Dean Jones illuminated the one-day game. He enlivened every match he played with his combination of aggressive batting and inventive shot-making.
Jones was in many ways a harbinger for how limited-overs cricket would change and adapt over the years. From the beginning of one-day internationals in the early 1970s, and through to the 1980s, the limited-overs game was little more than extension of Test match cricket.
Batsmen may have been a little more aggressive, and field placings were often different, but there was little to distinguish one-dayers from their longer cousins.
Dean Jones was part of a generation that changed the approach. He attacked early and was often aggressive in the initial stages of an innings. He used the entirety of the ground, both in the air and along the grass. He played shots that were not from the textbook. At a time when Australian cricket was at its lowest, he made the game look fun. And he was loved for it.
There were many great moments for Jones in the limited-overs game: his three centuries in four games in the 1990-91 summer, two centuries in two days against strong English and Pakistani teams in the 1987 Challenge Cup, two important half-centuries against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup.
However, his best innings may actually have come against the green and gold rather than for it. In 1996, Jones was selected to play for a World XI against Australia in a match to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cricket Association. By that stage, Jones was about to turn 35 and had been out of the Australian team for almost two years.
As befitting the man, Jones’ international career did not end with a glorious send-off or a slow ride into the sunset. Jones’ unceremonious dismissal from the Australian Test team in 1992 hurt him badly. He was an integral member of the one-day side for another two years, but he eventually retired from international cricket in 1994 when it became clear that he would never play another Test.
Steve Waugh said it best about Jones in his tour diary from 1994: “I know how he desperately wanted to wear the baggy green cap again and when he thought that was an impossibility, he didn’t want to keep torturing himself.”
By the time Jones was selected for the World XI, he had an axe to grind with Australian selectors and wanted to show that he was still good enough. He was. Australia had just come back home after losing the 1996 World Cup final, and had picked a strong side. The bowling attack was headlined by Shane Warne, who was backed up by a quality pace attack of Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming and a young Jason Gillespie.
To watch the highlights of Jones’ innings is to get a sense of his greatness. In the 23rd over, Jones was facing Gillespie, who was properly quick in his youth, and proceeded to dance down the wicket at him and smite him through cover. In the 30th over, Jones faced his fellow great Victorian, Shane Warne. Early in the over Jones took a hop and a skip forward and used his wrists to loft the ball into mid-on for a boundary. Later in that over, Jones picked Warne’s flipper and used his incredible footwork to pull the ball comfortably to bring up his half-century.
In the last over of the innings, Jones was on 95*. Despite Fleming and Gillespie both having overs left, Mark Taylor had thrown the ball to the gentle off-spinners of Mark Waugh. Jones seized upon this generosity and once again advanced down the wicket to loft Waugh over the fence for six to the delight of the MCG crowd.
Jones never made an international century at his home ground. He got 80 or above on five occasions at the MCG, but could never quite get that ton. He finally achieved it against Australia. This was no mere exhibition ton either. Jones was the only century maker in the match, and the next highest score for the World XI was Shaun Pollock with 29. This was among a World XI that included greats of the game like Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Richie Richardson and Martin Crowe.
The MCG was no easy pitch to bat upon either. In those days, the MCG square played like the grass was grown on top of chocolate pudding – dark in colour, and very soft and slow.
At a time when Jones’ career was fading away, he shone brightest of all. Dean Jones was a truly great player and will be sadly missed.