A picture speaks a thousand words. Sometimes it does more. One of them is a grainy, pixelated one of Dean Jones leaning onto his bat like a walking stick and vomiting on the ground, attended by a couple of Indian cricketers and his batting partner during his sweat-drenching double hundred in the exhausting Madras heat of 1986. This could arguably be the most historic and symbolic of photographs in the history of modern Australian cricket history, the picture that set in stone a world-beating Aussie dynasty for nearly two-and-a-half decades.
It made not just Jones, but his captain Allan Border. A rookie called Steve Waugh watched all this in awe. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Jones’s 210 was to Border what VVS Laxman’s 281 was to Sourav Ganguly. A knock that was much more than a knock. Take that picture out, the rest might not even exist as it is now. It’s the centre-spread that holds the album of Australia’s conquests. Those were trying times for Australia.
Border’s batch to the subcontinent in 1986 had won just three Tests over the preceding two years. It had been two decades since Australia tasted victory in the subcontinent. And Border was under immense criticism for blooding in youngsters that fitted the tough-nosed, rugged-to-the-bones mould. There was no place for silk or softness.
Thus, over two days of skinning heat, stifling bowling — and as Jones would humorously interject that unbearable stench of the nearby Willingdon Canal — Jones became the poster boy of Border’s concept of an Australian cricketer, or John Arlott’s definition of Australianism, that “single-minded determination to win, to win within the laws, but if necessary, to the last limit within them”.
Tough and tenacious, resolute and resilient, as that Chepauk masterpiece illustrated. Australianism had existed before Jones — Arlott eponymous essay was published as early as 1952 — but Jones breathed freshness into the expression. It’s how the Australian cricketers designed themselves to be for generations.
But to judge a cricketer — and a pedigreed one like Jones — on the dint of a single knock, how much ever grand that could be is a travesty of justice. The Chepauk effort was his defining effort, his ticket to immortality, but Jones was more that. He authored another magnificent double hundred against one of the most feared bowling consortiums of his era. Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh could transform the benignity of an Adelaide Oval featherbed into a hellish minefield.
It was as fine an exhibition of the horizontal batted strokes as any in that era. Anything remotely short, he would massacre with those fast hands and faster swish behind point. When it bounced more than he expected, he would literally leap off the ground to keep the cut, so that he was on top of the bounce. It’s his alter-ego to the Chepauk knock. The latter would impose the stereotype of a gritty batsmen, prospering on sweat rather than style. But when bedevilled by inspiration, he was as stylish as he was aggressive.
The pull was his other favourite. There’s one off Willie Watson in Sydney during a Benson and Hedges Match. Watson is not the quickest of bowlers, but it is his lack of pace that made the stroke all the more staggering. It’s back of length and outside the off-stump, but Jones hangs back, drags the ball and smears it over midwicket for a one-bounced four back in the day when boundary ropes were quite far back. The very next ball, he charged down the track and whipped Watson through the exact space. Same spots, different strokes. A stamp of a genius.
There were others too — like the butchering of England in Sydney or the demolition of Pakistan in Hobart. Those were all reels of pulls and hooks.
In the county circuit, there is an even more famous pull of his. During a county game, he tried to hook a bouncer from Sussex’s Tony Pigott, but missed it and fractured his cheekbone. But much to his teammates surprise, he resumed batting later in the innings and pulled the first ball he faced, invariably a fast bouncer, for a six. He credited this to his grip — both hands clutched at the bottom of the handle.
The enterprise and derring-do made him a one-day pioneer. He was one of the few Australian batsmen of his era who would instinctively jump down the ground and hit over cover. Later in his commentary days, he would laughingly begrudge how near the boundary ropes are to batsmen these days. He ran equally hard between the wickets, much to the chagrin of his favourite batting partner David Boon.
In the early days of video analysis, while the rest of the batsmen would study in detail a bowler’s action, Jones would observe the fielders, which hand they threw with, their stronger and weaker arm. An awestruck Steve Waugh had once admitted: “The best judge of a run and the quickest runner I’ve even seen.”
In that sense, he would have fitted automatically into any of the new-age batting firms, perhaps his wide-ranging skills would have won more admiration. Nonetheless, his ODI average (44.61) is still the gold standard in this day and age. He was a man well ahead of times, but a man who also made a great sense of his time as a cricketer. He retired prematurely from cricket, and he was bitter about it back then.
“I was in South Africa, they picked me to go over there and then they knocked me off the one-day team. We were playing the last game, everything was on the line, and Mark Taylor and David Boon picked themselves before me. I said, ‘Are you trying to tell me that you’re a better player than me, in one-day cricket? Really? Well, that’s it, I’m done.’ And I retired straightaway. That was it,” he once narrated to Wisden. Typical Jones. Impetuous and abrasive.
Like in his life, he left too soon from international cricket. But without his picture that spoke more than a thousand words, without that knock in the enervating Madras heat, the history of Australian cricket would have been different.
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