Almanac Cricket: Remembering Dean Jones in the Tied Test (an extract from Mike Sexton’s book ‘Border’s Battlers’)

 

 

 

Dean Jones died on Sep 24, 2020 while in India, the country where he played (arguably) his greatest innings. We relive this innings and the tied Test through these two extracts from Mike Sexton’s fine book Border’s Battlers.

 

 

 

 

The lead-up 

 

pp109-114

 

Jones arrived in India as probably the fittest of the Australian players and he planned to use the warm-up games to cement the number-three position. The trouble was he couldn’t make decent scores, failing to convert starts into long innings. It reinforced the idea that he was at his best playing cameos and not building totals. Along the way he kept gobbling up information.

 

Jones always prepared his bats assiduously. After every innings he would use steel wool with soap and water to clean the face of the blade. He changed the grip for virtually every match. He liked a loud piece of willow too – and in India his bat weighed two pounds 12 ounces (1.25 kg). After being out lbw to Shastri for 20 in the first match at Bangalore, Simpson examined the bat and declared it was too heavy, suggesting Jones order bats that weighed two pounds six ounces (930 grams).

 

Simpson wasn’t sure what he had in Jones, a confusion borne out in his description of him as ‘frustrating, exciting, reliable, unreliable, unpredictable, selfish, unselfish, a mug lair and a team player’. He recognised, however, a world-class batsman trying to break out. After Jones was bowled for 13 in Chandigarh, Simpson suggested they use the available time for a private net session. Simpson set up a field with cones that provided targets and he threw balls at Jones. He demanded Jones come down the pitch and try to hit the targets. It was typical Simpson. Not a ball was wasted and the demands grew with each repetition. The session lasted close to an hour and replenished the confidence Jones had lost during the match. The coach liked working with Jones and felt the batsman enjoyed the discipline he brought to the team. This included occasionally guiding Jones off the field. By Simpson’s calculation about once per fortnight he would remind the Victorian that his hyperactive nature could be irritating to others and that he needed to settle down a bit to be the cricketer the team needed.

 

After the frustrations of the tour warm-up games, Jones was expected to excel in the limited-overs matches. In the first, at Jaipur, he received another lesson, this time from David Boon. The Tasmanian had stacked up 212 in partnership with Geoff Marsh for the first wicket when Jones came out. Jones confessed to Boon that he was worried about Shastri and Maninder Singh and was told the key was to bat in pairs rather than alone.

 

‘Boon said, “I will bat off the front and back foot – you get after them on the front foot, get down the wicket and hit it on the full” because we were trying to hit them off their length. He said “Stick to your game plan – if you get down the pitch and get in trouble then hit to mid-off or mid-on, pinch a one and I will back you up and we will cross.”

 

‘We had learnt that when under pressure to really good spinners you have got to find a shot that will get you off strike. David would take a little waddle across and hit it to leg and I knew that and so I was already running because once you saw the shuffle you knew he would never miss them. Mine was down the pitch and hit it to mid-off or mid-on. Boon didn’t watch the ball he would watch me and if I started running then he was off. So it really worked.’

 

Jones never forgot the reassuring session. Years later when Boon was struggling with form and was dropped from the Australian eleven, Jones wrote him a letter of encouragement referencing Jaipur and describing it as the time that he, Jones, felt he bridged the gap from being a first-class player to a Test player.

 

‘You gave me confidence in your own little way, which no-one has done before. I will never forget that,’ he wrote.

 

However, in the days leading up to the first Test match, all the thinking, coaching and training couldn’t convince Jones he would be in the side. He battled the doubts. Was he good enough? Did he deserve to be on the same field as Gavaskar, Shastri and Dev? The Indians were so experienced, while the Australians had Border and a team of hopefuls. Although he was unsure where he fitted into Australia’s plans, Jones was on India’s radar. Kapil Dev had been gathering intelligence on the tourists at every stage, including flying to Bangalore himself to watch them play. He thought Boon, Ritchie and Matthews loomed large but also considered Jones (despite not making many runs) as a threat.

 

‘I have a lot of time for Jones because when I have seen him he has shown a lot of courage and willingness to perform better,’ he said.

 

Two days before the Test Jones and Veletta returned from training to their sweetly air-conditioned room at the Taj Coromandel Hotel. The phone rang. It was Border, asking him to come and see him in his room. The captain was the only player on tour with his own quarters and he invited Jones in and offered him a drink. He then stared at Jones and told him that he was his number three for the next couple of years.

 

‘Do you want it?’ he asked bluntly.

 

‘I have been waiting for two years,’ Jones replied.

 

Over the next hour Border outlined the significance of the offer, telling Jones to think of the people who had batted at three for Australia in the past, and how he might reach the standards they set.

 

The decision to put Jones in at three was a risk but it was necessary given that Border was the mainstay of the Australian batting order. He had played at number three and had discussed with Boon and Simpson about taking the role again. He hesitated, however, because he didn’t enjoy coming off the field after being captain and then getting straight into the pads. He felt better having a breather and coming in at four or five. The selectors agonised over Jones or Veletta and could see little between them. Eventually Border decided on Jones because he had toured with him in the West Indies and felt he would respond to a challenge.

 

‘He could play two roles: aggressive or resolute if that is what was needed. That swayed me,’ said Border years later. ‘He was a very good spin player, had good feet, all the shots, [he could] get down the wicket and get after them – that tipped the scales. When I asked him come to my hotel room, he had my support and confidence; he left feeling ten feet tall.’

 

Jones agreed.

 

‘I thought I was invincible,’ he said. ‘I thought AB put a red cape on my back and an S on my chest. I felt like Superman.’

 

On the eve of the Test the Australians held a team meeting to name the side and talk tactics. Though Veletta was unaware of the meeting between Border and Jones he wasn’t shocked by the line-up of Marsh, Boon, Jones, Border, Ritchie, Matthews, Waugh, Zoehrer, Bright, Reid and McDermott, with Gilbert 12th– and Davis 13th man.

 

‘You usually get a sense of things. There are often some clues along the way, like if you are in the nets first you are usually a chance whereas if Bob Simpson discovers you haven’t had a bat near the end of training then you get a good idea.’

 

‘For Deano it would have been good to know so he could prepare better.’

 

Although Veletta was not in the side he would be heavily involved in the game. That night he slept better than his roommate who tossed and turned. Jones was also up a few times in the night with diarrhoea.

 

The few seasoned members of the side retired for a pre-match session in the hotel bar. Ray Bright was among them. The left-armer had the unflattering figures of just four wickets at 61 runs apiece during the tour matches. This didn’t auger well. The wicket was flat and dry and contained hundreds of runs. Moreover, given the stifling heat and humidity, the quick bowlers would only manage a handful of overs at a time meaning Bright and Matthews would be Australia’s bowling workhorses.

 

‘That night I had a few beers with the boys downstairs,’ said Bright. ‘Usual offenders: Reid, Marsh, Boon, Border, of course. I thought I might have to bowl 25 or 30 overs tomorrow so I better duck into my room, get some room service, watch some TV and get ready for tomorrow. I ordered a pizza and watched some local TV and nodded off. Unfortunately, three hours after eating my pizza, I thought my world was going to end.’

 

**

 

Chapter 6

 

Pp145-158

 

 

While Jones was surging at one end, Bright was slipping at the other. He had been far from a passive spectator as Jones built his total. Border had told Bright ‘to get on with it’ in the morning and so he swung the bat when he could, finding the boundary fence three times and then launching a six over square leg off Shastri. Each shot or dash down the pitch drained his dwindling reserves of energy. His hands began trembling, his head pounded and he was having trouble breathing. The ground temperature was now in the 40s, the humidity was claustrophobic, and the occasional whiff of breeze only brought with it the putrid smell of the Buckingham Canal. To Bright the bat seemed to weigh a ton and he was having trouble holding it. He was on 30 (off 59 balls) when he could go no more, clubbing a ball from Yadav into Shastri’s chest at short mid-wicket. The 76-run partnership took Australia to 3/282. Jones was on 97 when the captain walked out to the centre.

 

Border was uncharacteristically brittle. He had a history of taking his chances in Madras. In 1979 he hadn’t scored when he offered an easy chance off Dev only to see it dropped by Yajurvindra Singh behind square leg. He went on to score 162 in a 222-run partnership with Kim Hughes. This time it was Dev who spilled the precious chance when Border was on nought. The captain scratched around facing 38 deliveries in 46 minutes before getting off the mark. During that time Jones added 36 runs, the first four of which saw him reach his maiden Test century.

 

‘Ravi Shastri tossed one up and I went whack and hit it wide of mid-on. I thought, That beat the field, there is one, but in India it just rolls on and it went for four.’

 

Jones punched the air and skipped down the wicket to greet his captain. However from behind the euphoria came a strange emotional reaction.

 

‘The first thing my brain said to me was, Why did you put so much pressure on yourself? It is just a 100. It was quite weird. My brain was saying, Hang on, there is more to come here. I am not worried about 100, I want to get more. It was my sub-conscious telling me – it was not me trying to drum it into myself. Allan Border was with me and he was saying “Come on, keep going, get some more”. He got dropped by Kapil Dev on nought, a dolly at mid-wicket. [Then] we were away, forming an amazing partnership and the time of our lives. It was a lot of fun.’

 

It wasn’t fun for Bright. After all but staggering off the field he had collapsed in the dressing room where he became deeply distressed. He began weeping as his body cramped. He felt like he was suffocating, and cried out ‘I can’t get air, I can’t get air’. The tears rolling down his sunburnt cheeks affected the others. Errol Alcott sprang into action, trying to bring down his temperature and force fluids into him.

 

‘Ray was in distress, because if you don’t feel well, are dehydrated, and if you have to perform for your country in demanding conditions, then the mental aspect is magnified,’ Alcott said. ‘He was a bit older than the others and he was a cricketer not an athlete. All things have percentages and it adds up so he was definitely affected severely.’

 

Bright remembers the concern Alcott had for him.

 

‘I was in a fair bit of trouble. They got the doctor who said I was obviously severely dehydrated. I started cramping badly all over my body. I ate a bit of food at lunch which kept me going. I had no idea what was going on. I was almost not with it at all. Fortunately, the blokes kept batting and batting which gave me a better chance of recovery.’

 

Alcott had found that lime juice mixed with mineral water seemed the best offering in such circumstances. The weak mixture didn’t seem to irritate the stomach and so gave the player a chance of keeping it down. This was what Dave Gilbert was sent out with on what seemed like an endless run of errands. Batting gloves needed to be replaced about every 20 minutes, and each time he also brought a cold towel and fluids to the batsmen, much to the irritation of Dev. At official drinks breaks, Jones pulled his drenched shirt off and fell onto his back on the field in search of some relief. In the time between making his century and lunch, Jones added 31 runs off 35 balls. When they came in for lunch team-mates helped undress him so he could sit under a cold shower. When the time came to return he first put on a fresh set of whites.

 

Counter-intuitively, as the hottest part of the day started breaking his body down, Jones became faster. The Indian bowlers had long run out of ideas and knew their best chance lay with fatigue causing a mistake. Jones had taken 231 balls and five and a half hours to reach his first hundred and yet he charged towards his second at twice that clip. When he reached 167 Border came down the pitch to congratulate him on passing Graham Yallop, whose innings at Calcutta in 1979 was the previous highest score by an Australian in India. The measurement meant nothing to Jones because he was now slipping dangerously, physically and mentally. He had started getting pins and needles in his hands and now his fingers had started curling inward as they cramped. Between balls he pulled at them trying to stretch them out. He had played a sweep shot and felt his back leg cramp, and then his back.

 

Then came the vomiting. Everything Gilbert brought to him lasted only a short time in his system before he spewed it out. He would play a shot, run down the pitch and then retch. At one stage he couldn’t stop himself urinating in his pants. A form of panic set in as he asked himself – what is happening to my body?

 

He wasn’t the only one concerned. Dev and Gavaskar both were worried. They asked what he had been drinking and when he told them about the lime juice they suggested soda and lemonade. When that came flying out Gavaskar suggested trying orange juice and motioned to the rooms for some to be brought out. It didn’t work either. Border was unsympathetic other than being concerned at where the bile was being distributed, instructing him not to vomit where bat-pad would field later.

 

From his position in the press area, journalist Alan Shiell described Jones as ‘staggering, stumbling and sitting around the dustbowl pitch wracked with pain and near delirium with fatigue’. Even from the change room Tim Zoehrer clearly recalls seeing Jones trembling at the wicket. Eventually he could take it no more and told Border to stop the game arguing that he could barely walk let alone run. He feared he soon would not be able to move. Border urged him to keep going.

 

‘I have got to admit that I wasn’t [concerned about his physical state] because I had been in India a few times and been through perils, and being crook, and rushing off to throw up – not on the ground, I hadn’t seen that level of illness, but I wasn’t overly concerned. I just thought he is a bit crook, throwing up; you are nauseous then get back in. The quicker you get it out the better. I wasn’t thinking he was unwell or dehydrated, I was more interested in him keeping going. He was going so well and I was with him and my focus on driving the nail in as far as we could. He was pivotal.’

 

When Jones insisted again that he was spent, Border pulled another lever. He turned on the Victorian’s strong state pride and challenged it directly.

 

‘Get off you fucking weak Victorian,’ he snapped. ‘I want a tough Australian out here. Get me a Queenslander, get me Greg Ritchie.’

 

It was an outburst that Border would later feel embarrassed about but at the time his single focus was on the game. Australia had a recent history of collapse but its folklore was built on the toughness, the rugged individual wearing his cap through all conditions. Endure it. Just keep going. It’s all Border wanted. So after some expletives directed back at his captain Jones did just that. He knocked the ball into gaps that should have yielded twos or threes but they only walked singles. By tea Jones was virtually sleepwalking and he would barely recall entering the rooms where Waugh and Davis stripped him down. He slumped into a wicker chair in the shower with his head down between his knees. Alcott tried getting him to drink but his stomach was now so irritated that everything came straight out. The physiotherapist had watched Jones virtually dragging his bat while walking up the pitch. With increasing concern he told team manager Alan Crompton that things were getting beyond sensible.

 

‘It was at the stage where the loss of fluid, and [Jones] mentally trying to do what he wanted to do, was a tug of war, physically and emotionally. I thought he would hole out but he didn’t and they didn’t run him out. It was getting pretty serious. I said to Bob Simpson several times that that should be it but Simmo being Simmo, he was adamant – “Let’s see, let’s see, just watch it, just watch it.”

 

Alcott likened Jones’ effort to that of an Olympic marathon runner.

 

‘Jones drew on tremendous mental courage. Marathon running is perhaps like that. They are out of their brain but trying to get to finish line – that is what Dean Jones was trying to do.’

 

When play resumed the players helped Jones into dry clothes, strapped on his pads, handed him his bat and showed him to the door. Only when he was in the middle did they realise his thigh pad and protective box were still in the room.

 

Srikkanth was bowling when Jones played a weary dab through the vacant slip cordon. As Border scrambled down the pitch looking for two, Jones let his head fall back and he punched the air to celebrate his 200. His second hundred had come off just 89 balls in two hours and 40 minutes. While the bowlers and fielders were exhausted, Jones was now batting from memory.

 

Finally, at 3.14pm, by which time Jones had faced 330 balls and been at the crease for eight hours and 24 minutes, a stock delivery from Yadav knocked back his stumps. He’d scored 210 and Australia was 4/460. Jones turned and headed for the rooms with Dev patting him on the shoulder as he passed. The gesture summed up the Indian’s view of Jones.

 

‘Madras has only three forecasts,’ says Srikkanth. ‘Hot, hotter and hottest and it was in the third category. Generally you lose concentration and you tend to get out but this guy went from strength to strength and just hammered the bowling all over. It was not a dull sedate knock. He dominated the bowling. That is why we all love to watch him whether you are on the field or not. He is an exciting and entertaining cricketer.’

 

Jones’ 210 was the highest score by an Australian in India and just three short of the highest against India anywhere (that being Kim Hughes’ 213 in Adelaide, 1981). His partnership with Border was worth 178 of which Jones contributed 114. Jones approached the pavilion like a marionette – his stiff limbs jerking back and forth. His filthy, saturated shirt fell off the corners of his shoulders and his face was gaunt. Zoehrer described him as ghostly. He was seven kilograms lighter than at the start of play. Bob Simpson watched it all and called it the gutsiest effort he had ever seen.

 

Alcott took Jones and eased him into a bath of ice water while Zoehrer handed him a cold bottle of Fanta. Jones recalled thinking that the fluid was lukewarm. The change of temperature brought him a measure of liveliness he hadn’t felt for some time but it was only temporary. When he emerged from the slurry and eased onto the bench in the treatment room he blacked out.

 

Back on the pitch Border was picking up the pace. Yadav came in for treatment, being driven straight to the boundary several times, before a scorching blow sent a ball from Singh over the mid-wicket fence. After the late struggles of Jones, Border’s batting seemed effortless. Gavaskar watched in admiration.

 

‘Throw a hand grenade at him because once he got stuck in there he was like concrete – you couldn’t get him out. He had his limitations as a stroke maker but he was very good at the sweep which is a very productive shot in our conditions. He was able to mix the shots and so it was tough to plan against him. He had a water tight defence and enormous patience and he came with a mission to win in India.’

 

Although the nickname Captain Grumpy had been coined for Border’s off-field moods, there was an element of grumpiness – a belligerence – about his batting. He stood up straight while awaiting a delivery with his bat floating around waist height. It was to reduce his self-diagnosed tendency to fall across his stumps to protect his off peg, a weakness he tried to iron out. His defensive shot was like a boxer’s jab. Rather than set a straight bat and allow the ball to strike it, Border would lurch forward and straight-arm the ball back down the wicket. When attacking he would first crouch as if coiling a spring and then surge out of the stance, driving and cutting. Early in his career he played with more flamboyance. Now he’d become more calculating – determining his scoring zones and limiting himself to shots that fed them. It wasn’t elegant but it was very effective.

 

Border wasn’t sentimental or particular about his gear (even handing on his Test cap from the 1985 Ashes tour to a collector). The exception was his bat. He wielded a heavy club that weighed 1.2 kilograms (2lb 10oz) which gave him the confidence to hit the ball strongly.

 

Steve Waugh watched his captain like a hawk when at the non-striker’s end. He was surprised to see him let early good scoring opportunities pass outside off stump but he soon realised it was part of Border’s calculations of the pace and bounce of the pitch. Once the risk assessment was done the runs began to flow. Waugh ached to match Border’s focus and professionalism.

 

In the steaming afternoon in Madras, he was turning a good total towards a match-winning one. He had so often captained in positions of crisis, now he was building a chance where he could captain in a position of authority. He was also benefitting from the rare situation where those ahead of him in the order had delivered, meaning he was adding to a total and not performing a rescue mission.

 

On 72, after he and Ritchie got in a muddle running between wickets, he would have been out had Ritchie not sacrificed his wicket so as to keep the captain’s innings alive. With Ritchie run out for 13 the score was 5/481. The life allowed Border to first reach 79, at which point his Test aggregate against India was a record 1126 runs, passing the previous mark established by Simpson. His century came with a push past mid-wicket. Six runs later he clipped a ball from Shastri into Gavaskar’s hands at backward square leg.

 

If he was Captain Sensible while batting, on dismissal Captain Grumpy re-emerged. Losing his wicket was a traumatic event, whatever the circumstances. By his own admission he was never happy, even after making a large score, and he needed somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour to recover emotionally. On this occasion, however, he could at least be happy with a scorecard of 6/544.

 

As Border was building his 19th Test hundred, concern for Jones had grown into fear. As he lay with the pedestal fan blowing on him his body started to spasm, curling him into a ball. Cramps sent shudders through his legs, arms and back. Every move was excruciating and he cried out in pain. Alcott called for a doctor because he was convinced now that the only way to hydrate Jones was intravenously. While the doctor concurred, arrangements had already been made for an ambulance; Govin Bhawji, the long-serving baggage master, having called for one. That is when, Alcott said, the cartoon capers began.

 

The ambulance arrived at the ground to take Jones to the Apollo Hospital, a private facility about four kilometres away. What Alcott thought would be straightforward became complicated by the enthusiasm of those trying to help. Jones was now constantly cramping making it hard to move him onto the stretcher. If he moved a leg it would cramp, so he would rotate his body only for his back to cramp, or his shoulders, or his arms. Eventually he was taken to the ambulance where there was barely room for the patient.

 

‘Cricketers are demigods in India and so we had four doctors in the back with me,’ recalled Alcott. ‘There was Deano on the left hand side, all of us on the right hand side, plus four in the front across a bench seat. The ambulance looked like a hearse.

 

‘The driver thinks that this is life or death which probably wasn’t the case but he took off and swerved around rickshaws and cows and in front of everything. Every time he swerved Deano was trying to hold his balance on the bed and he would tighten up and then cramp up. The driver kept going faster and faster until in the end I yelled “Mate, slow down and take it easy!” Dean was suffering more in the ambulance than at the ground or in the middle.’

 

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital it seemed hundreds of staff were ready to treat the ailing Australian cricketer. Alcott thought there wouldn’t have been a bigger reaction if the prime minister had arrived on his deathbed. Other patients were abandoned as medical staff scuttled over to the cricketer. With too many sets of hands tugging, and too many instructions being offered, Alcott took over.

 

‘I jumped up and said, “Two doctors and two nurses and that is it”. They looked incredulous, like you can’t be serious, but I got the head doctor and registrar [and] after that it was all good. They really looked after him; it was first-class care.’

 

Alcott stayed with Jones for several hours in a private room as bags of fluid were plumbed into his arms to begin rehydrating his tissues. Looking at his patient Alcott saw his eyes sunken back into a face that looked like flesh pulled tight over a skull. Returning to the team hotel, Alcott reported what had happened. Border was surprised at the news and it took the edge off a day that ended with Australia pushing towards 600. After having viewed the innings as part of an impregnable position he now feared he could be responsible for killing one of his players. He headed for the hospital to see for himself and found Jones ‘stressed but on the mend’.

 

‘We were still naïve about hydration,’ he reflected later. ‘We concentrated on improving fitness at fielding drills, and then attention to details [like] stretching, but when it came to diet and what we ate and hydration it was basic. We didn’t know enough about the perils of being dehydrated. We were still drinking a lot of soft drinks – which are a no-no in that climate – [and] a few beers as night – not that we were overdoing it.’

 

The Australians were in a mood for improvement at every level and the testing first two days would form part of that. Even the players who had spent the entire time in the change room came back every night exhausted and shaking their heads in admiration at those who competed in the heat. Jones believes his experience was a catalyst for greater attention to detail and planning.

 

‘To do well in these hot places – Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East – you need to load up and be disciplined before matches. If not your performance will crash no matter how hard you are mentally and you could cause harm to yourself.’

 

As he lay in hospital, back home news of the day’s play and Jones’ record-breaking innings was breaking. There was no communication from Australia and so Jones eventually slept uninterrupted for the first time in two days. He wasn’t even half way through a Test match but his 210, and the circumstances around it, had already become a touchstone for the future.

 

‘It was a point [in] time where a new captain was trying to lead his own way, with new kids,’ said Jones. ‘[It’s like Border was saying], “This is the level. If you want to play for Australia then I don’t accept anything underneath it.” Maybe he was using me as an example of pushing players to the absolute limit. I think the players got the idea after that but someone had to go through a brick wall. Maybe Bob Simpson and Allan Border thought if you want to play Test cricket you have to climb your Mount Everest, and I climbed my Mount Everest that day.’

 

 

 

Copies of Mike’s book are available HERE

 

Read more  from Mike Sexton HERE.

 

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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Hi Mike.
    Thanks for sharing this excerpt.
    What a time capsule you have uncorked here.
    And the story beautifully told.

    I love the reflection from DM Jones that receiving AB’s confidence had the effect of AB putting a red cape on him.
    By today’s standards much of the behaviour and leadership here reads like an OH&S disaster story.
    Incredible.
    A story of the human mind.

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