Dean Jones – the man who changed course of the Ashes
Batsman who helped turn Australia from laughing stock to serial winners has died aged 59 while working at the IPL
Dean Jones, who died yesterday aged 59 of a heart attack in Mumbai, where he was working on television coverage of the Indian Premier League, was a very good batsman for Australia, a keen student of the game who was ahead of his time in analysing it, and the man who turned the tide of Ashes cricket.
England had won the 1985 Ashes very easily, as easily as any series since the 19th century. The players were not alone in laughing at Australia, lacking some rebels who had toured apartheid South Africa, and their lowly standards. In the Ashes of 1986-87, England again brushed Australia aside, going 2-0 up and retaining the urn, before the worm turned – where it stayed until 2005.
In the last match of a five-Test series which has already been lost, it is tempting to say “here we go again”, but Jones did not. This was the last time Ian Botham held a stranglehold over the Australians. They had been shackled by England’s spinners, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, and the game was at Sydney, which turned in those days.
Batting first, no Australian batsman reached 35, except Jones, who scored 184 not out. He was adept against spin as he was so quick on his feet. His grip was unusual, both hands clasped at the bottom of the handle, and no doubt a lot of thought had gone into it as he brought an American style of analysis to his game, long before cricket had heard of data or one-percenters.
At Sydney, Jones batted for nine hours – even longer than he did in the tied Test against India in Chennai, where he made 210 before going on saline drips – and survived 421 balls, draining the euphoria out of England. They lost inside the final hour by 55 runs. At a stroke, Jones put the backbone back into Australia’s Test team. With Bobby Simpson as their first national coach and Allan Border as their captain – hard men do not come much harder than those two – Australia embarked upon the best part of two decades of crushing England.
It had been only his third Test when Jones scored his doublecentury in Chennai in the secondTest tie. It was more of a triumph over conditions – the intense humidity of September 1986 – than over India’s bowling, because the pitch was so flat. Two other Australians made hundreds in the same innings, one of them Border, who reacted to Jones’s complaint about heat and cramp by telling Jones he might as well give his place to the reserve batsman Greg Ritchie, not renowned for fitness. If there was scope for toughening up, Jones did it fast, as England were to discover.
Briefly, Jones did a similar job of invigorating Durham. As their overseas player in their first season in the County Championship in 1992, he brought a professionalism not possessed by the old lags, signed from other counties, and local ingenues. In a diary about Durham’s debut season, their bowler Simon Hughes recorded what an eyeopener it was when Jones practised his batting and fielding. Running between wickets like Jones’s, it is safe to say, had never been seen in English cricket.
His quickness of brain and feet made Jones an even better limited-overs batsman. He won a World Cup with Australia in 1987 when they surprised the world, especially the hosts India and Pakistan, and became the leading oneday international batsman in the world by today’s rankings. His highest firstclass score was 324 for his home state of Victoria, and at the end of his career he played two seasons for Derbyshire. But Jones was abrasive. So confident in his own new methods, playing or coaching, he did not have the patience to suffer those less committed. Sooner or later, he fell out.
It was somewhat similar when he became a commentator, after his retirement from playing in 1998. In 2006, he made a comment about South Africa’s bearded Hashim Amla – comparing him to a terrorist – and was suspended from broadcasting. He apologised and rebuilt his reputation, and was working with Indian TV company Star Sports at the time of his death. It was reported that Jones collapsed in the lobby of his hotel in Mumbai as he entered with the former Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, who attempted to revive him with CPR.
Tough: Dean Jones (top) catches England’s Kim Barnett at Lord’s in 1989; (left) batting; and (inset) he had a controversial career in TV