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Captaincy can become lonesome & you could become anxious: Ted

A tête-à-tête with the aristocratic former captain
Ted Dexter

Calcutta: Edward ‘Ted’ Dexter, the aristocratic former captain of England, spoke to The Telegraph at some length on Friday evening.

A dashing batsman, Dexter scored 4,502 runs in 62 Tests (average of 47.89), with nine hundreds. His England career spanned a decade, from 1958.

Now 77, Dexter gave the interview at host Naresh Kumar’s serene residence.

The following are excerpts

Q First-up to a former captain... Who makes a good captain?

A What’s most important is that he must have the absolute confidence of the other 10 in the team... It’s not a popularity show, but the relationships have to be good. Leadership is sometimes like learning a business, you accept responsibility and carry the team with you. It helps if the captain himself performs.

What do you make of Alastair Cook as captain?

Cook started off in a pretty shaky way in the ODIs, when it seemed he didn’t quite have a grip on the team... But, then, you need to grow into the captaincy... Cook had to develop control... He’s pretty straightforward in the way he handles things and I haven’t seen him make many mistakes. Mistakes will be made, but you’ve got to learn from them. I suppose it’s not easy captaining at the Eden, where everybody in the stands thinks he’s the captain!

Cook’s leading from the front...

Of course... Cook has already broken some records and will break some more... I quite liked Michael Vaughan’s comment that Cook had to score 7,000 Test runs before he started to be “recognised” as a good player.

Right through on this tour, in particular, Cook has come across as absolutely calm. Do you agree?

I couldn’t disagree. It helps if the captain has a calm personality, particularly in the present times when the TV cameras are on you, catching your emotions.

Is there something about Cook, the captain, that’s special?

The best thing is that nothing is very obvious. Cook’s certainly not very demonstrative, doesn’t wave his arm about a lot... On the field, captaincy is rather like wicket-keeping, you don’t notice a ‘keeper till he drops a catch or misses a stumping.

Should Andrew Strauss have continued for a while longer?

I don’t know why, but his form had dropped a bit and that can make it difficult for a captain. Strauss was an outstanding captain and took the team to a very, very high level... Captaincy can become lonesome, you could become anxious and one thing leads to another.

Of all the captains you’ve seen, who would you pick as the finest?

Ray Illingworth, certainly on the field. Not off it, though!

In more recent times, has an England captain stood out? Nasser Hussain, Vaughan...

I’d go for Vaughan... The players blossomed under him, they had the freedom to express themselves. He encouraged the Andrew Flintoffs to show what they could do... Nasser was a bit of a bully and the players, I assume, felt intimidated.

England’s worst captains?

Oh, Ian Botham and Flintoff... Whoever appointed them needed their heads examined.

How do you find Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain?

Dhoni’s a marvellous character and is fine as captain. However, there have been occasions when his field placements have been frenetic. That’s not done.

Sunil Gavaskar feels that captaining was easier in his time, when there was nobody in the support staff to keep offering advice... Basically, he could be his own man as captain... What’s your take?

I don’t know what it is like today, but in my time, only one person mattered — the captain. I can’t bear the thought of having so many people around in the dressing room.

Captains need to play that role off the field, too, isn’t it?

Indeed, that is so... It’s a 50-50 mix... Captaincy off the field is as important as captaincy on the park.

To talk of Cook as batsman... How highly do you rate him?

Cook’s right at the top of the tree. Earlier, he had this bad habit of pushing to the cover area away from his body... That has gone and, now, he drives perfectly. He cuts well and is a good puller... Also, he has loads of patience.

Over 7,000 Test runs, 23 hundreds at the highest level... Could Cook get to 15,000 Test runs and 50 hundreds in the premier format?

Everything is possible... The only worry would be the possibility of injuries... Nothing is guaranteed and form could be fickle... Having said that, Cook’s got it in him to break more records.

Make the most of form...

As the saying goes, guard good form jealously... Keep playing your own way, don’t think you’re Don Bradman. Not many bowlers would like to bowl at Cook today.

What makes the difference for batsmen?

Technique is important, but most important is what you have in your head, between the ears... Cook’s got plenty in there... At times, Kevin Pietersen gives the impression that he doesn’t have anything in there. Why does he play some of the shots? Ian Bell played a terrible shot on Friday... You’ve got to remember that cricket is a mental game. Play the mental game with the opposition, don’t allow them to play it with you.

Your thoughts on Sachin Tendulkar...

Sachin’s a wonderful player... But, at this stage in his career, you can’t expect him to play the way he used to earlier... Geoffrey Boycott made that observation the other day and I agree with him.

How much longer should Sachin continue?

That’s not for me to say, but he’s got to be there till he’s useful. Players don’t select themselves, they’re picked by a selection committee.

Have you envied a cricketer?

Not envied, but admired... Garry Sobers, Graeme Pollock... In the present times, a Hashim Amla.

Is cricket still a gentleman’s game?

Don’t know. Ian Chappell’s Australians weren’t gentlemen. Ian’s a fine man, but he encouraged his team to go beyond limits... Rude, inconsiderate... They were as bad off the field. The sledging appears to be under control... A Code of Conduct is in place and the Spirit of Cricket bit has taken root.

It wasn’t too long ago that three Pakistani cricketers were jailed for spot-fixing...

Look, I’m sure 99 per cent of the cricketers are good individuals, but there always are some rotten apples in every box.

The final one... What made you relocate to Nice?

(Laughs) Golf... I can play the sport all 12 months in a year... I’m back in England for three-four months from June-July, though.