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Simon Jones MBE

‘The King of Reverse Swing’

Thank you to Chris Cowdrey, Simon Jones MBE and all our guests for their stellar contributions.

Blog written by Sam Dalling (The Cricket Paper)

With any luck the world is starting to come out the other side of the current pandemic. The green shoots of recovery are sprouting, and tentative steps towards the “new normal” being taken. But the crisis’ true toll won’t be known for some time, with mental health a key cause for concern. As human’s we just aren’t conditioned to isolate like this. And that’s why former England star Simon Jones has urged those struggling to surround themselves with good people and keep talking.

Speaking exclusively to CowCorner Events, he revealed how he had dark days of his own to contend with during the latter part of his international career, It’s easy to forget that the paceman never played test cricket again after his five-wicket haul helped England to an all-important victory during the fourth test Ashes test at Trent Bridge in 2005. He was set to play a part the tour of India the following year, but suffered a further blow when twisting his knee in the nets.  By September 2006 Jones had lost his central contract.

Cock of the walk one minute, on the scrap heat the next – such a rapid downturn is barely imaginable, and now he’s keen to share what he learned during that difficult period.  “The biggest thing you need to do is keep good people around you,” he urged.

“Keep good friends around to who you can speak to daily, who you can speak to when you are down. The mental health awareness now is huge and rightfully so. Years and years ago people would just say “pull yourself together but it’s not that easy. It’s like addiction with drugs or alcohol – it takes over you. I’ve seen it a lot of cricketers have come out about how they feel and how they’ve struggled I think that’s the best thing If you are open and your honest then people will understand, whereas if you don’t share it, that’s when issues will start happening.”

18 years have passed since Jones made his England bow against India at the Home of Cricket. Few would blame the then 23-year-old for having a few butterflies in the build up to the clash. Not only was he to step onto the hallowed Lords for the first time, the opposition contained greats of the game; Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly.

“The batting line-up was ridiculous. If you get past those you’re happy.”

Luckily for Jones the team’s elder statesmen took it welcomed the Welshman into the home dressing room with open arms. “It was unbelievable,” he told former England skipper Chris Cowdrey.

“I remember walking up to the dressing room two days before the test. It was packed, everyone had a place and I am thinking “wow – where am I going to sit. You walk in as the new boy and can’t just plonk yourself down. I’m stood there with my coffee thinking what can I do. But the most senior guy in the side – Alec Stewart – moved all his gear and said come and sit next to me.  That eased my nerves massively.”

And the welcome extended far beyond the confines of the changing areas.

“I went slightly wayward the night before,” he admitted. “I was in my room a bit nervous and had a knock on the door. It was Craig White; “are you ok?” he asked and I said “nah, I’m nervous”.

And the Yorkshireman’s reaction to Jones’ anxieties? “He said come with me and we’ll have a pint – we had ten pints of Stella. I woke up in the morning and was fine, I was 23 and you’re invincible. Nasser Hussain went out to do the toss, won it and did the right thing this time [more on that later!] and batted. I had a couple of days off just to chill to watch and soak in the atmosphere. To go into Lords having never played there in my life, having to deal with the slope it was tough. I Managed to get over my nerves and get on with it. It was a totally different environment to what I’d been used.”

The Glamorgan seamer impressed enough that summer to earn himself a seat on the plane for the 2002/03 Ashes tour. Three warm up games later and he was in the side for the first test at Brisbane. After skipper Nasser Hussain had made what Wisden called “one of the costliest decisions in Test history” and elected to bowl first, Jones raced out of the blocks.

Having drawn the series’ first bloody by dismissing opener Justin Langer, caught behind by Alec Stewart, he was on a high.

“I remember walking back to my mark and Matthew Hayden said “congratulations mate, you’re the leading wicket taker in the 2002 Ashes”.

But professional sport can be cruel and disaster was just around the corner.

“For the last warm up we played at the Allan Border Oval and I’ve never seen an outfield like it. It was beautiful. You’d slide on it and it was like glass – you kept going. I assumed all outfields were like that. When we did the preparation the day before we just did high catches. We didn’t do any ground fielding and didn’t really see the Aussies doing it either which was a bit strange. We won the toss and decided to bowl – I don’t know what Nasser was thinking. When that ball went past me I just chased it as hard as I could, like I would any other ball and I slid. All I can remember is my left knee getting stuck in the ground and all the weight transferring onto my right leg. I just felt this excruciating pain – pain I’d never felt in my life. I just lay there thinking “wow what was that. It’s one of those things – you freeze. You don’t want to move as you don’t want that pain to come back. I’ve only ever seen the video once and that’s enough.”

Not one to be kept down, Jones returned to the England side in time for the tour of the West Indies in early 2004. He nicked-off Brian Lara in the first test at Kingston in a 10-wicket victory for England.

Ominously, the great left hander had a quiet time of things during the first three tests of the series. The visitors restricted Lara a top score of 36 across six innings and dismissed him twice without troubling the scorers, on their way to wrapping up an unassailable 3-0 series lead. But the West Indian had the last laugh, making England toil under the hot sun on his way to a world record score.

“That was the longest two and a half days of my life,” Jones reflects. “I was waking up in the morning thinking “I’ve got to bowl at him again”, waking up the next day and think I’ve got to bowl at him again – it was unreal. I’ve never seen anything like it to be fair. The patience he showed, the shot selection he had was something behold honestly. He was just on it that day and when got 400, everyone was like take your hat off to him. He’s unbelievable.”

The following Summer, Jones was part of “that” Ashes victory in 2005.

Having not suffered defeat at the hands of England for 19 years, the Aussies must have touched down in blighty brimming with confidence. But as this history books show, Ricky Pointing’s men didn’t have it their way. Despite drawing first blood at Lords – well metaphorically at least after Steve Harmison had struck Ricky Pointing on the first morning –  the home side turned things around to secure a historic victory. And reflecting on that series, Jones feels that the public’s belief gave his side that fearless streak.

“The biggest thing was that the public expected. They believed for the first time we could beat these boys. When we went through the long room on the first morning it erupted. Every one of the boys will tell you that the hair’s stood up on the back of their neck. If you look from 1 to 11 at that Australian line up there were legends, every one of them and the lads they had waiting to come in were of the highest order. For us to beat that side was going to be a monumental effort but we’d beaten everyone else in the world before them. We though we’re young we’re fearless and we’re going to have a go at these boys. We aren’t going to let them bully is.”

When did Jones know they could beat their fiercest rivals?

“I think the turning point came in the one-dayer at Edgbaston,” he explained. “I threw the ball at Matt Hayden and it hit his chest – we used to ask him how long it took him to pump it up in the morning, he had a massive chest. He’s come charging down the wicket at me and the two smallest guys on the field – Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss – came running in and they had a go at him. A couple of the other lads came in and Freddie came in. You saw Hayden turn around and go back to his mark and that’s where I though we are a unit.”

For the first four tests of the series, that England unit fielded an unchanged side.

It was only at the Oval when Paul Collingwood stepped in for Jones himself that a 12th man finally appeared. Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff, Jones and Giles – an attack many believe to be the finest the country has ever fielded on home soil. nd when pressed by Cowdrey, Jones admits he’s not been part of a better line-up and talked up the role of the left-arm spinner.

“We had three lads bowling 90 mph, Matthew Hoggard swinging it around corners and Gilo would come into play in the second innings,” he said. “In the first innings he played such a vital role. He’d tied up and end and give us rest. Gilo didn’t get the credit he deserved – he was unbelievable. He bowled fantastically, he caught, he batted well. It annoys me when people don’t mention him really. The balance of that attack was great. Myself and Fred could bowl with the old bowl and Hoggy and Harmy were lethal with the new ball. In the teams I’ve played with, that’s the best I’ve ever had.”

In contrast to the host’s settled line-up, the Australian’s faced injury problems with seamer Glen McGrath missing the second test having trod on a stray ball during the warm-up. It’s never nice to see another human being suffer and Jones admits the sight of a fellow member of the fast bowler’s union on the deck threw up mixed emotions.

“That was one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had,” he admitted. “I respected the guy immensely –  he was an Absolute hero of the game.

“To see him on the deck, I felt for him but it was massive relief as we didn’t have to face him. I could see he was in immense agony. I was sent over as a little spy to see what was going on and he was in a bad way. He’s a big lad and he went down heavily. To see him in pain like that wasn’t great. But for them that was a huge loss.”

Jones enjoyed his most successful days in an England shirt that summer. Known as the sultan of reverse swing, the quick peaked with 5 wicket hauls at both Old Trafford and Trent Bridge. And cricket fans across the globe will be familiar with that nut to remove Michael Clarke’s off peg in the third test, the right-hander having shouldered arms.

When quizzed on how he developed the ability to get the ball moving both ways, Jones paid homage time spent in the nets working with then bowling coach and now best friend Troy Cooley. “I went on Rod Marsh academy in Australia in 2001. Troy Cooley – who became my best mate – took me aside one day and said “you could open the bowling but you’re not going to –  they’re not going to use you like that”. You have to bowl the hard-dirty overs in the middle, where the game may be going away from us, the wickets going a bit flat and the balls getting a bit soft. You’ve got to find a way of doing a job by bowling reverse swing. In the nets the other lads would be picking the hardest cherry, but I was going in looking for the one that been chewed by a dog. That’s where I learned my trade. That’s all I did – practice with an old ball.”