Couch Talk

'Being involved in '05 defined my career'

Former England fast bowler Simon Jones talks about his short-lived Test career, battling injuries, and the captains and coaches he has played under

Your father, Jeff Jones, played for England as well, and he was a left-arm quick. What was his role in you wanting to become a fast bowler?
He was obviously an inspiration for me. I had seen him play while growing up. He never put any pressure on me. I loved football first up. As I grew older, I found that I was better at cricket than football. It was kind of a natural progression. It was great for me to have someone to chat to during the tough days. In cricket, you have more bad days than good days. He would say, "Carry on what you are doing, keep your head up, and things will turn." And they did. It was great to have him as a mentor.
Were there other fast-bowling inspirations?
Allan Donald was my hero. White Lightning as they called him. I used to watch him play Test cricket. That spell he bowled to [Michael] Atherton at Trent Bridge inspired me to be as quick as I could, and be aggressive. And he is an absolute legend of the game. I have met him a few times, did a bit of work with him. I remember being at Warwickshire, while playing for Glamorgan, he was watching me at the warm-ups. He had a little chat with me and told me to try this and try that. Immense to have worked with someone like that.
What is the origin of your nickname Horse?
(laughs) I think it is because I did everything quickly. I could run 100m in 11 seconds. I didn't do anything slowly. Steve Watkin gave me the nickname Racehorse. That is where the nickname Horse came from.
Soon after your debut, you had a devastating injury. How did you deal with it?
I was lucky. I kept some good people around me. Erjan Mustafa, who was the Glamorgan physio at that time, looked after me well. We are best friends now, he was my best man at my wedding. It is funny - you meet people and they are there for a reason. I am a big believer of that, the karma. It was a tough 18 months but it turned out to be worthwhile. The darkest time was towards the end of my career, when I was at Hampshire and Glamorgan, when I was waking up every day and checking my knee. I have retired now, I am happy. I don't need to worry about playing any more.
What was it like, mentally, to bowl to legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Clarke and Brian Lara?
My debut was against India, against the likes of Tendulkar, [VVS] Laxman and [Rahul] Dravid - superstars. For me, as a 22-year-old, to make my debut in a place where I had never been before, I was very nervous. I remember telling Nasser [Hussain] that I couldn't feel my legs. There is a picture of me with my arm around Nasser, and he said, "You've got to feel good soon because you've got to bowl." But that was a great learning curve. If you can bowl well against these guys, you can bowl to anyone. It was a great learning curve for me, to experience Test cricket early on in my career. When I came back from my injury, I was ready. I felt that I had a lot to prove. I missed the 2002 Ashes because of my knee. I was hungry to come back and play against the Aussies, because they were the best in the world. That team that we played against in 2005 was exceptional. To do so well was really inspiring, I am very proud of that.
Tell me about your six-for in that series, and about the dismissal of Michael Clarke.
I bowled well at Lord's. There were a couple of dropped catches and that was annoying. I could have had a four or five-for. I would have loved to have been on the honours board, but it didn't happen. I bowled nicely at Edgbaston. I think I didn't get as many wickets as I could have. At Old Trafford, things clicked. To get wickets against the Aussies, because of the standard they play, was brilliant for me. I really enjoyed it. It was a very proud moment to get Clarke the way I did, because I set him up nicely. To get him that way blew me away.
"I would love to get into punditry. While I watch the game, I love to talk about the young lads coming through"
You have a series of outswingers and then one comes in - you can hear him say "Oh no!" Was that a moment of satisfaction and relief?
Oh yes, massive. The crowd had gone quiet. I was on the top of my mark. I had given the crowd a bit of a gee up, and they reacted because there was a little bit of a lull as Australia were batting quite well. When I was running in, they were making the "Oooooo" noise. When I bowled the inswinger, I got it just right. It hit the top of off, and thought I had probably got one of the best batters in the world there. It was satisfying, and it was immense relief that we had broken a partnership that was building nicely.
Were there times where you looked at the batsman after you had dismissed him and you knew you had beaten him neck and crop?
Yes, you can look him in the eye, and they know they have been done. It was like that when I bowled [Virender] Sehwag at Lord's. It was an inswinger as well. To someone of his class, I was delighted. When you get to a certain level, you have to adapt quickly. Otherwise it is going to be a long and hard day. I adapted my game to bowl to these guys because they are brilliant talents. It is hard work to bowl to them. It's like a game of chess - you have to try to out-think them, be as aggressive as you can and really push hard to take wickets. But these batters apply themselves and do make your life really hard.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Rahul Dravid are very solid players when in their zone, while Sehwag, Michael Clarke and Lara are more aggressive in nature. Which one is more challenging and satisfying to take the wicket of?
The more defensive the batsman is, the harder it is, because you know that their techniques are sound. They are used to batting all day. Chanderpaul was a nightmare because you know that he can bat all day and it wouldn't bother him one bit. The same with Dravid - they call him the Wall for a reason. This is a test of patience. I have to try and lull him into a false shot, and that is tough because of their technique. I would rather bowl against those who could score off a few because you had a chance, rather than when I bowled to Dravid and other guys.
Even senior bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad quickly pull their lengths back and put a man outside, so as to not give away runs. But that wasn't a part of your nature.
No, I was an attacking bowler. I didn't mind going for runs. My job, as any bowler's, is to take wickets. There are 20 wickets in a game. In 2005 we backed our batsmen to chase the runs. Our job was to take wickets and get off the field as quickly as we could, regardless of the run rate. You look back at 2005, the run rate was ridiculous. It was just the intensity, all-consuming. I was an attacking bowler, setting attacking fields.
Your celebrations were more visceral than anybody else's, especially among the England players. What was all that about?
I valued every single wicket regardless of who it was - No. 1 or No. 11. I was very proud of them. As a bowler you have to work hard in Test cricket to get a wicket. When I got a wicket, I was too elated. I celebrated it in the right way - aggressive at times. That is my nature - mild-mannered off the field, but when I am on the field I have it all put together. I am thinking that this batter wants to make me look silly, he wants to hit fours and sixes. So you have to be aggressive - not in their face, but you have to do things right.
"The darkest time was towards the end of my career, when I was at Hampshire and Glamorgan, when I was waking up every day and checking my knee"
You played under Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, the more analytical and thinking captains in recent history. What was their effect on you being the bowler that you were?
Both were exceptional. Nasser was great to work with, very aggressive, will back you all the way. Nasser had an attitude - you put in your hard work, you get the wickets or runs. I loved working for him.
Vaughany was very different. He was very relaxed and he wanted you to express yourself and enjoy. He made you feel at ease, there was no pressure ever. And that is why we did that well in 2005. He knew we could get 20 wickets, he knew he had such good bowlers. He was a joy to work with. He would ask, "What are you going to do here?" I would have a chat with him and he would say, "I think this." And normally he was right and we would get on with it.
How would you compare those two with the two recent England Test captains - Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss?
Totally different. I would say Straussy and Cook are quite conservative, quite defensive, and that is their nature. That is how they approach the game. It is not right or wrong. You look at the attacks that Strauss and Cook have had - Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn, Swann - they are attacking bowlers. That is their method. You can't change that. I just hope that Alastair Cook is attacking throughout the [current Ashes] series, because if you are going to bowl these guys out twice, you have to be attacking. That is where Mark Wood comes in.
The foursome - you, Freddie [Flintoff], [Steve] Harmison and [Matthew] Hoggard - and with the four now (Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Wood), how would you compare them?
The balance in the attack now is good. They have options - in Tests you need different options at different times. Maybe someone like Stuart Broad has come in and bowled horrible lengths - he is tall, 6ft 6in. You may see that someone's bowling a fuller length like Wood, who can be fast and get it to reverse, so now you have got that attacking option. Whereas in the West Indies, they all looked the same - all bowling back of a length, which batsmen could leave easily. Now, they are a more rounded attack, they are more dangerous.
In the 2005 series you and Kevin Pietersen were good mates. What is your relationship like? You said that he helped you in times of need, when you were injured. What is your relationship like now, and what is your take on how he has been handled by the England management?
I can't speak highly enough of him. He is a great man. I have got plenty of time for Kev. An absolute genius with the bat. I have not seen many more talented than him.
I think what has happened with England is sad. For him to go back to Surrey and prove that he wants to get back to the Test team was tough for him. He got 250-odd and then he got shunned. But at the same time, Strauss had just come into the job [as director of cricket], and he made some tough decisions - got rid of Peter Moores and then put the KP issue to bed. He has done his job. Now this England team can move forward. I would love to see Kev out there now, but it is never going to happen. So KP is going to carry on playing in these T20s and whatnots, and just be the player that he is. It is sad to see, but I can see where Andrew Strauss is coming from. He wants the best for England. He wants to see the youth move forward and develop a team for the future rather than dwell in the past.
What was Duncan Fletcher like as a coach in terms of strategising and finding flaws in the opposition?
Fletcher was the best I have been with. Rod Marsh is one who I thought was superb. Fletch was a good man manager. He reads people well. We had a couple of chats where we didn't really agree, but he was like that. If you had a chat with him, you can be open and honest and clear the air. He would sit back, he would let us prepare, and he would go to the back of the nets and watch. You finish bowling in the nets and then he will have a chat. You would know that he is right. He is a thinker. I think [Trevor] Bayliss is the same - he will sit back and watch and help these lads in small ways rather than impose himself on the team. Fletch gave me the opportunity and brought me into the Test squad. He worked with me in the academy for a month when I wasn't in the squad.
You retired from first-class cricket in the 2013 season, although you didn't play for England after 2005. Did you hope for an England comeback, or were you satisfied playing first-class cricket and T20s?
When I moved to Worcestershire [in 2007], I took 45 wickets in nine games and England started to look at me again. You always hope you can play for England. But it didn't happen, and it was the toughest four years of my life in terms of frustration, injury… mentally it was very, very tough. But it is what it is. I am a realist. I understand that I wasn't ready at that time to play for England. They went with [Darren] Pattinson from Notts, which kind of confused me since I was also bowling well. But I am happy with what I could achieve. I could have played 80-90 Tests, but I played 18. But being involved in '05 defined my career.
What are your plans for the future?
My book came out two weeks ago. I have my Test honorary this year. I am going to spend a year looking at what I want to do. I would love to get into punditry. While I watch the game, I love to talk about the young lads coming through. Just a year, assessing where I want to go. It is quite a tough place to be, actually. Cricket is the only stuff you know - you had 20 years of your career doing that. So in another year or year and a half, I will think of what I am going to do next. I look forward to the next chapter, wherever that might be.