Couch Talk 167 (Play)
Guest: Simon Jones
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Welcome to the show, Simon! Thanks for being on!
Simon Jones (SJo)– Thanks for having me!
SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure. I want to start with your father Jeff – he played for England as well, and he was a left arm quick. What was his role in you wanting to become a fast bowler?
SJo– He was obviously an inspiration for me. I have seen him play while growing up. He never put any pressure on me growing up. I loved football first up. And then as I grew, I found that I was better at cricket than football. It was kind of a natural progression, really. It was great for me to have someone to chat to during the tough days. In cricket, you have more bad days than good days, to be honest. He would say, “Carry on what you are doing, keep your head up, and things will turn.” And they did. It was great to have him as a mentor.
SJ– Were there other fast-bowling inspirations? There are stories about you as a youngster breaking bones around in Glamorgan.
SJo– Allan Donald was my hero, White Lightning as they called him. I used to watch him play Test cricket. That spell he bowled to (Michael) Atherton at Trent Bridge inspired me to be as quick as I could, and be aggressive. And he is an absolute legend of the game. I have met him a few times, did a bit of work with him. I remember being at Warwickshire, while playing for Glamorgan, and he was watching me at warm-ups, he had a little chat with me and told me to try this and try that. Immense to have worked with someone like that.
SJ– Your nickname – Horse. What is its origin?
SJo– [Laughs] I think it is because I did everything quickly. I could run 100m in 11 seconds. I didn’t do anything slowly. Steve Watkin gave me the nickname Racehorse. That is where the nickname Horse came from.
SJ– Of course, you make the debut for England and you have a devastating injury, well documented in your book, “Test”. What was it like, the 18 months of rehab? I am sure it must have been one of the darkest time as a cricketer where you were constantly second guessing if you would ever play again. How did you deal with it?
SJo– I was lucky, I kept some good people around me. My physio, Erjan Mustafa, who was Glamorgan physio at that time, looked after me well. We are best friends now, he was my best man at my wedding. It is funny, you meet people and they are there for a reason. I am a big believer of that, the karma. It was a tough 18 months, but it turned out to be worthwhile. The darkest times was towards the end of my career, when I was at Hampshire and Glamorgan, when I was waking up every day and checking my knee and the whole thing was all consuming, it was hard work. I have retired now, I am happy. I don’t need to worry about playing anymore. I am happy.
SJ– You bowled to some of the greatest batsmen of all time. You should have had Sachin (Tendulkar) as your first wicket, but you didn’t. He was dropped. And then you got (Brian) Lara, the dream of a delivery to Michael Clarke. What was it like, mentally, to be bowling to these legends?
SJo– On my debut, it was against India, against the likes of Tendulkar, (VVS) Laxman, (Rahul) Dravid – absolute heroes of the game. They are superstars. For me, as a 22 year old, to make my debut in a place where I have never been before – very nervous. I remember telling Nasser (Hussain) that I can’t feel my legs. There is a picture of me with my arm around Nasser, and he said, “You got to feel good soon because you got to bowl.” But, to bowl against these guys, that was a great learning curve. If you can bowl well against these guys, you can bowl to anyone. It was a great learning curve for me, to experience Test cricket early on in my career. So, when I came back from my injury, I was ready. I felt that I had a lot to prove. I missed the 2002 Ashes because of my knee. So, I was hungry to come back and play against the Aussies, to prove to myself what I can do because the Aussies are the best in the world. I truly believe that. That team that we played against in 2005 was exceptional. To do so well was really inspiring, I am very proud of that.
SJ– Your best figures in an innings came in that series in 2005, and you gave substantial amount of time towards the series in your book -5 chapters on that 5 Tests. Tell me about the 6-fer, and obviously talk about the dismissal of Clarke.
SJo– It is one of those things. I played in the Test, bowled well at Lord’s. There were a couple of dropped catches, that was annoying. I could have had a 4 or 5-fer. I would have loved to be on the Honours Board, didn’t happen. Went to Edgbaston, bowled nicely. I think I didn’t get as many wickets as I could have. But, happy. And then, went to Old Trafford, and things clicked. To get wickets against the Aussies, because of the standard they play, was brilliant for me. I really enjoyed it. it was a very proud moment to get Clarke the way I did – I set him up nicely. He is a young man, with all the talent. To get him the way that way blew me away.
SJ– You have a series of out-swingers and then one comes in – you can hear him say “Oh no!” Was that a moment of satisfaction and relief?
SJo– Oh yes, massive. It was one of the things. The crowd had gone quiet. I was on the top of my mark, I was going to run in. I had given the crowd a bit of a gee up, and they reacted because there was a little bit of lull, they were batting quite well. So, the crowd erupted, and when I was running in, they were making the “Oooooo” noise. When I bowled the in-swinger, I got it just right. It hit the top of off, and thought I had probably got one of the best batters in the world there. So, it was satisfaction. But at the same time, it was immense relief that we had broken a partnership that was building nicely there.
SJ– Are there times where you look at the batsmen after you have dismissed him, and you know you have beaten them neck and crop, you have basically defeated him…
SJo– Yes, you can look him in the eye, and they know they have been done. It was like that when I bowled (Virender) Sehwag at Lord’s, it was an in-swinger as well. To someone of his class, the way I did, I was delighted. It is one of those things, when you get to a certain level, you have to adapt quickly. Otherwise, it is going to be a long and hard day. I adapted my game to bowl to these guys because they are brilliant talents. It is hard work to bowl to them. It’s like a game of chess, you have to try to out-think them and be as aggressive as you can and really push hard to take wickets. But, these batters apply themselves and do make your life really hard.
SJ– Let’s say, someone like (Shivnarine) Chanderpaul or Rahul Dravid – very solid players when in their zone, against someone like Sehwag or even Michael Clarke or Lara – they are more aggressive in nature. Which one is more challenging and satisfying in taking the wicket of?
SJo– The more defensive the batter is harder, because you know that their techniques are sound. They are used to facing the bowling all day. Chanderpaul was a nightmare because you know that he could bat all day and it wouldn’t bother him one bit. The same is with Dravid – they call him The Wall for a reason – he could bat all day. This is a test of patience. I have to try and lull him into a false toot, and that is tough because of their technique. So, I would rather bowl against those who could score off a few because you could get a chance rather than when I bowled to Dravid or such other guys.
SJ– But, you see how England in the last few years have adopted methods and data analytics and other stuff – even senior bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad – they quickly pull their length back and put a man outside to not give runs, bowl dry. But that wasn’t a part of your nature.
SJo– No, I was an attacking bowler. I didn’t mind going for runs. My job, as any bowler, is to take wickets. There are 20 wickets in a game. In 2005, we backed our batters to chase the runs. Our job was to take wickets and get off the field as quickly as we could regardless of the run rate. You look back at 2005, the run rate was ridiculous. It was just the intensity, all consuming. My job was to take wickets regardless. I was an attacking bowler setting attacking fields.
SJ– There is an listener question from Ahmer in Pakistan, which is about celebrations. You said you do all things fast. Your celebrations, he says, is more visceral than anybody since, especially in the England uniform. What was all that about?
SJo– I valued every single wicket regardless of who it was – no.1 or no.11. I was very proud of them. As a bowler you had to work hard in Test cricket to get a wicket. When I got a wicket, I was too elated to do it. I celebrated it in the right way, aggressive at times. That is my nature – mild mannered off the field, but when I am on the field I have it all put together. I am thinking that this batter wants to make me look silly; he wants to hit 4s and then 6s. So, you have to be aggressive, have to be – not in their face – but you have to do things right. That was my game.
SJ– You played under the captaincy of Nasser Hussain, as you mentioned earlier, and Michael Vaughan – the more analytical and thinking captains in recent history. What was their effect on you being the bowler that you were?
SJo– Both were exceptional. Nasser was great to work with, very aggressive, will back you all the way. Nasser has an attitude – you put in your work hard, you get the wickets or you put in your work hard and get runs. I loved to work for him.
Vaughny was very different – very relaxed, wanted you to express yourself and enjoy. He made you feel at ease, there was no pressure ever. And that is why we did that well in 2005. He knew we can get 20 wickets, he knew he had such good bowlers. He was a joy to work with. He would ask, “What are you going to do here?” I would have a chat with him and he would say, “I think this”. And normally he was right and we would get on with it, and we were successful there.
SJ– How would you compare those two with the two recent Test captains of England – Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss?
SJo– Totally different. I would say Straussy and Cook are quite conservative, quite defensive, that is their nature. That is how they play their game, that is how they approach the game. It is not right or wrong. You look at the attacks that Strauss and Cook have had – Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn, Swann – they are attacking bowlers. That is their method. You can’t change that. I just hope that Alastair Cook is attacking throughout the series because if you are going to bowl these guys out twice, you have to be attacking. I think that is where Mark Wood comes in.
SJ– The foursome that you were – you, Freddie (Flintoff), (Steve) Harmison and (Matthew) Hoggard – and with the four now – Anderson, Broad, (Ben) Stokes and Wood – how would you compare?
SJo– The balance in the attack is now good. They have options – in Tests you need different options at different times. Maybe someone like Stuart Broad has come in and bowled horrible lengths …he is tall, 6’6”, you may see that someone’s bowling a fuller length like Wood, who can be fast and reversing and now, you have got that attacking option. Whereas, before, in West Indies, they all looked the same – all bowing back of the length, that batsmen could leave easily. Now, they are a more rounded attack, they are more dangerous.
SJ– In the 2005 series, you and Kevin Pietersen were good mates. You were single guys, and spent a lot of times together. What is your relationship like? You also mentioned that he helped you in times of need, during your times of injuries. What is your relationship like now, and what is your take on how he has been handled by the England management?
SJo– I can’t speak highly enough of him. He is a great man, he really is. I have got plenty of time for Kev. An absolute genius with the bat in his hand. I have not seen many more talented than him, if any really.
I think what has happened with England is sad. For him to go back to Surrey and prove that he wants to get back to the Test team, was tough for him. He got 250 odd and then he got shunned. But at the same time, Strauss had just come in to the job [as ECB director], and he made some tough decisions – got rid of Peter Moores and then put the KP issue to bed. He has done his job. Now, this England team can move forward. i would love to see Kev out there now, I really would, but it is not going to happen, it is never going to happen again. So, KP is going to carry on playing in these T20s and what nots, and just be the player that he is. It is sad to see, but I can see where Andrew Strauss is coming from. He wants the best for England. He wants to see the youth move forward and develop a team for the future than dwell in the past.
SJ– Just a couple of more topics – the impact of Duncan Fletcher, his impact while in South Africa in 2004/05 and the Ashes. Since, he has gone and taken a job with India and not had a whole lot of success in conditions he is not familiar with. What was he like as a coach in terms of strategising and finding flaws in the opposition?
SJo– Fletcher was the best I have been with. Rod Marsh is one who I thought was superb. Fletch was a good man manager, he reads people well. I enjoyed working with him. We had a couple of chats where we didn’t really agree, but he was like that. If you had a chat with him, you can be open and honest, and clear the air. He would sit back, he would let us prepare, and what we would do is we got net sessions where he would go to the back of the nets and watch. You finish bowling in the nets sessions and then he will have a chat and make a couple of points. You would know that he is right. He is a thinker. I think (Trevor) Bayliss is the same – he would sit back and watch and help these lads in small ways rather than impose himself on the team. So yes, Fletch was amazing. He gave me the opportunity and brought me into the Test squad, he worked with me in the Academy for a month when I wasn’t in the squad. i loved Fletch.
SJ– You retired from first class in 2013 season, although you didn’t play for England after 2005. Was there always a hope on your side that you might be able to come back and play for England or were you satisfied playing first class and T20s?
SJo– When I moved to Worcestershire, I took 45 wickets in 9 games and England started to look at me again. You always hope you can play for England, it was the proudest moment of my life. But it didn’t happen, it was the toughest 4 years of my life in terms of frustration, injury; mentally it was very, very tough. But it is what it is. I am a realist. I understand that I wasn’t ready at that time to play for England. They went with Pattinson from Notts, which kind of confused me since I was also bowling well. But, things are meant to be such. it didn’t work out for me. But, I am happy with what I could achieve. I could have played 80-90 Tests, but I played 18. But, to be involved in ’05, it defines my career.
SJ– What are your plans for your future?
SJo– I have done my book, it came out last Thursday. I have got my Test honorary this year. So, I am going to spend a year looking at what I want to do. i would love to get into punditry. While i watch the game, I love to talk about the young lads coming through, I love to get into that. Just a year, assessing where I want to go. It is quite a tough place to be, actually. Cricket is the only stuff you know, you got 20 years of the career doing that. So, in another year or year and a half, I will think of what I am next going to do. I look forward to the next chapter, wherever that might be. It is great to be here today and watch the first day of the Ashes.
SJ– Alright! I wish you all the best and thank you so much for being on the show!
Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman