For an Australian whose most enduring image in the subcontinent would be braving the Chennai heat of September 1986 at Chepauk to produce an epic double hundred, it's ironic that Dean Jones met his sudden end in the cosy confines of a five star hotel in Mumbai. In the three and a half decades that separated these two points in his journey, Jones straddled different sides of the cricket field with his distinct presence. If his playing days were marked by his presence as a stylish and strokeful one-down batsman, his distinct voice as a broadcaster and his work as a TV analyst left their own imprint.
His Chennai heroics are central to memories of the often revisited match, only the second tied Test in history. The innings had come two years after Jones’s debut against the West Indies. The demands of batting in the sapping heat of what was then Madras were taking its toll on his long stay at the crease. Lore has it that the Australian captain Allan Border spurred the vomiting and dehydrating Jones's regional pride with the quip that if a Victorian like him couldn’t brave such conditions, the team could bring in a Queenslander toughie like Greg Ritchie. Jones responded with a tenacious nine-hour stay at the crease on his way to a double hundred.
It's apt that Victoria state premier, Dan Andrews, led the province in remembering its proud son with the lament that Jones "should have been picked for many more than his 52 Tests".
More than the statistics or the duration of what was seemingly a truncated career, however, Jones’s batting personality was about flair, and not merely tenacity. In Test cricket, but more so in ODIs, he blended a fresh brand of feisty batting with elements of the classical approach. In his prime, he was watched for his audacious yet graceful strokeplay, an approach ahead of its time, anticipating the T20 cricket that would emerge over two decades later. “The T20 age was probably born in the imaginative aftermath of a Jones innings,’’ wrote Daniel Breetig, recalling the Australian’s approach.
Amid spells of inconsistency, which eventually cost him a longer career, Jones’s knocks were the stuff of cricketing conversations in the late 80s and early 90s – his Adelaide century against the mighty West Indies in 1989 and another on the same ground against the Pakistani attack led by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis one year later, the heroics on the 1989 Ashes tour of England, how he treated the legendary New Zealander Richard Hadlee like a club bowler in a ODI match.
He was integral to the team that not only put Australia on the path to resurgence after having lost its way in the early 80s but, by the time he left, helped make it the dominant power in world cricket. Though Jones featured in the Australian squad which won the 1987 World Cup, it was his role in clinching the Ashes in 1989 that made him a part of the revival story of Australian cricket.
Indifferent batting form and the emergence of a new pool of talent meant Jones’s Test match career ended in 1992 and his ODI career in 1994. It was a rather abrupt end to a career that had promised much more in its prime and engaged cricket fans with its frenetic flair. He walked out with decent batting averages and healthy strike rates in both formats. In the ODIs, in fact, his averages were among the best at the time.
After retirement, Jones found his calling on the side of the field as a commentator and analyst. He was generally sharp with his analysis, often tinged with humour, but sometimes stirred controversy with off-the-cuff remarks. He also found favour with TV studios in India, even anchoring hit cricket shows on TV news channels. He carried his broadcasting moniker of Professor Deano to a cricket show on NDTV. Beneath that fancy dress garb of professor – which became a trademark after he appeared in it for a pitch report in 2004 – was an astute analyst and sharp student of the game, as is evident from his last book One Day Magic and Deano: My Call.
As a commentator, Jones made some ill-thought, and apparently inadvertent, comments that got him in trouble. Most infamously, during a Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2006, he called Hashim Amla a “terrorist” when the South African player took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara. It was an off-air comment made during an ad-break. It was seen as distasteful stereotyping. Jones realised his mistake and its probable damaging effect on his broadcasting career. “A silly and completely insensitive thing to say,” he reflected later. He sought forgiveness from Amla and followed it by issuing a public apology.
A few months ago, Jones had asked cricket video archivist Rob Moody for the footage of some of the centuries he had scored. Amid the pressure and glamour of a hectic career in broadcasting, he knew that for satisfying moments of craftsmanship on the field he would have to revisit his moments with the bat. And they were great moments for millions of cricket lovers. One of them was from the 1989 Ashes, compiled in a photo book called the Victors. Many Indians would recall ordering it for the large pictures of an emerging world-beating Australian side. Jones was there in many of the frames, exuding a tenacious flair we had first seen in Chennai.
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