Big, burly, arrogant, and swashbuckling, cricket owes more to Dean Jones the batsman than it does to countless players with seemingly bigge names than his. As a limited overs batsman, his average of just under 50 and strike rate of just under 80 would be considered middling today, but in his day, Jones did things that are still considered audacious in the game.
A pioneer that took fast bowlers on by charging down the pitch in the great era of fast bowling, one of the lasting images of his career being telling the 6’7 West Indian fast bowler, Curtly Ambrose, to take off his white wristbands. What followed was a volley of bouncers and one of Curtly’s greatest spells of ODI bowling. From the other end, Mark Taylor cursed Jones for making the big man angry. Australia lost that match, but who could ever forget that moment? The gall, the audacity, the pure hubris?
That was the fearless brand of cricket Jones was known for, and he was indeed a fearless man. It would not be remiss to say that the brand of cricket he played rebranded Australia in the ODI arena, and was perhaps the origin story of the series of dream teams they produced from the 1990s all the way up to 2009.
But his pioneering efforts and gutsy batting do not undercut his role as a fine, classical, test cricketer. His innings of 210 against India in the tied Chennai test of 1986 was legendary, and often cited as one of the greatest innings ever played by an Australian. That he needed a drip after batting two days in the scorching heat is testament to his commitment to the game.
Perhaps that is the one thing he should most be remembered for, that he was an excellent and devoted servant to the game of cricket. His career as a broadcaster was not so much about a post playing days career as it was about his love for the game. As a broadcaster, Jones went to the places no one wanted to go to, namely Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the first edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), he took his team, the Islamabad United, to an inaugural tournament win.
During the PSL’s second edition, even though his team had been knocked out, he still came to Pakistan for the final – as a message of support to Pakistani cricket. Fearless as always, he quickly became an ardent supporter and benefactor of Pakistan cricket. He later moved to the Karachi Kings franchise, and formed close bonds with local players. His coaching methods were strict, but also loving
As a man, his joy was infectious and his reflections on the game often somber and always important. This writer had a chance encounter with the man at a private art exhibition in Lahore, where Jones had been dragged by the owner of the Islamabad United. Surrounded, perhaps for the first time, by a group of Pakistanis fawning over art rather than cricket, Jones was more than a little uninterested.
But upon being approached, he was welcoming in a gruff, very particularly Australian way, and more than happy to chat about cricket. His advice on batting was flamboyant like him, always reset your mind before every new ball and don’t look away from a staredown, but there was also a gentle intelligence. As bored as he looked with the Sadequain exhibit, he still managed to make a thoughtful comment or two.