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Deano and the Vics: the inside story of a tumultuous relationship

Some survived and thrived. Though team success was scant, Jones, Merv Hughes, Tony Dodemaide, Simon O’Donnell, Paul Reiffel, Simon Davis and Damien Fleming all played for Australia. Later, there was Darren Berry to occupy that most fateful of cricket stations, the best keeper in the country, but …

But others fell by the wayside, and were left bewildered and even embittered. Some were District cricket stalwarts, salt of the cricket earth. Among the illuminati, friendships were made and unmade. Probably the two biggest personalities in the room were Jones and Hughes. They were the same age, had international careers that ran roughly parallel, played almost an identical number of Tests and in Adelaide shared a memorable partnership against the West Indies.

Dean Jones and Merv Hughes in 1994.

Dean Jones and Merv Hughes in 1994.Credit:Ben Rushton

They were great mates – and then they were not. There were many elements to the breakdown. One was a Victorian trial match in Frankston in 1995, a week before the new cricket season. Their international days both were done, but neither was yet at peace with the idea.

Jones was captain and meant to play with his usual earnest. Hughes was conscious of avoiding injury and bowled off a short run. Jones called him fat and slow. It escalated to a degree that still causes teammates to shake their heads.

Hughes did not play for Victoria again. “When I was captain of Victoria, I always said to myself no matter what friendships,” Jones said on Cricket Legends in 2016, “no matter what, I always prepare and look after the White V.” By then, he regretted the episode, deeply. But neither ever got around to rapprochement, and on the day Jones died, they had exchanged nothing more than civilities for 25 years. Hughes does not want to rouse sleeping dogs now.

Jones’ relationships in cricket all tended to the mercurial. Reforming national coach Bob Simpson was yet another with whom Jones fell in and fell out. “Frustrating, exciting, reliable, unreliable, unpredictable, selfish, unselfish, a mug lair, a team player,” Simpson wrote in his 1996 autobiography The Reasons Why. “How many other ways are there of describing one man. and which is the real Dean Jones? I sometimes wonder if we will ever know, and perhaps that is the real charm of the bloke.”

Shane Warne was almost 10 years younger than Jones, so they were not really contemporaries. Their first-class careers crossed by six years, but they played only four Tests together. When Jones died, Warne told of a moment early in his torrid introduction to Test cricket when he at last took his second wicket, in Sri Lanka. “He came in the huddle and said, ‘Well done champ, you now average 435 runs per wicket, well done’,” Warne wrote. “Thanks for that, Deano.” Cricketers’ humour typically is mockingly affectionate, but in Warne’s story there is an echo of Jones’ own brutal reception into the game all those years previously.

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When Berry joined the Victorian team in 1990, he and Jones quickly grew close. For four years, they were roommates. There’s not much you don’t know about a man when you spend half your life opposite him in twin beds. Jones mentored and inspired Berry, who admired Jones’ insatiable work ethic. But he also saw Jones’ intolerance of those who could not match his standards. It was not unusual then. There was also the way he would pay out on his own team when beaten.

In the mid-90s, the upheaval came. Berry was dumped for making too few runs, which he now says was the right decision delivered the wrong way. It put a strain between him and Jones. It became even more awkward later when Berry was restored, and made captain, with Jones in his charge for a short time.

Jones and Berry also spent many years on barely speaking terms, but they at least built a bridge. “We were like a rough marriage,” Berry said. When he became coach of South Australia, he thought Jones would be good for Travis Head and Callum Ferguson, and so, heart-in-mouth, made the call. Jones came running.

Later, the pair coached together in Pakistan and Afghanistan. With few other distractions, they spent much time in one another’s company, and grew close again. When Phillip Hughes died tragically while playing for SA in Berry’s time, Jones was one of the first on the line to offer a shoulder.

Darren Berry during his coaching days.

Darren Berry during his coaching days.Credit:Rodger Cummins

“Over a glass of red one night in Dubai, Deano said he had handled Merv all wrong,” Berry said. “It was his way of apology.” Berry urged him to patch up the relationship, but the moment never came.

Berry was in awe of Jones’ grasp of T20, a format he never got to play. Doubtlessly, he would have been a superstar at it. He thought so!

Dodemaide’s first-class career ran contemporaneously to Jones’, but in a much lower key. He was at the heart of turbulence, but was a more self-contained character and less affected. He saw the best and worst of Jones, and accepted him for who he was. “He was a mixed bag,” he said.

They finished for Victoria in the same season, 1997/98, and Dodemaide embarked on a career in cricket administration that took in both MCCs, Melbourne and Marylebone, and the chief executive’s chair at the WACA before returning to Victoria in the same role. Throughout, Dodemaide knew to expect regular calls from Jones with theories, critiques and commentaries on cricket generally and Victoria in particular. Most recently, it has been the turn of Dodemaide’s successor, Andrew Ingleton, to lend a patient ear.

In retirement, much of the foaming blood drained away. It is a common happening in sport “Post playing days, he was much more mellow,” said Dodemaide. “He was just as emotive, but not so often. He was one of a kind.” Another former teammate characterises it this way: the crustiness turned out to be only a crust after all. Most in the media found him engaging and invigorating company.

Jones stayed on Victoria’s case to the end of his days. He rang, wrote, proselytised, agitated, lobbied, not just about the state team, but the marginalisation of club cricket, too. He set himself for roles as head coach, limited overs coach, batting coach, coach of either of Victoria’s T20 teams, even a place on the board. None eventuated. He never understood why.

If you ask now, you’ll hear it is because there was a belief in the halls of power that he was too much of a maverick. It worked well enough in the sub-continent, where he was held in awe, but would not necessarily win the day here. Not everyone agreed, of course. No-one ever did, with or about Deano.

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Earlier this year, Jones returned his Cricket Victoria life membership and asked for his name to be removed from the state’s one-day player trophy. These were typical Deano flourishes. You have to think that though he meant them at the time, they were not meant to be forever. Then, tragically, forever overtook him.

It’s reasonable to speculate that both honours will be restored in the fullness of time. It’s also reasonable to speculate that most remaining sore points would have healed eventually. Most who played with and under Jones are in their 50s. They have long ago left behind their playing careers and their lives are full of other things. Whatever mattered so much then, it mattered less a quarter of a century later, and now it doesn’t matter at all.

Meantime, we can look forward to zinc cream and sunnies all round at the MCG on Boxing Day.

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