September 1, 2002

Simon Jones - Double quick

Ron Jones
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Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones followed in his father Jeff's footsteps when he made his England Test debut against India. Ron Jones talked to him about the realisation of a dream...

When Simon Jones walked out at Lord's on his first appearance for England against India in July, sitting proudly watching from the stands was a distinguished-looking 60-year-old gentleman, who at some stage would no doubt have cast a wistful thought or two back to his own debut in Test cricket: Jeff Jones, Simon's father, had played his first Test, also against India, in 1963.

Simon Jones
Simon Jones - Glamorgan and England

For Simon, the 23-year-old Glamorgan fast-bowling tyro thrust suddenly into the Test limelight, it was the realisation of an ambition he had cherished since, as a young boy, he had first bowled a ball with his dad and brothers in the back garden of their Llanelli home.

It is, of course, rare enough for a father and son to play Test cricket but when both happen to be fast bowlers, both make their debut against the same country, and when son follows father by winning England recognition before receiving his county cap, it is permissible, surely, to raise an intrigued eyebrow.

Before he was forced to retire with a serious elbow injury in 1967, Jeff Jones had taken 44 wickets in 15 Test matches for England, against Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and India. Unlike the right-handed Simon, though, he was a lively, bouncy left-arm fast bowler who was capable of surprising even the world's best batsmen with his pace and lift.

It took the best part of two years following his England debut for his Glamorgan captain, Wilfred Wooller, to award Jeff his county cap in 1965 and, after a relatively short career, he finished with a total of 511 first-class wickets, exactly 100 of which he took in his last full season in 1967.

Jeff would be the first to admit that he was no batsman, though, in spite of his last-over heroics to help save the Guyana Test in 1968, which completed a 1-0 series win for England over West Indies. It came as no great surprise, therefore, that his Test aggregate of just 38 runs from his 15 matches at an average of 4.75 was comfortably surpassed by Simon at the first time of asking at Lord's.

His call-up to the England squad for two Tests against Sri Lanka early in the summer had given the junior Jones a chance to get the feel of a Test match dressing-room, so when his name was announced in the starting XI for the first match of the India series he felt more than ready. He admits to being nervous, which wasn't surprising as it was the first time he had ever been to Lord's and, strangely, the first time he had played in a match on television.

Simon says, engagingly: 'It was a bit of a shock suddenly sitting alongside cricketing legends like Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe and Alec Stewart, guys who up to a few weeks earlier I'd been watching playing in Test matches on television. They were great to me, though, and quite honestly I was prepared to back myself to perform well.'

It helped that England batted first and the nerves had a chance to settle. It was great, too, at the end of the first day, to meet up with his family. 'I could see especially how delighted Dad was for me and how proud he was. He just gave me a big hug before we had a chat about the day's play.'

On the second day, at last, it was Simon's turn to get in on the action, first of all with the bat. 'Nasser's last instructions were that he wanted us to get at least 400,' said Jones, 'then I just couldn't believe the welcome I got from the crowd. At the wicket, Craig White said to me "just go and play, boy", and away I went. Quite honestly, I didn't quite know what was happening until I looked up at the scoreboard and saw I'd made 44 in no time at all. It was at that point it probably hit me what was going on, and I got out! If I had continued as I'd been playing I'd probably have scored a few more.'

Jones dismisses Ratra - his first Test wicket
First blood: Jones has Ajay Ratra caught behind, and Nasser Hussain and Andrew Flintoff lead the congratulations

What had surprised Jones most of all was the noise of the crowd and how everything seemed to be a blur of colour. 'The heat, the noise and the colour made it all a fantastic experience. It was a lovely feeling,' he says. Then, though, came disappointment when he had his first bowl in Test cricket. 'I felt a little niggle in my ribs early on in the Indian first innings,' said Jones, 'and that meant I was unable to bowl at my fastest. I didn't want to let Nasser and the boys down, though, and was determined to get through the match. With 38 overs and four wickets, I think I did okay.'

What, though, about that magical moment when Nasser Hussain handed him the ball for the first time? 'I was nervous, very nervous. I had to laugh, though, because I'm very good friends with Andrew Flintoff, and he was standing at second slip with a huge smile on his face, which made me feel great knowing he was on my side. Mind you, he could hardly stop laughing when my second ball bounced twice before reaching Alec Stewart.'

Jones cannot speak too highly of Hussain and the way he nursed him through his early overs: `He's a great guy, as solid as a rock. He is hard and has great expectations of you. He stood at mid-on or mid-off while I was settling in, and kept on talking to me and encouraging me. I think he's a great captain.' Jones' first Test wicket, Ajay Ratra caught behind by Alec Stewart, was not as straightforward as it seemed. 'I got to the crease and I slipped, dragging the ball down. Ratra nicked it, and there was a bit of a delayed reaction before it sunk in that I'd got a wicket, and Flintoff was the first to grab me and congratulate me. It was a great moment for me.'

That first wicket followed near misses against both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, and in spite of a worsening of his rib injury he picked up two notable scalps in India's second innings: V.V.S. Laxman caught by Michael Vaughan, and Virender Sehwag, spectacularly bowled, with his off stump ending up halfway back to Stewart.

England duly completed their victory by an innings and 170 runs, with Jones having played a full part, in as composed and assured a Test debut as many good judges could remember. For him there were mixed feelings: 'The injury meant I couldn't bowl as fast as I would have liked, but the experience gave me a real taste for Test cricket and I want a lot more.'

The one cloud on the Jones horizon, unfortunately, is those injuries which have already disrupted his burgeoning career. The Lord's rib injury immediately ruled him out of the Second Test at Trent Bridge and, in spite of his rigorous training programme and superb physique, there are still some concerns about the little niggles which have affected him since he was a youngster.

His county coach at Glamorgan, John Derrick, thinks it could be only a minor setback, and his winter spent at the Academy in Australia with Rodney Marsh has dramatically improved his strength and fitness.

'His nickname in the dressing-room is Racehorse, says Derrick, 'though he's such a good-looking bloke he could probably take up modelling if he had to give up bowling.' In John's time as player and coach at Glamorgan, he can remember only two bowlers who came anywhere near Jones for sheer pace. 'Greg Thomas could certainly bowl quickly at times, and Ezra Moseley, though slightly built, was deceptively fast. Simon, though, can bowl quicker than both.'

Matthew Maynard, who has faced most of the world's fastest bowlers over the 17 years since he made his Glamorgan debut in 1985, says he has witnessed Simon bowl some of the quickest deliveries he has ever seen.

For his part, Jones is quick to praise a number of people who have helped his development. 'Richard Ellison during my two years at Millfield, Steve Watkin, John Derrick, Jeff Hammond and Duncan Fletcher at Glamorgan, and, most of all, Rod Marsh at the Academy. Rod is a hard task master, who tells you in no uncertain terms exactly what he wants. I like that, and I came home a better cricketer and a better man.'

Jones' immediate ambition is to get himself a long, injury-free run in the Glamorgan side, and to win a place in the England party for the winter Ashes tour of Australia. Few would bet against him, with the strength and support of his family and Glamorgan colleagues behind him.

How many fast bowlers, too, have the expertise of an Olympic gold medallist at their disposal? Jones has been given considerable help with his run-up and general fitness by former Olympic long jump champion Lyn Davies. `Lyn has worked on my stride pattern, and helped enormously with my rhythm. I now come in off a 15-metre run, which isn't very long, but I feel totally comfortable,' says Jones.

His fast bowling hero? 'Allan Donald,' he replies without a moment's hesitation. 'I have pictures of him all over my bedroom wall at home. He's my real hero, even though I've only had one brief meeting with him.' Not at all a bad model for any aspiring fast bowler. Glamorgan and England, certainly, will be more than happy if Simon Jones ends up as good as his idol.