Ted Dexter on the unwinnable war against Anno Domini


Ted Dexter embarks on another keep-fit exercise © Getty Images
'Sympathetic cracks.' A term frequently used by architects and surveyors in terms of ageing houses. I know what they mean. It was 1977 when I was bowling to Geoff Boycott in one of those Old England games. Suddenly my knee went off like a howitzer; then the shoulders reacted in sympathy; and then I did. I felt even older than Old England. It was time to see the doctor, or surgeon. I went to Bill Tucker, who 'fixed' Denis Compton's knee before England regained the Ashes in 1953. Tucker had a look at the works and confirmed what I knew already. Like many men of innate athleticism (in my case cricket, golf, rugby, sprinting, jumping and just standing still) I was growing old, or middle-aged if you like. The physical stress and strain was taking its toll. I think Tucker's fee was a modest £55, but it was still making the game an expensive luxury.
At my peak and prime in my twenties, when I was captain of Sussex, then England, I was fit and strong and largely free of those crippling twinges of the knee, hip and shoulders. But county cricket, that ancient, noble three-day game, is a punishing affair, rather like the four divisions of the Football League - indeed even worse and more demanding. It might be said there's too much of it. Endless cricket, like endless anything else, simply grinds you down. Just ask any player who has played the first-class game in England.
A bout of jaundice took the edge off my stamina once and for all and I realised then that human bodies are not like vintage motor cars. No amount of rebuilding and polishing has the same effect. Not only that but, in those Sussex days, I often felt like a travel agent or an actor permanently on tour. Apart from the long journeys to the West, the Midlands, the North, there were four Sussex county grounds to cope with- Hove, Worthing, Eastbourne and Hastings.
When I recall my early enthusiasm and keenness and compare it with three or four years later, I see a significant difference. The dedication was there but the physical and mental strain of the county (and international) game left their mark, indelible like the rubber stamp on a cheque or a postal order. Without doubt I was an infinitely more 'exciting' cricketer in 1960 than in following years. I would have been first in the queue to welcome a team manager like Ray Illingworth or Micky Stewart.
I used to bowl my own brand of fast-medium. In 1957 I played for Gentlemen against Players at Lord's. In the first innings I bowled five overs (two maidens) and took five wickets for eight runs: Don Smith, Denis Compton, Dick Richardson, Godfrey Evans and Frank Tyson: and three more in the second innings. I never mastered the classical action or found an ideal rhythm but I did move the ball and always had pace off the pitch.


The way it was © The Cricketer
Then, as I grew older, the elastic snapped, so to speak. I lost the pace, the zip and the sting had gone. I remember taking two catches off my own bowling against Glamorgan and being complimented on my cleverly disguised slower balls. As for the batting: I made runs consistently enough, especially against the speed merchants (like Hall and Griffith). Then came the day, even in club cricket, when there was a time-lag. Suddenly I found myself getting a little slow on the draw. The instinct was vanishing, concentration was taking over. Not a bad thing as far as my critics were concerned. But again, the quick singles were getting slower. I could pick the space without trouble and set off for a run; but suddenly I knew it wasn't there any more. Run-outs were suddenly happening to me as well as the others.
Then there were other hints from the body that things weren't what they used to be. Eyesight? Again I remember the day when I first saw the little grey specks floating around every time I looked at a plain background, like a sightscreen or a green outfield! I went to the oculist who blandly told me I would need glasses by the time I was 47. But it wasn't the vision that bothered me, it was the signals from the total physical structure, like warnings from a lighthouse saying you'll be on the rocks soon if you don't look out.
Then I smashed my leg with my own car after a day at the races and then caught pneumonia. It sounds bad and could have been worse. I was soon back to that state of 'fitness' to return to the first-class game and meet its demands but I decided to pack it up. It was time to give way. I wasn't all that badly placed. I had my journalism, my business interests (my golf!) and a wife and family. I still keep 'fit' on the quiet by jogging and refusing the third gin & tonic.
But those 'sympathetic cracks' are here to stay. If you don't believe me about this condition, ask Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Leonard Hutton and Sir Garfield Sobers or, if pushed, the redoubtable Frederick Sewards Trueman. Supreme fitness is all, but once it slips from your grasp you must stop - if you can afford it. Otherwise you will run down like an old clock and become an antique.