Dean Jones, who died at age 59 today in Mumbai, breathed his last in a land of two of his greatest triumphs — in another Indian megacity, then known as Madras, he played one of the greatest innings seen in India; in yet another megacity, then known as Calcutta, he won the World Cup as part of Allan Border’s young team that breathed new fire into Australian cricket.
The 1986 knock in the Madras tied Test became part of folklore. Playing only his third Test, Jones, then 25, battled heat and humidity for eight hours to score 210 in Australia’s first innings of 574/7. The temperature hovered around 40°C most of the time he batted, the humidity was 80 per cent. The sea is close to the stadium in the city; the Australian players were also bothered by the strong stench from Cooum river, which, really, is more a squalid nullah than a river.
Jones, who had been sick the night before the match started, batted through severe dehydration and nausea; he threw up at the ground during drinks breaks. He cramped all over his body. He lost control of his bodily functions — he later revealed that he was so sick, he could not stop urinating in his trousers. He said he batted only by memory and instinct, not by method and planning.
“I didn’t drink anything apart from a cup of tea or coffee. We didn’t know anything about dehydration and rehydration back then,” he said in an interview. “Then I just batted from memory basically. I can’t remember much from 120 on. I know nearly every shot in every innings I played. I can’t remember a thing after 120 in that innings.”
“I’ll never forget how, after more than eight hours at the crease, his physical appearance had changed,” Steve Waugh, later his captain, wrote in his autobiography. “He was gaunt and pale in the face and had a vacant expression that suggested he was in serious trouble, his body bordering on completely shutting down.”
Jones was taken to hospital after that knock and administered a saline drip. Jones had been challenged to show his toughness by his flinty, irascible captain, Allan Border. It was a nightmare, but it also made Jones a legend at 25. His third Test saw Jones display his great spirit and iron will, amazing to see in an inexperienced batsman.
He also possessed great flamboyance and was among the pioneers of the breathtaking high-ball strokeplay that has come to define our era. He seemed to be bursting with nervous energy — he would take a step down, flex his arms for a quick backlift and bring down the bat with great force, often with only a soft cap on his head, with a mop of yellow hair peeping at back. In his audacious strokes, you can glimpse a bit of Ricky Ponting, and in his free-spiritedness, you can spot a bit of Adam Gilchrist or Andrew Symonds.
Jones was a fitting precursor to the great Aussie ODI players of the 1990s and 2000s, who won the World Cup three times in a row from 1999 to 2007, and again in 2015. His own World Cup win came in Calcutta in 1987, with him finishing the tournament as his team’s top middle-order batsman with 314 runs at 44.85.
Since he last played for Australia way back in 1994, most Indian fans know him as Prof Deano, a cheerful and excitable commentator.
The sadness that has engulfed the world of cricket is a reflection of the love fans and cricketers had for Jones, the golden boy of the 1980s who went too early at only 59.