In his foreword to Dickie Dodds's autobiography Hit Hard and Enjoy It (1976) Sir Neville Cardus wrote, "In all the annals of cricket there has been no cricketer with so remarkable and inspiring a story to tell."
The MP for Huntingdon heard the name of the constituent shaking his hand. "Not the Dickie Dodds?" exclaimed John Major. For that generation of cricket fans Dodds was one of the sportsmen who brought cheerfulness into post-war Britain. There was a self-abandon to his batting that seemed automatic but which had actually resulted from a change of character.
In his foreword to Dodds's autobiography Hit Hard and Enjoy It (1976) Sir Neville Cardus wrote, "In all the annals of cricket there has been no cricketer with so remarkable and inspiring a story to tell."
Dodds opened the batting for Essex from 1946 to his retirement in 1959, scoring over 1,000 runs each season, and 2,147 in 1947. He played in 380 first-class matches. Cardus was intrigued to know what had changed him from a batsman of instinctive caution into one of the boldest stroke-players on the county circuit. One day, against Lancashire, he hit the England fast bowler Brian Statham for four and six off the first two balls of the innings. Famously at Southend, he hooked a six into the tented tavern, where the ball ricocheted off the beer-pump and knocked out both barmaids.
Thomas Carter Dodds was born in Bedford in 1919, the eldest of four brothers. He left Warwick School at 17 without passing any exams, and played cricket successively for Warwickshire Second XI, Barclays Bank and Middlesex Second XI, before joining the Somerset Light Infantry when the Second World War began.
Most of his war service was in Burma and he was amazed to come out alive. A cricket career was the obvious way to celebrate. Then on the troopship returning home he moved towards a new thinking that would deepen his life. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he had cut himself off from the life of faith. Yet here was a post-war world that needed healing and forgiveness, and he reckoned he needed it too.
Sitting in a deckchair on the vicarage lawn one spring morning of 1946 he decided that "so far as I could understand it, I would from that point on do only what God told me to do". County cricket seemed part of that contract. He was demobbed on 20 May, and two days later arrived at Ilford to play for Essex against Sussex.
As Cardus later wrote: "On the morning of his first game for Essex he, in his own words, "asked God how I should play cricket" . .. and the clear thought came: "Hit the ball hard and enjoy it." But he could not obey the advice of Omnipotence immediately. Though he scored 63 in this baptism match against Sussex, he continued to inhibit himself for two and a half hours. After earning his county cap following a record opening partnership of 270, with A.V. Avery at the Oval, he decided to obey the God-sent injunction "to hit the ball". Against Middlesex at Westcliff, he drove, cut and hooked with an easy power and brilliance which astounded everybody... For the rest of his career, as cricketer, his rate of scoring was 40 runs every hour."
Dodds's path to a committed Christian faith had been through Moral Re-Armament. He admired what the organisation was doing to bring France and Germany together after the war, its work in Asia and Africa, and in the East End of London. He worked for it without salary in the winter months, and in 1957 donated the whole of his benefit year fund to MRA for its work in India. In early 1960s, by now working full-time with MRA, he came to know another opening batsman, Conrad Hunte, Vice-Captain of West Indies, who was committed to the same aims. In Britain this was the decade of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood” speech and the rise of Black Power. Hunte retired early from professional cricket and travelled round the country, with Dodds and others at his side, promoting a vision of a multiracial society that could work in Britain.
It was a great sorrow for Dodds when his wife Ann died of cancer in 1978. He married secondly Kathleen Johnson, a pianist and composer, in 1985. Each entered fully into the other's wide interests. They made several visits to Thailand to support a Thai friend doing pioneering work with agricultural co-operatives.
Dickie Dodds kept a lively contact with cricketers past and present. He was a man of shrewd kindliness and a good listener. Behind his own dashing batsmanship there had been a struggle with fear, and he was keen for younger players to overcome whatever inhibited their own gifts. It was largely his coaching and mentoring that was behind Wilf Slack's emergence as a Test opening batsman in the 1980s. He said of today's players: "I ask everyone why they play cricket. I want them to answer 'for enjoyment' but few do." He believed cricket was meant to provide recreation for the crowd, and he chafed at the dull spectacle it sometimes is.
His book ends: "I think there is nothing wrong with the game that a change in the aims and motives of the players would not put right - and quickly. When he was Essex coach, Frank Rist said he looked on Dodds as a miracle man because he changed overnight from being one of the slowest opening bats in the country to one of the fastest. I believe the sort of cricket and the sort of world we have depends on the choice that the players and all of us make."
Thomas Carter Dodds, cricketer: born Bedford 29 May 1919; married I960 Ann Kerr (died 1978; one son), 1985 Kathleen Johnson; died Cambridge 17 September 2001.
This obituary first appeared in ‘The Independent’ on September 19th 2001