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For those with no knowledge of the game of cricket –imagine a player with Ichiro Suzuki’s eye for the ball, speed and throwing arm, throw in Barry Bonds’ power and Carl Ripken Jr.’s mental and physical toughness and you will come up with Dean Mervyn Jones.

Jones was arguably the most popular cricketer in Australia during the 1980s — no mean feet given the presence of players such as Allan Border, David Boon and Steve Waugh. An effortless striker of the ball, he was straight in defense and savage in attack. Add to that his swift and sensational running between the wickets, his cat-like reflexes when fielding in the covers and his whole-hearted commitment and you can see why the Australian public (and cricket fans worldwide) held him in such awe.

In just his third test match Jones played one of the greatest innings of all time in only the second ever tied test. His knock of 210 in the stifling heat of Chennai, India came at a cost as he was rushed from the ground to hospital where he was placed on a saline drip. A year later in 1987 Jones was instrumental in helping Australia win the World Cup and laid the foundations for the dynasty that has dominated world cricket ever since.

A master of both test match cricket (3,631 runs at an average of 46.55) and the one-day game (6,068 runs at an average of 44.61) Jones has seen and done it all and as such it was quite a coup for the growing number of cricketers in Japan that the Japan Cricket Association was able to host the Victorian batsman at the Yokohama Athletic and Country Club on May 5, where he gave a coaching clinic to a number of local players — both male and female.

In an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, Jones talked about his involvement with East Asian cricket as well as his colorful career.

Japan Times: So what brings you over here?

Dean Jones: The International Cricket Council has given each test country an area to look after and Australia has been given the East Asia and Pacific region. The Australia Cricket Board has then delegated those responsibilities to the six states. I have a contract with Victoria dealing with promotions and development and we look after Korea and Japan, which is why I am here.

JT: What are your views then on the game over here?

DJ: Well, last year a Japanese team went to Western Australia and played in the ICC East Asia Pacific 8’s tournament along with Indonesia, South Korea and an Australian Aboriginal team and the Japanese only lost to the Aboriginal team which meant they were East Asia Affiliate Member Champions, so there is talent here. I have been really impressed with the ladies here today and I think the women’s team could surprise a few people when they play in the World Cup qualifiers in Amsterdam next year.

JT: You said there were 40 teams and seven grounds in Japan. Do you think it is possible that cricket could become a major sport?

DJ: Well it’s like this. Zimbabwe is a pretty competitive team in test cricket and they have just 140 club cricketers to choose from. In Melbourne we have 135,000 registered players. The big thing though is that cricket is a derivative from baseball so it is not like they are learning a completely new sport — the idea of swinging a bat and catching a ball are already there.

For it to take off, the locals have to obtain ownership of the game and run it and get it into schools and universities and coaches need to be developed. In 2004 we hope to have an under-15 team in the World Cup and in 2006 in the under-15 and under-17 World Cups. So the first steps are in place.

What they mustn’t do is fight baseball. They will never win. They must try and form an alliance. I would like to see an All-Star game at somewhere like Koshien Stadium with some of the Tigers’ players taking part.

JT: One of the biggest criticisms of sport in Japan is the coaching system. Players are often over-coached which leads to early burnout and an inability to think on the field. Presumably cricket has an advantage in that being a new sport the coaches can get local players doing things in an Australian way?

DJ: Yeah, it’s not going to be a quick process. It took Sri Lanka 40 years to become a test nation. They need to consistently bring coaches here and get the young kids to go on tour and represent Japan and get a taste and feel for it. Cricket is not just a game, it is a lifestyle, and it’s also big business. Sachin Tendulkar makes $10 million a year and there are four cricketers in Australia making over $2 million. So the money is there and we need to throw resources at the youth and make sure it does not go away.

JT: In the short run do you think it will help Japan if it has a couple of ex-pat players on the national team to show the players how things are done?

DJ: As a young kid I learned playing from the greats. Ireland has had Mark Waugh play for it and Canada has a couple of Australians playing for them, so yes, I think it will help them to be competitive. Sponsors don’t like to see their teams lose so it will help. There is sponsorship available but again it has to be in conjunction with baseball. They also need to get a home. I have played in front of 60,000 at the Sky Dome and also played at Shea Stadium and Dodger Stadium so if they can reach a deal with a baseball team that would help the game. And baseball may also learn a few things from us just as we will learn things from them.

JT: For many, Chennai was the highlight of your career. Would you agree?

DJ: A lot of people say that. It was only the second tied test match out of 1,400 tests and only my third test. It was 40 C and 80% humidity and I lost 7.5 kg during the day. The problem was sporting teams in 1986 didn’t know much about dehydration, and I didn’t know the signs. I basically had no control over my bodily fluids and was cramping up and was basically a mess. It took me nine months to put the weight back on and even now if it gets over 35 C, my hands shake real bad and I still have psychological problems. But it put me on the map. It is one of the highlights but the biggest is winning the World Cup in 1987 and winning the Ashes in ’89 in England.

JT: Looking back would you do the same thing again?

DJ: No, with hindsight I should have gone off at 140 or so. But cricket is about facing adversity and finding solutions to problems, extending your boundaries. Before that game I didn’t think I was good enough at that level. After the game I knew I was.

JT: Would you have quit if you weren’t playing for your country?

DJ: Yes. I wouldn’t have done it at club or state level but wearing your “baggy green” cap is special. You know the whole country is rooting for you. Fortunately, unlike England, the states in Australia work with the players to make sure the country is as strong as possible, and that philosophy runs through all sports in Australia. We have a great structure so kids know how to get on the road. Clubs feed states and people send their kids to the successful clubs so it works well for everyone. And of course everyone is most happy when Australia wins. That’s what Japan needs. Keep it simple. Get a club process and a good under-age competition.

JT: The game seems to have reinvented itself in the last year or so with players such as Adam Gilchrist and Nathan Astle playing test cricket as if it were the one day version.

DJ: Yes, and it is great for the game. I do a bit of commentating and there are times when you want to have a sleep but when Gilchrist or Astle or Chris Cairns come in I am wide awake. Gilchrist is the best No. 7 ever and with players like him people are flocking back to the grounds. And then there is Shane Warne. Kids nowadays are all copying him. They all want to be a leg spinner. It’s good because for a while the business side took over and players were faceless commodities. We didn’t seem to have the characters of the past such as Doug Walters, David Boon or Merv Hughes.

JT: You played with and against many of the greats but who would you have liked to have played with?

DJ: Of course there is Don Bradman. And I would have liked to have played against Keith Miller, who was one of the greatest all-rounders and Garfield Sobers. I bowled to him once when he was 43, but he was more interested in his golf and the racehorses then.

JT: You are obviously still connected with the game. What does the future hold?

DJ: I do some commentating and do the development side and I am a consultant to the New Zealand one-day team. Some of the Australian players don’t like it but if they paid me I would bloody consult them. I helped New Zealand beat Australia in the one-day series this season which was fun and will probably help them get ready for the World Cup. And if you had some smart money I would put some on New Zealand to make the semifinals.

*    *    *

After the interview Jones and fellow Victorian Richard Laidler showed the Japanese cricketers some of the tricks of the trade. The men and women of the various club and university teams in Japan were transfixed by Jones’s tip to watch the seam of the ball when it is in flight; the need for good clear calling between wickets; the importance of a good follow-through when bowling. At the end Jones padded up and despite not having a box (“Too small,” he claimed — though Laidler insisted it was a case of the box being too big) the master batsman demonstrated that he lost none of his touch, timing or power — even if the bowling attack wasn’t quite up to the standard of Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall et al.

For the Japanese players it truly was a lesson from a master and with Laidler now based in Japan introducing the game to schools in Gunma and roving ambassadors such as Jones the continued development of the game in Japan seems to be in good hands.

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