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Dean Jones: A cricket life

Dean Jones
by Saj Sadiq 8 minute read

Dean Jones, the former Australian batsman who passed away on Thursday, September 24, recalled the top moments from his cricketing career earlier this year.

First published in issue 31 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

Falling for the game

I liked Aussie Rules more but I just happened to be better at cricket. My father was captain and coach of Carlton in club cricket and was something of a legend within that set-up. He won premierships and did very well at that level without playing first-class cricket and I just got roped in from there. At the age of 13 or 14, I started playing club cricket under the mentorship of [former Australian Test cricketer] Keith Stackpole, who was what I would term as my ‘mental mentor’. He was the toughest bloke I ever came across in training and in technical aspects of the game. He got me ready and hardened for professional cricket. If I had gone to any other club, I believe I wouldn’t have had that guidance and mentorship.

Border’s patrol

Even as a kid, I never really liked Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh or Ian Chappell, despite the fact they were playing for Australia. I didn’t have heroes but I’ve always admired Allan Border. My first tour was to the West Indies [in 1984] and facing that barrage of fast bowlers and seeing Allan Border make all those runs showed me that firstly, he was a ripper bloke; secondly, that bowling was not going to get better than that West Indies group of pace bowlers. And I still believe it never did.

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Seeing Border do so well on that tour showed me his toughness and made me believe that he is the Godfather of Australian cricket. He reluctantly took the captaincy, didn’t like doing it, but he realised that actually it was more fun than making hundreds for Australia. He set the foundations and the Mark Taylors, Steve Waughs and Ricky Pontings can thank Allan Border for what he did for Australian cricket. If he didn’t build those foundations, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are in now.

Career highlights

There were so many highlights and special moments but if I had to pick a couple, the 1989 tour of England was amazing and winning the 1987 World Cup will always be special for me. We had to beat India in India and Pakistan in Pakistan to win that tournament and we played very, very well. The 1989 Ashes series was another big moment for me. The moment that I would like to have back again would be the fourth Test match at Old Trafford in 1989 [which Australia won to clinch the series], when I stood on the balcony, rang my father up and said to him, “Dad, thanks very much for helping me get here”.

I was very fortunate to play in an era where I faced all the fast-bowling dinosaurs, all the major super-quick bowlers: the Wasims, Waqars, the West Indian quicks, Allan Donald. It was a pretty good time to be a bowler and batsmen’s performances in that era were reflective of just how good the bowlers were. There was some serious pace-bowling talent in that era and you rarely had matches where you felt you were up against a bowling attack that lacked quality. Patrick Patterson, for five overs at the MCG in the 1988 Test match that started on Christmas Eve, was the scariest thing you could ever imagine as a batsman.

Also, facing Wasim Akram, when he was reverse-swinging it all over the place, was really tough. Even though I had a pretty good record against Pakistan, the reality was that you had to bat differently against Wasim to survive. Waqar Younis was unbelievably quick when he was young and Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner were fearsome opponents. Tall bowlers always worried me as I tended to be a front-foot player and, looking back, if I should have changed my game, I would have been more back and across like many of the guys are nowadays. I don’t know why but I kept on getting on the front foot and trying to hit those tall quicks on the rise. Trust me, it wasn’t the right way to play them.

Toughest opponent

Richard Hadlee was just outstanding. He ripped me to pieces and I learnt more about cricket and life off Hadlee than I did most others. I wasn’t at the top of my game against him as there was too much nonsense and bravado from me, and he ended up breaking me up a little bit. I had to come back from that, rejuvenated and remade, and even now, I think if I had not gone through that against Hadlee, I don’t know if I would have become the player I was later in my career.

Selection struggles

I was one of those guys who just hated losing and it was just as bad whenever I got dropped from the Australian side. I was dropped a few times by my country and that finished my Test career at the age of 31. I couldn’t do much more to get back into the team as they were so very good – from the time I was dropped to when I retired in 1998, they rarely lost a Test series. The selectors, despite my disappointment, they did the right thing. There are always lows and even now, when I play a friendly or charity match, and I get out for not many, it really annoys me. I know I need to get over it. I’m too old for that nonsense.

Competitive spirit

I’ve not lost that competitive edge and when I coach these days, for example at the Pakistan Super League or for the Pakhtoons in the T10 League, they can’t believe how annoyed I get when my players are talking to the opposition before the match starts. Why be too friendly? You can always speak to these guys after the game at the hotel. Be ready, be prepared, because the opposition is trying to ruin your career today, and you are busy talking to him. I just don’t get that. Be friends after the game, that’s cool. But for an hour or two before the game, just remember the colours you are wearing and think about the people who are paying you to play well.

Curtly’s wrath

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have told Curtly Ambrose to remove his white wristband [in a 1993 World Series final at Sydney]. Wasim Akram had broken my thumb four days earlier and I had to get it pinned. Back then, if you were out with injury, you didn’t get paid for the matches that you missed and I also had Damien Martyn snapping at my heels to get into the team. So I couldn’t afford to miss the match and had an injection before the game, which I should never have done as I couldn’t feel my hand.

I realised I was in a lot of trouble as soon as I had the injection, just before I went out to bat. I thought the only way I was going to get around it was to rile Curtly up, so he’d get a little too worked up and lose his control. I could use his pace to my advantage and cut and hook him and ramp him down to third-man. Well, he didn’t lose control; instead he got five guys out, then 10 in the next Test at Adelaide and nine in the following match at the WACA.

It was done through sheer desperation. I felt I had to do anything to keep my spot. It’s funny now but it wasn’t back then. I was trying to save my career and people forget that. I was thinking that if Damien Martyn comes into the team and makes 50 or so, then I’m never going to get picked again. Facing four of the fastest bowlers in history with a busted thumb that had been operated on just four days earlier was definitely not funny.

Best innings

In my first Test match, at Port of Spain in 1984, I scored 48 on an awful pitch where Allan Border made 98 not out. I rate that as my best-ever Test innings. I also remember, a couple of Tests after scoring 210 in Madras, making 73 not out in Mumbai in 1986 to save the match on the last day to share the series. We had to bat out the last day on red soil, on a pitch that was turning square. I remember when they took the second new ball, Kapil Dev bowled me a bouncer and I hooked him for six and then hit the next ball for four. Allan Border came down to me and said, “Now I know you can play”.

In ODIs, I made 145 against England at Brisbane in 1990 and played really well there, but when it comes to a good ball-hitting performance, it has to be the match when we bowled New Zealand out for 160 in Richard Hadlee’s last ODI in front of his home crowd at Auckland, also in 1990. In response, I scored an unbeaten 100 off 90 balls and we won with 11 or so overs to spare on a pitch that was quite difficult. I don’t think I ever hit the ball better than that.

‘I’ve been a lucky boy’

Looking back on my career, I’m pretty happy really. If you’d said to me after my first Test series in West Indies, where I got absolutely ripped apart mentally, physically and technically, that I would play 52 Test matches and 164 ODIs, and that I would play in Ashes series, win a World Cup, win World Series and stuff like that, I’d have thought you were on drugs. Here I am at the age of 58, earning a lovely living from the game and trying to impart my knowledge as a broadcaster and as a coach. I’ve been a lucky boy.

First published in issue 31 of Wisden Cricket Monthly in May 2020

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