The championship is secondary. Until that changes, our cricket standards won't be as high as it might be.

During the recent England-India series Indian crowds were robbed of watching a full-strength English team. Players like Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Robert Croft and Alec Stewart did not come on the tour. Why?

Stewart and Gough decided that they did not want to tour, which I think was a great pity. I think we (the English and Wales Cricket Board) were at fault by not having proper contracts for the players, which they would have had to fulfil. I think it was a disgrace and it didn't reflect well on either the players or the administrators. Caddick and Croft did not tour because they were concerned about security. That is understandable. But again, possibly, had they been properly contracted it may have been incumbent upon them to fulfil their contract. Hopefully this sort of thing won't happen again.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor