It is not supposed to unfold like this. Some scraps of information filtering through the internet late on a Thursday evening, unsourced, surely a hoax. The text messages start pinging around between people seeking confirmation from each other. But then the reports grow more firm, confirmation comes through from those in the know. Dean Jones has gone, not beamed up as he should have been from the centre of the MCG with bat raised to the light, but in Mumbai for another commentary job. Not yet 60 years old.
Sporting heroes have their seasons, in far longer rhythms than the seasons they played. A certain generation becomes elderly, then gradually each member makes an exit from the dignity of advanced years, more likely drawing a reverent wave of farewell rather than a sharp grief. The next generation takes their place as elders. But Dean Jones was nowhere near that generation. His rank still has decades to prosper.
It was already strange thinking of Deano as middle aged. Whenever he wandered out of the media area at a cricket ground, this version with his white bouffant and his thicker silhouette could still surprise someone who knew the image from his playing days. That image was so strongly part of who he was. In the same way that it is weird calling someone “Deano” in a newspaper, but Deano was always Deano. Nobody who watched him could really think of him as anything else.
Deano was young. The strut of youth with the composure of the veteran. Whether for Australia or for Victoria, he batted like he had seen it all before and could not wait to do it all again. He swaggered through the 1980s and into the 90s. Mullet flowing, gum chewed, by the terms of the era he could have been played by Patrick Swayze. Or Patrick Swayze could have been played by Dean Jones.
Because he did not want to play like everyone else played, he was watched like nobody else was watched. Radio broadcaster Adam White, a kid then and a Jones authority now, responded to his death with the broad strokes of memory. “The canary yellow, the baggy green, the navy blue, the zinc on the lip, the sweat band, the County, then the Kookaburra, the running between the wickets, the lofted on drive, the sunglasses, the confidence. We wanted to play like him, be him. He was our dreams.”
His Test career had its grandness and disappointment, but it is the one-day game where Jones will remain a monarch. Viv Richards was already the format’s king of hitting, but Deano was the one who found the science of it. In a staid game he played like Virat Kohli long before there was Kohli. Fast feet up and down the wicket to spinners, to change their lengths and pick off their errors. No hesitation to loft over the field when the ball was right. Precise placement into gaps, then hard running to make one into two, two into three. He made centuries at faster than a run a ball in an age when that was not remotely the done thing.
He was cranky, contrarian, put noses out of joint. He got pushed out of Test cricket too early, having played the same number of matches as Don Bradman while going about everything in them very differently. He probably deserved more time in one-day cricket too – the what-if game gets interesting if you introduce Deano to the 1996 World Cup. Nobody has had a better riposte to selectors either, with his MCG century for a world team against Australia just days after his former teammates had lost that World Cup final.
As much as he is still so vitally tied to his past, the version of Deano in the grainy old clips did give way to another life. He took his arguments off the field and carried them on elsewhere. He enjoyed firing shots back at those who lined him up online. He fired plenty in his newspaper column too. He recently cut his long relationship with Cricket Victoria after feeling slighted by the organisation, something that will be a regret for many now that there is no longer an option for more time to mellow sharpness.
No more time, even though the season for departures was far away. We should not be thinking about favourite moments. The video sites should not be loaded up with highlights. He should be waiting to go on air for another IPL game, safely distant from our tributes and our memories. But here we are. A few murmurs on the internet, then the news starts to come through. The conversations start. Hit his Cricinfo profile to check a stat, and they have already added a date of death. Deano, pushed out early once again.