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March 24, 1961. The birth of Dean Jones, one of the best ODI batsman of his generation. One often overlooks the fact that he was a more than decent Test batsman as well. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of one of the pillars of Australia during the period of rebuilding of the eighties.
In just his third Test match, he was dangerously dehydrated. With the sun blazing down with intense ferocity at Madras, he retched on the pitch. He wanted to go off, with retired ill against his name. The batsman at the other end was the hardnosed Aussie legend, captain Allan Border. “If you can’t handle the situation, let’s get in a real Australian. Let’s get a Queenslander out here,” the skipper remarked, in no uncertain referring to Greg Ritchie, the man padded up to come in next.
Dean Jones of Victoria did not go off. He batted eight hours and 22 minutes to score 210, a staggering innings against the combined attack of heat and dust. Coach Bob Simpson summarised it as one of the great innings for Australia. The match ended in the second tie in the history of Test cricket. The knock became an epic.
“The only drive is to and from the ground”
The man himself did not consider that monumental effort to be his best Test innings. For him, the first-ever Test innings was the foremost. Jones had travelled to West Indies only because Graham Yallop had pulled out due to injury. He himself had fallen ill before the second Test at Port of Spain. But, Steve Smith, the batsman in form, was in worse condition. Hence Jones was drafted into the firing line. No idle metaphor that on a green wicket, with Joel Garner blasting out Kepler Wessels, Wayne Phillips and Greg Ritchie within 16 runs, and then getting captain Kim Hughes caught behind and bowling David Hookes to make it 85 for five.
Dean Jones walked out at No 7 and refused to give in to the fast men, Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Wayne Daniel. The balls came up to his ribs and throat. “The only drive you get here is to and from the ground,” Joel Garner reminded him. But the young man hung in there. With Allan Border’s calm presence at the other end, Jones held on for 161 minutes, scoring 48, adding exactly hundred with the senior pro, before hitting one back to Viv Richards.
One can say that he secured his place in the Test side during the tour to India that followed. At the same time, his rollicking approach to batting in limited-overs cricket made him a trendsetter in that format.
Seldom had one seen a batsman skipping down the wicket to lift fast bowlers over the infield. Dean Jones had the pluck and the cheek to do that against the quickest in business. He perfected the art of accelerating through the overs, with plenty of practice in the yearly three nation tournaments held in Australia. During the initial phase of his career, he struggled against top quality spin bowling in places like Sharjah and the sub-continent. But by the time Reliance World Cup was hosted in India and Pakistan in 1987, he had gained enough experience to score over 300 runs with three half centuries, averaging in the mid-forties. He was one of the architects of the Australian triumph in the tournament.
With time, his swagger, arrogance, quick scoring, electric running between the wickets and often superb fielding became legendary in the limited-overs games in Australian conditions. The 1991 publication of Dean Jones: One-Day Magic is a testimony to his expertise in the format and also the degree of respect he commanded from the cricketing community.
While he did score seven hundreds in ODIs during his career, his most brilliant innings was witnessed in the deciding final of the Benson and Hedges World Series 1988-89, against the West Indian pace attack at Sydney. In a rain-curtailed innings, against an attack comprising of Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Courtney Walsh, Jones played a blinder as the rest struggled. When the 38 possible overs were completed, Jones was an unbeaten 93 off 82 balls, with eight fours and two sixes. The second of the sixes was struck off Marshall, a preposterous stroke-launching him over mid-wicket. West Indies won with 28 balls to spare, but it was precisely this brand of One-Day Magic that lent its name to the Dean Jones image.
In his era, Jones was one of the most successful batsmen in One-Day cricket, with 6068 runs in 164 matches at 44.61 and a remarkably good strike rate for his times — 72.56. As many as 41 of those matches were played against the mighty West Indies, many more than against the other oppositions — and this in a way played havoc with the final figures. Like most men of his generation, Jones suffered against the great fast bowlers. He could manage only 855 runs at 23.75 against the giants of his day, with just four half-centuries. His average shoots up to 52.13 if the West Indians are taken out of the equation.
The Test career
His stature as a Test batsman perhaps suffered in comparison to his acceptance as one of the greats of One-Day International (ODI) cricket, but he did have some memorable moments in the longer format as well. He was less adventurous in Test matches, but brought his amazing stoke making ability into play quite often. A sweet timer of the ball with excellent drives on the on-side, he did have the propensity to get carried away in a flurry of shot-making, and gift his wicket away at times, but did go on to play many a significant innings for his side.
He did scoop up the Australian holy grail of Ashes glory early enough in his career, as he romped his way to a superb unbeaten 184 at Sydney in 1986-87, engineering a consolation 55- run win for Australia after the series had been lost.
Another triumphant moment arrived in 1988-89 against the West Indians. In the fifth Test match on a placid Adelaide pitch, he hammered Marshall, Pat Patterson, Ambrose and Walsh to pile up a career best 216.The series, once again, had been lost and the match petered to an inconsequential draw, but it was a resounding statement for Jones who had missed the first two matches of the series.
The highest point of his Test career came during the Ashes tour of 1989. With the rebuilding process of the eighties almost completed to perfection, the Australia trounced their age-old rivals 4-0 to regain the urn. Amidst the young heroes Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, Jones stood tall with 566 runs, notching up two centuries in the process. The hundreds did come in the only two drawn Tests of the series. Yet, Jones had done the hard work of acting as one of the pillars of the transition period, and now when the Australians were emerging as one of the best sides of the world, he had settled down as one of the bulwarks of their middle order.
His good form continued against Pakistan and Sri Lanka during the following Australian summer. But, the next year saw the runs dry up. In the Ashes series of 1990-91 and the tour of West Indies later that season, he managed just two half-centuries in 10 Test matches. However, against the West Indies he made a crucial 81 at Antigua, helping Australia win the final Test match, reducing the margin of defeat to 1-2. This perhaps helped him to keep his place in the side when the Indians visited in 1991-92.
Jones had an ordinary series against Mohammad Azharuddin’s men, before setting things right with an unbeaten 150 in the fifth Test. Incredibly, Jones was always at his best in the fifth match of Test series, managing 738 runs in the six such outings in his career, with three hundreds and an average of 92.25 — figures that spoke of his adapting himself and slowly getting on top of the bowling.
The last days
He was back near his best in Sri Lanka, with 276 runs in three Tests at 55.20. Incidentally, he topped the batting averages during the tour, which resulted in much incredulity when he was dropped from the Test side after this series. When West Indies visited Australia in the following summer, the selectors preferred Damien Martyn.
There were conjectures that Jones was not really a personal favourite of coach Bobby Simpson. In some quarters there were whispers that the habit of questioning decisions of the team management in public had cost him his place. Jones did have a long history of problems with the authorities. He had run-ins with his teammates while playing for Victoria, and had returned to Australia bang in the middle of a county season while turning out for Derbyshire.
Whatever the reason, Jones did make a comeback in the ODI side for a season in 1993-94 and toured South Africa for the limited-overs series. But, he never played Test cricket again.
Jones remains associated with the game as a coach and a popular voice in the commentary box. Yes, there are the flashes of thoughtlessness that dogged his batting that sometimes get reflected in embarrassing moments, occasionally heard on air around the world. The microphone was on when he reacted to a Hashim Amla catch with the infamous remark, “The terrorist has picked up another wicket,” and it got him banned from the Ten Sports commentary box in 2006. However, there are signs that he has mellowed and matured, and the get up of Professor Deano persona gets more appropriate by the day.
Dean Jones played 52 Tests, scoring 3631 runs at 46.55, with 11 hundreds. The numbers look good enough, but perhaps worth a prolonged career.
His more than decent record in Test cricket with two double centuries notwithstanding, Jones continues to be referred to as the ODI specialist of Australia. The man himself does not seem to mind.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix
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