In both his cricket and his life, Dean Jones’ departures left a sense of shock and loss for their arrival before so many could say goodbye.
At the end of his international career as a wonderfully livewire batsman and limited-overs pioneer, this was because Jones found himself out of Test calculations and on the edge of the one-day team in South Africa in 1994, compelling him to call a summary retirement press conference on what had to that point been the nominal farewell tour of Allan Border.
Twenty-six years later, Jones left this world almost in mid-stride, suffering a cardiac arrest while working as an analyst on the latest edition of the IPL for Star in Mumbai. In both cases his departure left a deep, tangible sense of conversations and moments lost, of thank yous unable to be given. Similarly, his induction to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame had been done via video link when Jones was occupied by a T20 coaching assignment, and now his death left so many around the world feeling bereft, or perhaps even less articulate than that.
What we are left with is a rich trove of moments and memories, many more than those typically provided by cricketers of longer subsequent careers, and to ponder the jumble of contradictions, frustrations and triumphs of the man known universally as Deano.
Two qualities in particular stand out. The first was his sheer energy, a characteristic that helped push him to some of the most extraordinary cricketing heights. If Jones was flagging towards the end of his unforgettable 210 against India in Chennai in 1986, his captain Border knew how to bring on a second wind, suggesting that it was time to get a Queenslander, Greg Ritchie, in to do what a Victorian could not. His civic pride suitably threatened, Jones went on, past 200 and into legend.
Jones’ many other brilliant performances, and a few not quite so brilliant, were infused with a similar mix of bravado and courage. Whether it was smiting the West Indies all around Adelaide Oval for his second double century in Tests in early 1989, cuffing a young Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis for twin hundreds at the same venue a year later, or obliterating Sir Richard Hadlee in an Auckland ODI later the same season, Jones could be utterly irresistible. On the 1989 Ashes tour, Mark Taylor led the aggregates and Steve Waugh the headlines, but none batted better or more predatorially than Jones.
In one-day matches, Jones’ knack for finding gaps and running with what seemed Olympian speed between the wickets made him the most feared batsman in the world in the realm of limited overs. A technicolour innings of 145 against England at the Gabba in 1990-91, wearing the gold cap then the white floppy hat and cheered on by a packed house, alerted a generation of aspiring schoolchildren that batting need not be all about getting through to stumps: the T20 age was probably born in the imaginative aftermath of a Jones innings.
His precise knowledge of things like how much quicker he could run two if he turned blind than not, was also well ahead of its time. A pair of flicks to the fine leg boundary of Hansie Cronje at the SCG in his final international summer, the second followed by a pointed punch of the fist as the crowd went wild, underlined how infuriating Jones could be to bowl to, or captain against.
Of course, the manic enthusiasm for the game and the national team that Jones wore so proudly also led to plenty of occasions where brio outstripped sense.
Who but Jones would find himself run out after being bowled by a Courtney Walsh no-ball in the West Indies in 1991? Who but Jones would find the ball trapped between his glove and pads after advancing to Venkatapathy Raju at the MCG later that year, flicking it away and forever denying he could have been out handled the ball? Who but Jones would ever conceive of, let alone act upon, a plot to ask Curtly Ambrose to remove his wrist band under the pretence of losing sight of the white ball in the 1993 World Series finals? And who but Jones would actually write, innocently and truthfully in a column ghosted by Mark Ray, that the absence of the famously litigious coach Bob Simpson from the dressing room during a Gabba one-day game in early 1994 had helped the team to relax? Simpson threatened to sue his own player.
None of these moments helped Jones or his career, but they all added richly to cricket’s lore.
The second quality, for which Jones was equally famous, is the sense of something incomplete or unjust about his career and its aftermath. There is no more highly ranked Victorian than the state’s Premier, and in Dan Andrews’ social media tribute there came the words “should have been picked for many more than his 52 Tests”. It is a view that has been able to enhance the Melbourne pub trade for most of the past 28 years by generating extra conversation and by extension extra rounds, and it was never discouraged by Jones.
In his 1997 book, Matters of Choice, the former selector John Benaud gave a very good, reasoned and frank depiction of all the cross currents running through the selection panel’s call to make Jones 12th man for the Gabba Test against the West Indies in 1992. These ranged from Jones’ increasing levels of inconsistency, the need for a fresh approach to tackling the Caribbean side, and his poor record against the West Indies outside the aforementioned Adelaide 200, to the fact that the Sheffield Shield draw for that season had given him precious few hits relative to those afforded to Damien Martyn, who was ultimately to debut instead.
Martyn’s own tale is one of rejection and recrimination before his own summary decision to retire, and it was a burden that Jones carried through the next two years and, arguably, for the rest of his time around the game. Steve Waugh’s diary reflection on Jones’ international retirement, in South Africa in 1994, bears repeating: “I know how he desperately wanted to wear the baggy green cap again and when he thought that was an impossibility, he didn’t want to keep torturing himself.” Waugh was not alone in being far more calculating in later years when it came to the rules of engagement with selectors in particular, and the Jones precedent doubtless helped.
The selectors came close to recalling Jones one final time, for the 1996 World Cup, but stopped short at the very last moment. Jones’ riposte was to make a hundred for a World XI against the Australians in an MCG match to mark the centenary of the Victorian Cricket Association on their return from the cup. Though a vaudevillian Dean Jones tribute match had been played at the ground the season before, this was as close as he got to a true farewell: for parochial Victorians, Jones versus Australia was almost better than Australia with Jones.
It should not be forgotten, either, that both Jones and Border were the primary losers in the graduation of Australian cricketers from solid contracts to eye-popping ones. When they retired, neither commanded ACB deals of more than five figures, yet within a couple of years the likes of Waugh, Shane Warne and Mark Taylor were raking in earnings before endorsements much closer to half a million apiece. If there was ever a perception of selfishness or opportunism about Jones, his unfortunate place in cricket’s money trail is worth remembering.
As it was, Jones spent the rest of his days jumping between coaching, commentary and other assignments, including a brief and hotly debated stint on the Australia senior PGA golf tour in 2012-13. He was rightly castigated for a couple of heedless commentary moments, one a reference to not caring about the state of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe while there to cover a series, and the other a reference to Hashim Amla as “the terrorist” picking up a wicket. He was never likely to fit the cloth of a Cricket Australia coaching job, although he did consult briefly in 2012.
A third attribute, undersold by many, must be Jones’ generosity. Not always defined in the ways that cricketers or administrators might have wanted it to be, it was largely in the sharing and developing of ideas about the game of cricket and sport more broadly. Apart from One Day Magic in 1991 and My Call in 1994, which both carried strong instructional or counselling elements, Jones’ final book was a collection of cricket tips gleaned from his many and varied travels as a commentator and coach.
Its launch at the MCG in 2016 saw Jones in his very best form, holding court and discussing concepts he had picked up to share from the likes of VVS Laxman, Waqar Younis and Ricky Ponting, offering up photo opportunities and autographs as though he was still Australia’s No. 4 batsman instead of Steven Smith.
More recently, and in a more personal tale, Jones thought nothing of responding to a brief request of his memory with a long, jovial phone call and a bevy of advice about how best my partner and I might move out of a Covid-19 Melbourne into country Victoria should we so choose to. There was a warmth in this Jones that contrasted with the coolness others had experienced, just as his batting days could so swiftly veer between the sublime and the ridiculous. Either way, they were always memorable. So goodbye Deano, and thank you. You are gone much too soon. (Cricinfo)