Dean Jones: Cricketer who kickstarted Australia's era of Ashes dominance

Scyld Berry
·4-min read
Dean Jones - GETTY
Dean Jones - GETTY

Dean Jones, who died aged 59 of a heart attack while commentating in Mumbai, was a very good batsman for Australia, a keen student of the game who was ahead of his time in analysing it, and the man who turned the tide of Ashes cricket.

England had won the 1985 Ashes very easily, as easily as any series since the 19th century. The players were not alone in laughing at Australia, lacking some rebels who had toured apartheid South Africa, and their lowly standards. In the next Ashes of 1986-7 England again brushed Australia aside, going 2-0 up and retaining the urn, before the worm turned, and stayed until 2005.

In the last match of a five-Test series which has already been lost it is tempting to say “here we go again”, but Jones did not. This was the last time Ian Botham held a stranglehold over the Australians. They had also been shackled by England’s two spinners John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, and the game was at Sydney, which turned in those days.

Batting first, no Australian batsman reached 35, except for Jones who scored 184 not out. He was adept against spin because he was so quick on his feet. His grip was unusual, both hands clasped at the bottom of the handle, and no doubt a lot of thought had gone into it as he brought an American style of analysis to his game, long before cricket had heard of data or one-percenters.

At Sydney Jones batted for nine hours — even longer than he did in the tied Test against India in Chennai, where he made 210 before going on saline drips — and survived 421 balls, gradually draining the euphoria out of England. They lost inside the final hour by 55 runs.

At a stroke, or many strokes spread over those nine hours, Jones put the backbone back into Australia’s Test team. With Bobby Simpson installed as the first international cricket coach and Allan Border as their captain (hard men do not come much harder than those two) Australia embarked upon the best part of two decades of crushing England.

It had been only his third Test when Jones scored his double-century in Chennai in the second Test tie. It was more of a triumph over conditions — the intense humidity of September 1986 — than over India’s bowling because the pitch was so flat. Two other Australians made hundreds in the same innings, one of them Border, who reacted to Jones’s complaint about heat and cramp by telling Jones he might as well give his place to the reserve batsman Greg Ritchie, not renowned for fitness. If there was scope for toughening up, Jones did it fast, as England were soon to discover.

Briefly, Jones did a similar job of invigorating Durham. As their overseas player in 1992, their first season in the county championship, he brought a professionalism not possessed by the old lags, signed from other counties, and local ingenues. In a diary about Durham’s debut season, their bowler Simon Hughes recorded what an eye-opener it was when Jones practised his batting and fielding. Running between wickets like Jones’s, it is safe to say, had never been seen in English cricket.

Dean Jones - GETTY
Dean Jones - GETTY

His quickness of brain and feet made Jones an even better limited-overs batsman. He won a World Cup with Australia in 1987 when they surprised the world, especially the hosts India and Pakistan who expected to win it. He went on to become the leading ODI batsman in the world by today’s rankings. His highest first-class score was 324 for his home state of Victoria, and at the end of his career he played two seasons for Derbyshire.

But Jones was abrasive. So confident in his own new methods, whether playing or coaching, he did not have the patience to suffer those less committed. Sooner or later he fell out. 

It was somewhat similar when he became a commentator, after his retirement from playing in 1998. He made a comment about South Africa’s bearded Hashim Amla — comparing him to a terrorist — that saw him suspended from broadcasting before he was reinstated, especially in India, where he was working as a commentator on the Indian Premier League when he died. It was reported that Jones collapsed in the lobby of his hotel in Mumbai as he entered with the former Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, who attempted to revive him with CPR.