Former Australia batting stalwart Dean Jones died in Mumbai on Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest in his hotel room while on IPL commentary duty, leaving the cricket world in shock. Former Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, part of the commentary team, reportedly tried to resuscitate him but in vain.
Jones, 59, survived by wife and two daughters, is best remembered for his exploits, especially in India, as Australia’s batting lynchpin to help revive the team under Allan Border in the 1980s after Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh retired together.
His aggressive approach against all kinds of bowling, sharp running between the wickets, and brilliance in the outfield, all influenced Australia’s approach to playing ODI cricket. He set a bold template that was followed not just by Australia but also later South Africa and others.
But the ODI pioneer’s most memorable exploit on the cricket field was a stupendous Test innings in Chennai embedded in the minds of every cricket fan of the era. The No.3 bat was only in his third Test when he scored the courageous 210 in the first Test in Chennai in 1986. He braved searing heat and Chennai’s September humidity to produce an eight-and-a-half hour effort that left him vomiting pitchside due to dehydration, and later in hospital for a night with a saline drip.
The game ended in only the second tie in 109 years of Test history.
Steve Waugh, who played in the Test, wrote in his autobiography: “I’ll never forget how, after more than eight hours at the crease, his physical appearance had changed. 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.”
Former Australia great Bob Simpson called it the greatest innings by an Australia batsman.
Jones’s knock was pivotal in Australia going on to draw the series and then return to claim its first World Cup in 1987.
Jones was also a crucial contributor as Australia won the 1989 Ashes series in England 4-0, their first away win for a decade there. Jones played 164 ODIs, scoring 6,068 runs at an average of 44.61 with seven centuries. Making his Test debut in 1984, he played 52 games, scoring 3,631 runs averaging 46.55. He hit 11 centuries with a highest of 216. His Test career lasted only eight years—he played his last in 1992 when only 31—while his ODI showing helped Australia set a standard they held till around 2010.
Just like he did in ODIs, Jones brought his uniquely energetic style to TV commentary, especially in the subcontinent , and came to be known as “Professor Deano” after a show he hosted in which he broke down the game in teaching robes and a scholar hat, with a pointer stick in his hand. The show—perhaps low brow for purists but cherished by new-age fans of a fast changing sport—commanded its own following and sparked its own spin-offs.
It also marked a comeback of sorts for Jones, whose image as commentator took a hit in 2006 when he called South Africa batsman Hashim Amla, who sports a beard, a “terrorist” on air for Ten Sports during the Proteas’ tour of Sri Lanka. Amla took a catch and Jones said the “terrorist has taken another wicket”. Although it was a commercial break in Sri Lanka, viewers in South Africa heard the comment. He apologised, but was dropped from the TV panel for some time.
Dean Jones’s coaching credentials were less widely known. He applied for the Indian coach’s position and guided Islamabad United to the Pakistan Super League title in 2016 and 2018. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for services to cricket and charity and was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2019.
Jones, who was introduced to the game by his father Barney, a legend in club cricket, was a stalwart for Victoria in the 1980s and 1990s, ending as the state’s leading first-class run scorer.
A thumb fracture suffered facing Wasim Akram hastened the exit of Jones from Tests while his comments twice got him into trouble. In the 1993 Benson & Hedges Series final against West Indies, he demanded Curtly Ambrose remove the white wristband on his bowling hand saying it made spotting the white ball tough. An infuriated Ambrose captured five wickets to seal victory.
Sachin Tendulkar recalled their playing together in the 1992 Perth Test, where both scored centuries. “Absolutely heartbreaking news about Dean Jones passing away. A wonderful soul taken away too soon. Had the opportunity to play against him during my first tour of Australia. May his soul rest in peace and my condolences to his loved ones,” he tweeted.
Virat Kohli tweeted: “Shocked to hear about the tragic loss of Dean Jones. Praying for strength and courage to his family” while Kumble recalled a recent chat. “Shocking news… This year gets even worse. Was joking with Deano last week about carrying a red book with me to the match. Terrible… My heartfelt condolences to the family.”
India coach Ravi Shastri, who played in the tied Test, praised Jones. “It was one of his finest innings. Tribute to his stamina, fitness, will power to bat that long in extreme conditions. Really sad to lose a colleague and dear friend.”