Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2020

Dean Jones 24 March 1961 – 24 September 2020

Looking for a Queenslander

Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket had skewed an English lad’s view of Australian batsmanship in the 80s. I could just about recall the gritty qualities of Ian Chappell and saw those reflected in Allan Border, but where was the heir to Greg Chappell, that most elegant of strokemakers? We didn’t see much cricket played in Australia so Kim Hughes, after a disappointing tour in 1981, was hardly the real deal for us as he was for his compatriots.

England won The Ashes again in 1985 and, though we had read of Dean Jones, we hadn’t seen him and we could, in pre-internet blissful ignorance, consider him merely another Dirk Wellham, a product of the self-proclaimed mythology of Australian cricket, the next disappointment from Down Under.

Then 1989.

An Ashes average of over 70 was only good enough for fourth on the list and he was about there in the storylines too, after the astonishing breakthrough of Stephen Waugh, the relentless accumulation of Mark Taylor and gruesome ruthlessness of Allan Border. But Jones scored 566 runs comprising two centuries and another three fifties, each innings featuring the elegance of the iron fist in velvet glove that reminded us of the younger Chappell. We saw exactly what the fuss was about.

At 28, he was but four years away from playing his final Test, but what a run of form he enjoyed – 32 matches, 2360 runs at 50 with eight centuries and nine fifties. He batted with an elegance and an unshakeable positive approach and, if he wasn’t quite as pleasing on the eye as Mark Waugh (who succeeded him as the aesthetes’ favourite), he was a purist’s delight  for sure.

Recalled in 1986 after a false start against the awesome West Indians, his monument will always be his first innings back in the Baggy Green. The fabled 210 in the tied Madras Test would never happen today – indeed, law suits may ensue if anyone got even close to Jones’ ordeal . With only the nutritional knowledge picked up on the grapevine (and electrolytes considered something dangerous to Superman and not essential to bodily function) Jones was in trouble at the crease, his body expelling what it could, the head swirling. His captain, Allan Border, goaded him to stay in the middle, noting that Jones was no Queenslander and, though he could barely stand, he could bat and did, adding another 36 runs to his score before he staggered from the field. Had he made one fewer, the match would have been lost. He won the Man of the Match award and the opportunity to drink for free in any bar in which an Australian sat for the rest of his life.

Jones played 21st century ODI cricket in the 20th, winning the World Cup in 1987, four of his seven centuries coming at a run a ball or better – seriously quick back then. He played 164 ODIs and, as with Test cricket, some would argue that he was dropped a little early, but a Golden Age of Australian cricket had dawned and Jones must have looked at some of the twentysomethings who couldn’t get in the XI and, by now a thirtysomething, expected the reverse nod.

His spiky personality, allied to a speed of mouth that sometimes spun him off the track and into the barriers, did not always fit well into dressing rooms in which some egos needed stroking rather than dismantling. Broadcasters loved it though, the wit and wisdom wrapped within an enthusiasm for the game and that indefinable quality that kept you listening because he might just fall off the highwire – sometimes he did.

But cricket fans loved him for it, and the fact that he was broadcasting until his final day showed that executives were prepared to take the rough with the smooth the deal Jones made all his life.

Nobody ever asked “Who’s that?” whether Dean Jones had a bat or a mic in his hand – and the world of cricket is diminished by the death of one of its singular characters, who will be much missed.

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