Opening batsman who believed that cricket
could be a creative activity reflecting the glory of his creator
T C ‘Dickie’ Dodds, who has died aged 82,
was a dashing opener for Essex between 1946 and 1959; what made him unique,
however, was that he hit sixes in accordance with his religious convictions.
“Personally,” observed Archbishop William
Temple, “I have always looked on cricket as organised loafing.” And certainly
most cricketers determined to dedicate their lives to God have turned away from
the flannelled fools at the wicket.
“My heart was no longer in the game,”
explained the English Test player, Charlie Studd, after his conversion in the
1880s. “I wanted to win souls for the
Lord.” And though the Rev. David Sheppard allowed himself to be lured back to
test cricket by the prospect of a tour to Australia in 1962-3, that was only a
temporary dereliction of duty.
But when Dodds joined Moral Re-Armament in
1946, he took the view that the best way to glorify God was to bring the right
spirit to cricket (albeit not on Sundays). The game, he explained, “should be a
creative activity: it is meant to be a reflection of the Greatest Creator. The
more a player reflects the nature of the Creator, the more creative he becomes.
“My battle as I played cricket was always
to bring myself under God’s control, to make not my will, but God’s,
operative.” Such was the philosophy that caused Dodds to become one of the
post-war game’s greatest entertainers, described by Colin Welch as “beau sabreur” and “the Cyrano de
Bergerac of the eastern suburbs.”
He was a man who, while frankly admitting
his fear of the bumper, was invariably inclined to deposit it in the crowd.
Against Dodds, even a great bowler like Brian Statham could find his first two
deliveries dispatched for four and six. “Hey Dick, what’s going on?” demanded
that least malignant of fast bowlers.
Conversely, Dodds was not a bit surprised
that selfish batsmen, who thought only of their averages, drove away the
crowds. Was not crude materialism always self-defeating in the long run?
Listening to the wireless one day, he was delighted to hear Ian Botham describe
how he achieved his great feats against Australia in 1981. “You’ve got to enjoy
it, let it speak for itself, let it take you over,” Botham said. “You know
Dickie,” a priest told Dodds later, “that is a perfect expression of the Holy
Thomas Carter Dodds was born at Bedford on
May 19 1919. His father, a keen cricketer capable of bowling right-arm medium
or left-arm slow at will, was vicar at Riseley; his grandfather had been
organist at Queen’s College, Oxford.
One of four brothers, Dodds grew up in a
large vicarage where the gardener could be co-opted as bowler, and the boy was
soon a cricket enthusiast. When he was nine his father moved to Wymington in
Northamptonshire, and Dickie attended Wellingborough School, where he was lucky
to find a sports-mad headmaster.
In 1939 another move, to Hatton in
Warwickshire, meant that he became a day boy at Warwick School. On leaving, he
played a few games for Warwickshire Second XI without much success.
He joined Barclays Bank and moved to
London, and in the summer of 1939 turned out for Middlesex Second XI. In those
days he was chiefly a leg-break bowler; all cricketing ambitions, had to be
shelved with the outbreak of the Second World War.
Dodds served with the Signals in India and
Burma. His skill with ciphers gained him a commission, and he ended the war as
a captain. In Bombay he played for a Service XI, skippered by Douglas Jardine,
who had led England on the Body-line tour of Australia in 1932-33.
When Dodds’ leg-breaks were hit all over
the ground, he asked Jardine if he could move a fielder on the boundary.
Jardine was furious: “You and I are amateurs,” he barked. “It is only
professionals who ask to have their field shifted when they are hit for four.”
Dodds took part in the advance to Mandalay,
and helped to execute the signals deception prior to the capture of the enemy
base at Meiktila. He also became involved with a girl who, as he wrote in his
autobiography, “had frequently been in the glossy social magazines of India.”
It was perhaps his unease about this affair
that helped to turn his mind to religion. His girlfriend could not approve of
this development, and when he returned to England she presented him with a book
of risqué stories in the hope, as she put it, that he was still capable of
enjoying such things.
Later she married a general.
In England, Dodds was introduced to T N
Pearce, the captain of Essex, who invited him to a trial at Chelmsford. In the
spring of 1946, sitting in his father’s garden at Hatton, Dodds underwent the
religious experience which changed his life: “I decided that, so far as I could
understand it, I would from that point only do what God told me to do.”
Demobbed on May 20 1946, Dodds turned up two days later for his first match
against Sussex at Ilford. That night, after being out for 18 in the first
innings, he seemed to receive clear instructions in his prayers: “Hit the ball
hard and enjoy it.”
For some weeks though, he continued to play
cautiously, even while conscious that “a God who loved
Beautiful things could not love the dull
old cricket which I played.” The turning point came when he and Sonny Avery put
on 270 for the first wicket against Surrey, with Dodds hitting his maiden
century and winning his county cap. A few matches later, batting against
Middlesex, “I felt closer to God than ever before in my life. I tried to
fashion the loveliest stroke I could manage for a God who would enjoy them. In
return I had a tremendous sense of His pleasure.
Dodds played as an amateur in 1946, but
turned professional at the end of that season. He spent his winters working
with Moral Re-Armament, first in London, then in the industrial areas of
Britain, and later in India, Australia, America and Europe. His benefit in 1957
realised £2,325, which he immediately turned over to Moral Re-Armament. Much of
it was spent in India.
Though Dodds went prematurely grey, his
attitude to cricket remained perennially youthful, and he contributed largely
to Essex, twice winning the News
Chronicle Award for Brighter Cricket. He retired from the county game at
the end of the 1959 season, when he was 40. In his 396 first-class matches he
had made 19,407 runs (including 17 hundreds) at an average of 28.75. His best
season was 1947, when he scored 2,147 runs. His excellent autobiography, Hit Hard and Enjoy It (1976), was
written at the behest of Sir Neville Cardus.
After his retirement Dodds worked with the former
vice-captain of the West Indies to promote racial harmony in Britain.
Dickie Dodds married in 1960, Ann Kerr, who
died in 1978; they had a son. He married, secondly, Kathleen Johnson in 1985.
Daily Telegraph Thursday, September 20th 2001)
Dodds lived in the Bedfordshire village of Everton for many years after his
retirement where he developed an interest in ley lines – ancient energy lines
which he believed ran under his house (Valley Farm). He moved to Eynesbury a
few years ago and died after a long illness.
was parish churchwarden.
on Sunday, September 23, 2001)