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 Ghost.”
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.
(The Daily Telegraph Thursday, September 20th 2001)
Mr 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.
He was parish churchwarden.
(Bedfordshire on Sunday, September 23, 2001)