Jeff Dujon © Getty Images
Jeff Dujon © Getty Images

Jeff Dujon, born May 28, 1956, was a superb athlete behind the stumps and a graceful batsman in front of the wickets. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the career of the wicketkeeper who formed an integral part of the greatest side of all times.

One of the lasting memories of the West Indian tour of India in late 1983 is of Jeff Dujon in full flight.

The pace machinery, spearheaded by Malcolm Marshall, ran in ruthlessly to repair the dent in the proud line-up, caused by the surprise loss in the World Cup final. The balls flew off the docile Indian pitches, leaving the hapless batsmen hopping and hobbling. Some deliveries burst forth at angles and heights along erratic dimensions, often off the edge, always resembling furious streaks of red. And then one would see Jeff Dujon take off, flinging himself across yards, gloves stretched out to the limit, body horizontal, covering distances through the void with gravity defying élan. It would end with a thud that informed the ground that the frantic flight had ended with the cherry safely ensconced in the faithful clutch.

Dujon caught 16 in that series, and along with Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and alternately Richie Richardson or Roger Harper in the slips, formed one of the most lethal combinations behind the wicket. Yet, looking at the tour brochures, one finds him touted to become the finest batsman of the team. Remember, we are speaking of a line-up which started with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, and proceeded to Larry Gomes, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd. And in spite of these magnificent men, it was argued that Dujon was the most graceful of the lot.

When the gloves were off

Actually, it was not that unexpected.

The Jamaican had made much of his way up the ranks in domestic cricket as a specialist batsman. He heralded from Wolmer’s, a school which had produced as many as four wicketkeepers in the history of West Indian cricket — Karl Nunes, Ivan Barrow, Jackie Hendricks and Gerry Alexander.

Before he was 20, Dujon was already scoring hundreds in the Shell Shield — two against strong Barbados attacks. And this led the selectors to proceed on a well-meaning but misguided path of encouraging his batting, taking away his bigger gloves and banishing him to the covers. It delayed his march into the Test side. “The West Indies middle-order batting was very strong at the time, and I realised my best way of breaking into a touring team was as a wicket-keeper who could bat. I couldn’t make it if I wasn’t ’keeping,” Dujon reflected later.

It was not until 1981 that he became the regular ’keeper of Jamaica, and immediately scored an unbeaten 105 for President’s Young West Indies XI against the touring England team — his first hundred since the initial promise of the first two seasons. He followed this with 135 not out a fortnight later, out of 263 scored by Jamaica against a Barbados fire-breathing Malcolm Marshall bowling at his best to pick up 6 wickets. It was mainly due to these performances that he got selected to tour Australia as reserve wicket-keeper to David Murray.

The style and grace

Due to an injury to Greenidge, Dujon made his Test debut in 1981 at Melbourne as a specialist batsman while Murray did duty behind the stumps. He scored 41 pleasing runs in the first innings and then top-scored in the second with 43 as Dennis Lillee had bowled Australia to a win. In the second Test at Sydney, he made two more forties, once again playing as a batsman. But, soon, Murray’s drug problems got better of him. When the senior wicketkeeper was dropped from the ODIs, his reactions were angry and uncontrolled. Dujon was preferred as wicketkeeper in the third Test at Adelaide, took 7 catches and scored the thus far elusive half-century.

In 1983, Murray departed for South Africa with the West Indian rebel team and the gloves were handed to Dujon with a justified air of permanence. And the Jamaican continued to flourish in front of the stumps and fly behind them.

When he embarked on the 1983 tour to India, Dujon averaged 48.60 in eight Tests. A few months earlier, in the last Test he had played, he had scored 110 at St John’s, his first century, against these very Indians.

In the first Test at Kanpur, he walked out with West Indies struggling at 157 for 5. He batted three-and-a-quarter hours to score 81, adding 152 with Greenidge. It was this partnership which formed the launch-pad for the Malcolm Marshall blitzkrieg with bat and ball that followed. Dujon scored 367 runs in the series at 52.42, top-scoring with 98 on a difficult pitch at Ahmedabad.

He followed it up with a hundred apiece in each of the next three series, at home and away against Australia and in England. The best of them was also his highest, 139 scored on the fast and bouncy track of Perth. He had walked in at 104 for 5, had to retire after being struck on the head by a Terry Alderman bouncer at 154, had come back at 184 for 6 and had carried the team to 335. It was the knock on the head that prompted him to wear a helmet for the first time and he continued to do so till the end of his career.

Till the end of 1984, Dujon had played 29 Tests and accumulated 1,608 runs at an average touching 46 with 4 hundreds.  It seemed that he was indeed on the verge of becoming the best batsman of West Indies.

Dujon’s batting was laced with elegance of a rare kind. While Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards pummelled their drives with an explosive burst of power, Dujon played through the covers with wristy grace reminiscent of Lawrence Rowe, Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran. He swivelled on languid feet and hooked in style. And on his sprightly dancer’s feet, he was brilliant against spinners. And all the while, when he donned the bigger gloves, he transformed into superman behind the wicket, zooming around to collect lightning quick deliveries and snicks.

However, somehow his magic with the willow dwindled with surprising quickness from 1985. The stints became shorter and the scores got smaller. He recovered briefly during a purple patch in 1988. It included denying Pakistan the series with a dogged unbeaten 106 against Abdul Qadir on a turning Trinidad track. It was his last Test century during which he added a series-changing 97 with Viv Richards. He stubbornly held fort in the final game at Barbados, remaining unbeaten on 29 as Winston Benjamin wielded the long handle at the other end, adding 61 for the ninth wicket in a tense two-wicket victory. That summer he slammed four solid half centuries and an unbeaten 40 as West Indies triumphed 4-0 in the 5 Tests against England.

But, apart from this brief eight Test period, his batting went steadily downhill. In the last 52 Tests of his career after 1984, he managed to score at just 24.84. He later attributed the slump to the combined effect of diminishing focus on batting and the gradual damage to his hands from taking all those thunderbolts from the fast bowlers.

Jeff Dujon attempts a stumping during the 1985 Benson & Hedges World Series final © Getty Images
Jeff Dujon attempts a stumping during the 1985 Benson & Hedges World Series final © Getty Images

The acrobat

Yet, whenever he donned the gloves, he became the acrobatic asset behind the wicket, holding on to any little deflection, bringing off spellbinding catches  that left all awestruck but Dujon himself. Keeping himself fit with relentless games of squash, and often delighting onlookers with dance performances partnering his wife, he remained nimble and athletic, a swift, agile, ever-recognisable figure with uncanny reflexes.

There were critics who complained that he was too much of a showman, who bartered economy for exuberance. Yet, few complained when spectacular catches were gobbled up due to the same lissom, alert vigilance. Keeping to a plethora of great fast men included uncertain snicks at awkward angles and heights all day. Dujon seldom missed any.

There were others who pointed out that he had never been tested by spinners. Yes, only five of his 270 career wicketkeeping dismissals were stumpings. But with four fast bowlers in constant operation, he seldom kept to spinners of note, most often standing up only when Richards or Gomes turned their arms over, or Roger Harper leapt in and delivered his off-breaks.

Dujon retired after a 10-year career of 81 Tests for West Indies, as an integral part of the best team in the world, never ending up at the wrong end of a lost series. He missed just one Test in his entire career, due to an injured thumb. And even now, his wicket-keeping tally stands fifth in the all-time list, with 270 dismissals — he took two additional catches as a fielder in his first two Test matches. Only Mark Boucher, Adam Gilchrist, Ian Healy and Rod Marsh have scalped more.

With the bat, his figures read a respectable 3322 runs at 31.94, with 5 hundreds. It might have been a lot better had he managed to sustain the brilliance of his initial years. But, Dujon is not likely to complain. West Indies won 44 and lost just 12 of the Tests he played in, winning 12 and drawing 7 of the 19 series. And Jeff Dujon played a leading role in the success of this champion team during their greatest period, whooshing through the air to hold spectacular catches, contributing down the order and keeping spirits up between deliveries and overs with his cheery words and ebullient smile.

(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)