Wisden Obituary

Dean Jones

JONES, DEAN MERVYN, AM, died of a heart attack on September 24, aged 59; he was in Mumbai, where he was part of the official IPL commentary team.

Whether dancing down the pitch to smite the ball over the infield, dashing to turn an easy single into two, or needling the opposition (and sometimes his team-mates), Dean Jones was rarely out of the action.

He was remarkably popular around Australia, especially in his home state, where a "Bring back Deano" campaign raged for years after he was jettisoned by the selectors. "He was an entertainer," said former Test captain Bill Lawry, "and Victorians are very, very loyal."

Jones was born in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg - although his mother, Gaynor, used to tease him that the reason he had so much to say was that he was conceived in Canberra, the political capital. An uncompromising attitude was instilled by his father, Barney, who played for Carlton, one of Melbourne's leading clubs; like his son, he died of heart trouble, aged 65. Dean was also schooled there by the Test opener Keith Stackpole. "He was what I would term my 'mental mentor'," said Jones. "He was the toughest bloke I ever came across in training and in technical aspects of the game."

An aggressive batsman, strong off the front foot, who might have been designed with limited-overs cricket in mind, Jones was instantly recognisable from a jaunty walk and an almost permanent smudge of zinc cream across his lips.

He hit 11 centuries in Tests, and seven in one-day internationals, but was finally dropped from the Test team in 1992, amid suggestions that most of his runs came when the pressure was off. He did average 50 in drawn Tests - but also 53 in matches Australia won. It is probably nearer the mark to say that, as an unabashed Victorian, he was an outsider in a team usually captained by New South Welshmen.

There was certainly no shortage of pressure during Jones's first Test century, in boiling heat at Madras in 1986-87. It was just his third Test, more than two years after his second, and started with a long partnership with David Boon. By the second afternoon, Jones was approaching 170, in severe distress, dehydrated and occasionally vomiting near the pitch. He told Allan Border, his captain and batting partner, that he would have to retire: in an attempt to make him carry on, Border said he'd have to get someone tough out there, like a Queenslander. Jones took the hint: "Stick it up your bum, AB, I'm staying here!" He eventually fell for 210, in 502 enervating minutes - but could not remember the last part of his innings, and had to spend the night on a hospital drip. He returned to the ground to resume his place in what became the second tied Test. The experience may have permanently affected his health: in later life, he often struggled in hot conditions.

After being a productive member of the team which pulled off a surprise victory in the 1987 World Cup - he scored 33 in the final, as Australia beat England by seven runs - Jones made 566 runs in the 1989 Ashes, with 157 spread over four days at a soggy Edgbaston. "His driving was again of the highest class," said team-mate Geoff Lawson, "using the slow pace of the wicket to hit balls on off stump through midwicket with complete safety."

Jones added 122 in the final Test at The Oval. A few months earlier, he had reeled off a Test-best 216 against West Indies at Adelaide. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, and seemed a fixture - but just three years later was dropped, from the five-day team at least. Form was not the problem: his previous Test innings in Australia was an unbeaten 150, against India at Perth in February 1992, and in his last series, in Sri Lanka a few months later, he had successive scores of 57, 77 and 100 not out.

Jones remained a one-day favourite, and famously riled Curtly Ambrose in a one-day final at Sydney in January 1993, asking him to take off his white wristbands when he bowled, claiming they made it hard to see the white ball. Jones was suffering from a broken thumb, and had hoped to put Ambrose off, but succeeded only in making him steam in more ferociously. After copping a couple of bruises - and watching Mark Taylor parry a snorter to gully - he said: "You can put them back on now."

After the South African tour of 1993-94, he was dropped for good. Border might have goaded him in Madras, but remained an admirer: "He was unbelievable at Test level, but his one-day aggression will be remembered for ever." Jones finished with 6,068 runs at 44 in ODIs; at the time, only Viv Richards had made more at a higher average.

Jones concentrated instead on domestic cricket, making a career-best 324 not out - the score matched his Australian shirt number - for Victoria against South Australia in one of the earliest first-class floodlit games, at the MCG in February 1995, and resuming the county career he had started in 1992. He had been an inspired choice for Durham's maiden first-class season, but did not return as it was wrongly assumed he would be in the following year's Ashes squad. "He made an instant impression," remembered fellow Durham newbie Simon Hughes. "In our first match, a Sunday League game against Lancashire, he strode out at No. 3, took guard outside his crease and slapped the bowlers - including Paul Allott, Phillip DeFreitas and Danny Morrison - all around the place for a brilliant hundred. After that, he reeled off six successive Sunday League fifties."

In 1996, Jones reappeared as captain of Derbyshire and, to start with, energised the squad again: they mountaineered 12 places in the Championship and finished second behind Leicestershire, their best since their only title, in 1936. He ended up with 1,502 runs at 51, including a ninth and last double-century, at Sheffield. But trouble was brewing. Some senior players were unhappy at being marginalised by Jones and the Australian coach Les Stillman, and the fallout led him to quit at the end of June 1997, with a parting shot at others' lack of commitment.

"Dean cocked up a declaration, and we lost to Hampshire at Chesterfield," remembered Chris Adams, a Jones supporter who also left Derbyshire after that seismic season. "But the incident that made his mind up took place not on a cricket field but the golf course." Jones had asked if anyone fancied 18 holes, and Adams was the only taker. On the first green they heard some familiar voices, and spotted four other players on the course. "Dean didn't say anything, but his expression told me he was absolutely devastated… He probably started packing his bags that night."

Jones bowed out at home after making an undefeated 100 - and a duck - in his final game for Victoria, against Tasmania at Melbourne in March 1998. It was his 55th first-class century, and left him with an average nudging 52. Two years earlier, in a match to mark the centenary of the Victorian Cricket Association at the MCG, Jones faced his former Australian team-mates for an unofficial World XI, and purred to a vintage 103. It helped them to a competitive total after being 114 for six, and allowed the local Herald Sun to run the headline "Deano saves the World".

After retiring from playing, Jones combined coaching with commentary. In 2006, thinking he was off air, he referred to Hashim Amla, the bearded South African Muslim, as a "terrorist" during a Test in Colombo. He was immediately sacked by the network, and work dried up for a while - but Jones re-established himself, inventing the character of "Professor Deano", who explained tactics, complete with mortar-board, ring-binder and cane.

He kept up the coaching, too, and rebuilt his reputation and popularity on the subcontinent: he inspired Islamabad United to the first Pakistan Super League title in 2016, and again in 2018. Players and officials from Karachi Kings and Multan Sultans formed a giant "D" on the outfield before the start of their PSL play-off in November. Karachi, whom he had coached at the start of 2020, went on to lift the trophy.

Jones had dropped occasional hints about helping the Australian white-ball teams - and Justin Langer, the current coach, admitted he was in the mix. "He eagerly sought information, and used it to enhance other cricketers' performances," said Ian Chappell. A restless mind meant that, even in retirement, Jones was always thinking about cricket, and how to improve it. He was among the first to suggest the third umpire should call front-foot no-balls, and felt that, where technology was available, hits over 85 metres should be worth eight rather than six.

Unlike some broadcasters, he mixed eagerly with the written press when off duty. "He respected and made an effort with everyone, whether ex-cricketer or no-name journo at your first game," recalled Brydon Coverdale, the Australian TV personality who formerly wrote for ESPNcricinfo.

Jones was under no illusions. "I've been a lucky boy," he told Wisden Cricket Monthly not long before his death. "If you'd said to me after my first Test series in the 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, and stuff like that, I'd have thought you were on drugs."

Not everyone was a fan: a long-time feud with former team-mate Merv Hughes, which started when Jones thought Hughes was being too careful after an injury, was never resolved.

After calling an IPL match - taking place in the UAE - on September 23, Jones was in a Mumbai hotel when he suffered a cardiac arrest. Brett Lee, his fellow Test-player-turned-commentator, tried in vain to revive him. News of his death stunned Australia. "When you first get a message like that, you don't quite believe it," said Mark Taylor. "You think somehow the lines of communication have been blurred."

A fortnight later, Jones's hearse made a final lap around the MCG, the scene of many of his more raucous triumphs - but now, because of Covid-19, hauntingly empty. There was one last farewell. On the first day of the Boxing Day Test against India, Jones's widow, Jane, and daughters, Augusta and Phoebe, as well as Allan Border, placed his Baggy Green and bat by the stumps, while the Australian players wore zinc on their lower lip in his honour. Cricket Victoria reinstated Jones's life membership, which he had handed back after criticising their administration, and renamed the state's annual one-day award after him. "Dean was one of Victoria's greatest players, and we want his cricket legacy to live on," said chairman David Maddocks.

© John Wisden & Co.