Dean Jones seemed to carry his country’s flag to the batting crease

Dean Jones. File   | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

The context is different, the circumstances too, yet Rupert Brooke’s poem written during the first World War must apply to those who die with their boots on in a foreign country. The lines are familiar enough: If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England. Or forever Australia, as in the case of Dean Jones.

There is something heart-wrenching about someone dying thousands of kilometres from home and family. It was a fate that befell Ken Barrington when he passed away in Bridgetown, Barbados, as assistant manager of the England cricket team. Also Bob Woolmer, at the 2007 World Cup in Kingston, Jamaica when he was guiding the Pakistani team. The shock of loss is accompanied by the unfairness of it all.

As Frank Keating wrote from Bridgetown of Barrington’s passing: “It just could not be true. Why, he was so happy that his wife had come out for a holiday only last week. No, you could not take it in…In the nets he bowled at them and followed through to advise; always a smile; always relishing the day like mustard…”

In her book on love and grieving, Joan Didion speaks of how “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” And it is not just one life that changes in the ordinary instant: lives of those around, and lives of those at great distances who didn’t personally know someone like Dean Jones but knew of his exploits, and admired him change too. Something shifts, not by a lot but enough to ensure that things won’t be exactly the same again.

Jones was more than the double century in the Chennai Tied Test, more than the racist comment he made once and regretted forever on television, more than the embarrassing ‘Prof Deano’, a silly character he found hard to live up to. He wasn’t a man of great subtlety — he wore his passion for cricket on his sleeve. His enjoyment of whatever he was doing connected with the game was manifest, and like Barrington, he seemed to carry his country’s flag to the batting crease with just as much purpose and determination.

That Tied Test was important for both of us. It was my first Test reporting, and we went through a routine whenever we met — which wasn’t often — that had whoever was around him clutching their heads. They had heard it all from Jones before!

Yet it was worth repetition as one of the bravest innings ever played. Chennai was hot and humid as only Chennai can be, but this was hotter and more humid than even Chennai usually was. Jones lost fluids and minerals at an alarming rate as his body began to shut down during the eight hours at the crease. He had to deal with dehydration and cramps.

In the words of his countryman, the journalist Mike Coward, his innings defied all reason. “His pupils were dilated, his lips swollen, his face red and his whole body weak and racked with pain,” Coward wrote. In the dressing room, Jones lost consciousness and had to be rushed to hospital.

Epitome of fighting spirit

He was 25 then; his youth and fitness probably saved him. He had wanted to come off, but his captain Allan Border goaded him into staying at the crease when, at 174, he had pleaded with him. At tea, he was on 202, but could barely walk and had to be undressed by teammates and held under a shower. This time he was given the option of retiring, but this time he decided to go on. He was sent out by admiring mates so struck by his courage that they forgot to equip him with either his abdomen protector or thigh pad. It was that kind of day.

It was Jones’s fifth innings, and would stand as the epitome of his spirit.

In an era that contained Viv Richards and Javed Miandad, Jones still stood out as an ODI original, with his running between the wickets that saved time and added runs, and his ability to play strokes that didn’t exist till he had conjured them up. He brought to the task of scoring runs or saving them a delight that communicated itself to the spectators.

When, a year later, Australia returned to Chepauk for a World Cup match against India, they won by a single run; Maninder Singh was again the last man out.

My abiding memory of that finish is an exuberant throw from the field by Jones into the crowd that mixed relief, joy and danger. Years later, he was a mixture in the commentary box too. Garrulous and thoughtful, straightforward and capable of startling pronouncements.

That line of Keating’s sat well on Jones too: “Relishing the day like mustard…”

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 1:43:30 PM |

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