The fourth horseman of 2005

Simon Jones' career was blighted by injury but he was a key part of the attack who brought the Ashes home for England a decade ago and his story remains a compelling one

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Simon Jones: a thoroughbred fast bowler  •  Getty Images

Simon Jones: a thoroughbred fast bowler  •  Getty Images

There was always something compelling about Simon Jones. The shaved head and brooding expression as he prepared to run in and bowl. The fast, skiddy arm that sent the ball whirring towards the batsman at 90mph, ready to dart in or out at the last moment with the menace of a barracuda. The passionate celebrations in moments of triumph. The agony of injury and years of draining struggle.
Nicknamed "Horse", Jones was a thoroughbred fast bowler - his father, Jeff Jones, played 15 times for England - who became a champion during the 2005 Ashes, but was already on his way to the knacker. His career peak is a lesson in sporting schadenfreude: having played in the first four Tests against Australia, topping the England bowling averages, he was ruled out of the dramatic denouement at The Oval and never played international cricket again.
At the time, Jones was a key member of England's "fab four" pace attack, alongside Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard. If Jones' career was, on the face of it, the least notable of those four, he was certainly no Ringo. A fierce competitor with chiselled looks - he was voted the ninth sexiest man in the world by New Woman magazine - Jones should have been white-hot in England whites for many years; instead, it was his own body that was seared by the heat.
It was only two summers ago that he eventually retired, having helped his home county, Glamorgan, to a final at Lord's. With salt-and-pepper hair and a gentle run-up, he roared for the final time; plans to become a T20 specialist never came to fruition. Now, with the tenth anniversary of those heady Ashes feats approaching, he has finally decided to look back.
While The Test is clearly a convenient commercial tie-in, it feels like there is an element of catharsis for Jones in producing an autobiography. There is a chapter on each of the five Tests from 2005 - well-trodden ground, of course, but told from a different perspective - with reflections on the rest of his career dropped in between. Jon Hotten, the ghostwriter (and contributor to these pages), writes in tight, fluid prose, though occasionally his voice comes through the stronger - it is hard to imagine Jones discussing the "quotidian" pain of life as a fast bowler.
A fierce competitor with chiselled looks - voted the ninth sexiest man in the world by New Woman - Jones should have been white-hot in England whites for many years; instead, his body was seared by the heat
Pain is certainly something Jones is familiar with, however. A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, suffered at the Gabba in only his second Test, might have ended things there and then. Bone spurs on his ankle caused "electric" jolts through his left leg during the 2005 series - they were a legacy of a broken tibia and fibula at 16, which also left the leg slightly shorter and contributed to knee problems that required surgery in 2006 and 2008. There is truth in the description of the "fast bowler's breakfast" of ibuprofen and paracetamol.
Jones may have been dimmed by these "years of shadow" but his talent shone brighter than most. A raw, tearaway quick, he was given a Glamorgan contract at 16 (one he jeopardised by breaking his leg playing rugby at school) and selected among the first intake at the ECB's academy in Australia, run by Rod Marsh. He might have had Sachin Tendulkar as his first Test wicket, but for a drop at slip; Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting were among those discomforted by his pace and control of reverse swing.
So intimidatingly fast was he when first coming through that opposition batsmen did not want to face him. There was no keeping up with this Jones, although he eventually traded some pace in return for greater control via changes to his action and run-up. His aggression and desire to succeed were equally powerful weapons, and he talks insistently about getting into the heads of Ponting and Michael Clarke, Australia's current captain. The rush is palpable when we come to the famous reverse-swinging missile to dismiss Clarke at Old Trafford:
"He sees too late that it isn't moving away at all, it's moving in… and in that moment he says, 'Oh no,' loudly enough for me to hear, and then the ball clatters into the top of his off stump, knocking it out of the ground with a 'clunk' that sounds like music. The noise in Old Trafford is massive. The lads are charging at me, alive with joy. I turn around to the crowd behind me and salute them. The moment is perfect, one I'll always remember."
The fast man lived some fast times. From knocking out the teeth of a Zimbabwean sheep farmer with a bouncer as a 15-year-old to sinking seven pints the night before his Test debut against India, Jones always went hard. That approach extended in the opposite direction while recovering from his ACL injury, when he went a year without alcohol, as well as in the gym, where he developed a boxer's physique, the better to roll with life's punches.
At times The Test feels like a fictional reimagining, something David Peace might produce, as the fear and doubt that Jones projects on to the 2005 Australians seeps into his own sporting life. There is also a sense that the book was a little rushed in being put together, with some curious errors and slips making it through. Still, this is an account well worth hearing and one that will hopefully allow Jones to step out of the shadows for good.
The Test: My Life, and the Inside Story of the Greatest Ashes Series
By Simon Jones
Vintage Publishing
244 pages, £18.99

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick