It is a hugely enjoyable book, not only because it is well written, well balanced and because its subject is so fascinating; but also because it provides a wonderful insight into two distinct periods of English cricketing history.
The first covers Dexter's own playing career, from his days at Radley, followed by Cambridge, then Sussex and eventually the captaincy of England.
For younger readers the names of Dexter's contemporaries like May, Cowdrey and Graveney are almost mythical in their appeal, but here they come to life, their triumphs and their disasters, and suddenly they no longer belong exclusively to a time long, long ago when everything in England's garden was rosy.
There were problems then as there are now. For ball-tampering read chucking, of which the West Indian Charlie Griffith stood accused, to the point that widespread rioting was feared at one particular Test in England. There was rioting, at Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1960 when 30 people ended up in hospital. The relationship between cricket and the press was, at times, as strained then as it has been recently, and the Australians were as tough as old boots even in those days.
Along with the historical narrative, there is still a distinctly literary feel to the part of the book dealing with Dexter's early life; indeed, with such an aristocratic central character, given to such extravagant gestures (including standing for parliament against Jim Callaghan, writing a couple of novels, flying his young family around the world in his own plane), at times it is almost like reading an Evelyn Waugh satire.
The second period of English cricket history the book is concerned with is that covering Dexter's five years as chairman of selectors, which was not such a happy period of his life. Despite coming down strongly on Dexter's side in a personal sense, and being scathingly critical of Ian Botham, among others, Lee has not allowed sentiment to interfere with his overall judgement, condemning Dexter for his poor communication with players and media alike.
The book is liberally sprinkled with contributions from the likes of Richie Benaud, John Snow, Graham Gooch and David Gower in a conspicuous effort on the part of the author to get to the bottom of the Dexter Enigma, as the book is subtitled. Whether he succeeds or not is open to debate, but the investigation is a thoroughly worthwhile one all the same.
Adam SzreterReuse content