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Match of My Life

'Winning in Australia has always been the pinnacle'

Bouncing back to put one across the old enemy, on their turf - doesn't get much better than that

Ted Dexter
Fred Trueman took a five-for in the second innings despite being "under the weather"  •  The Cricketer International

Fred Trueman took a five-for in the second innings despite being "under the weather"  •  The Cricketer International

Perhaps everyone might think the match at Lord's against West Indies in 1963 would be my favourite Test. Indeed, it was one of the best Tests ever: played over five days, going to the last ball with all four possible results available. But personally, to lead England to victory in the second Test of the 1962-63 Ashes in Melbourne will always remain a special moment in my career and life.
It was the highlight of my career, being selected to lead the MCC team to Australia. I had been freshly appointed as captain, ahead of Colin Cowdrey and Fred Trueman, who were in the mix for the post. I had shown myself as enterprising with my fresh approach to leadership. That and the fact they saw me as a good communicator in the context of media relations.
I was of the view that England should play positive cricket in Australia. At the first press conference, held on board the Canberra, in Perth, one of the journalists said, "Come on, Ted. How about some brighter cricket?" And that is what we played in Melbourne.
After getting slightly the worse of a drawn match in Brisbane in the first Test, we went to Melbourne as clear second favourites. But as anybody who knows the history of Test series in Australia realises, it is very important to not lose the first Test, and we managed that. So we reached the MCG with our heads held fairly high.
Across all five days big crowds arrived. We had about 80,000 on each of the first two days, and 300,000 across the five days. Playing in front a full house at the MCG is always one of the most challenging things in cricket. It was a hard-fought match throughout. The pitch gave the bowlers a chance but you could bat if you stayed in.
My personal contribution as captain in one area was crucial: getting rid of the formidable Bill Lawry in the second innings. He and Bob Simpson had a tremendous reputation for stealing quick runs with their running between the wickets, which they had put on display during the second innings at the Gabba. And since they were a right-hander and a left-hander, it forced the bowlers to change their lines.
I realised, though, that there was something that could be exploited in Lawry's batting. He never cut the ball. If the ball was short outside the off stump, he would either let it go or he would drop it on the off side with soft hands and run. With all our fast bowlers being right-arm, they would go off to the leg side in the follow-through, allowing Lawry to comfortably drop the ball and run singles.
So I told my third seamer, Len Coldwell, a tall bowler from Worcester, and very accurate, his job against Lawry was to pitch it short of a length, just outside off stump. And I posted a close fielder on the off side and a gully.
That absolutely dried up Lawry's runs. He played maiden after maiden and disrupted the rhythm of the other batsmen, and wickets started falling. Just before lunch I bowled a couple of exploratory overs and managed to bowl Lawry out.
Australia had scored 321 on the first day of the Test series, but they could make only 248 in this innings. They succumbed to tight fielding and the tight lines from our bowlers, especially Fred Trueman, who knocked off their formidable tail with absolute pace.
There is an interesting story from the second innings. As we were set to enter the field on the third day, somebody asked, "Where's Fred?" Five minutes before we entered the field, Trueman turned up, pasty faced, having hardly done up his boots. He assured me everything was all right and churned in two or three overs, absolutely brilliant. But by the time he started his fourth over he was puffing and blowing. The first couple of balls barely reached the wicketkeeper. He was absolutely bust.
I didn't know what he had been doing in the night, and whether he had been to bed at all, but I needed to preserve him for the second new ball. At Brisbane we had had a great deal of problems knocking down the Australian tail. Slasher Mackay was the highest run-scorer then for Queensland, Richie Benaud had a Test hundred, Alan Davidson had a Test hundred, and Graham McKenzie was coming in at No. 10 or 11. It was no easy ticket. So I thought I needed to keep Freddie for the new ball and kept him in the shade all day.
"Soon their bowlers were swearing at their fielders and the fielders were swearing at their arms. Even Benaud got a little edgy as we started stealing twos and threes"
Come the second new ball, I got him back on and he knocked them over and ended up with a five-for. After we won, EW Swanton, the doyen of the press in those days, wrote: "Only the young and inexperienced captain could possibly explain how he failed to call on Trueman to bowl for most of the day." And of course I was one of the only people to know why!
On the fourth evening, we had to bat a bit, chasing 234 for victory. Unfortunately Geoff Pullar fell for just five runs. Many in the dressing room thought we should have sent in a night-watchman for the last 20 minutes. But I was determined to make a positive move, and being the regular No. 3 wanted to bat first thing in the morning.
The next morning on our way out, my batting partner, the Rev. David Sheppard, said, "Ted, let's think about this. Fifth-day pitch, bit of uneven bounce, a bit slow… I don't think it is a day for big shots. It needs to be push-and-run. Just accumulate to the best we can." It was just not his leaning to the cloth that made me have faith in his words.
The good thing was, both of us were good runners between the wickets and trusted each other, unlike some "ball watchers". Within half an hour we had run the Australians ragged. That last morning the Australians were really rattled. I considered that a major team, and personal, victory.
Soon their bowlers were swearing at their fielders and the fielders were swearing at their arms. Even Benaud got a little edgy as we started stealing twos and threes. I was run out with a half-century, but by that stage we had virtually broken the back of the score needed.
Australia has always been the pinnacle. Winning a Test match in Australia is harder than winning at home. It was a major event in my cricketing life. It was good to get a 90 in the first innings and a crucial fifty in the second innings when all was at stake. If we had lost that game we would've been history I think. And that was underlined by one little incident on the tour.
The Duke of Norfolk, our titular manager, came to me one day and said, "Ted, I've had this telegram from the MCC. You ought to read it." The telegram said, "Concern here that articles appearing in Sunday newspaper under Dexter's name may contravene his tour agreement. Please comment." I wondered what I should say. The Duke then showed me his reply: "Please don't bother us, we are trying to win a Test series."

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi, assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo