You’re a former cricketer, a very good one. After retiring, you’ve picked up gigs in the commentary circuit, you’re travelling the world. You end up spending time with other former cricketers. Some of them better than yourself, some less so, some who made a name for something specific – say, playing along the turf to the off-side against a left-arm spinner who is pitching outside your leg-stump on a bouncy pitch.
So, you go to that very remarkable batsman and, being a cricket obsessive, you ask questions about his excellence at that whole thing. And you might just end up with a nugget. And you think, well, since I am more interested in playing golf these days anyway, why not pass on the gem to someone who can use it?
That’s Dean Jones’ Cricket Tips for you. Professor Deano, remember? With his feel for the good wit, the slim volume is easy to read and easy to retain. Just the sort of thing, in fact, that a young cricketer could carry around in his or her kit bag.
Jones hinges the idea of the book on his clever little ‘one-percenters’ theory. In the introduction, he writes: “When I look at modern cricketers, I really wonder if they are being told about the ‘one-percenters’, the little tips that can take you from being good to great, or from average to good.”
One-percenters – things so small that they are not discernible to the naked eye trained on the TV sets: An inch on the bat handle, the front shoulder slightly more open, half a step in the run-up, the angle of the knee-bend that makes such a difference in the slips …
“It appeals to younger fans, I think, it’s anecdotal, there are funny little things. Why we do certain things. Why certain players do certain things. All with a bit of humour in. You have your coaches and your coaching manuals, but there are other little things that can make or break a cricketer. I think I have only scratched the surface, and I’m hoping this tells the things they don’t teach you at the academy,” Jones elaborates in a chat with Wisden India.
There’s a lot of technique, strategy, preparation and training in these pages. Batting tips from Jones himself, of course, starting from the stance to watching the length of the ball [obvious, you’d think, but the little adjustments a top batsman makes do make for fascinating reading, and visualising]. And there’s Sachin Tendulkar on comfort at the crease and the nerve test, Rahul Dravid on not playing the man opposite you but the merit of the man, Ricky Ponting on choosing the right bat, Kevin Pietersen on his reverse strokes, and much more.
The batting section is the stronger one, not surprising given that the author is a batsman. My favourite is this bit from VVS Laxman: “It’s my office, so I tried to keep it as neat as I could. Proper maintenance of a pitch and the bowlers’ footholds is imperative to making consistently high scores. When I saw holes in the pitch, I tried to fill them up with some of the small bits of pitch and smashed it in with my bat.” You missed that, didn’t you, mesmerised as you were by all that elegance and wristcraft?
The bowling department is taken care of by Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Nathan Lyon, Ian Healy talks about wicketkeeping, Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly explain captaincy, and various other flit in and out in this ready reckoner of sorts.
“If anyone picks up two-three things, I am happy,” Jones adds. “I am a golf nut and I go back to illustrations by Greg Norman or Jack Nicklaus all the time – it helps a lot.”
As we chat, Jones brings up “crease management”, another usage he is fond of. What he means is understanding how to bat long and score a lot of runs, and managing the body and the heart rate and rationing the running of singles and twos, and, most importantly, controlling the mind.
Which takes us to the one area, I think, that has not been tackled in enough detail: The mental side of things.
Jones agrees. “I think the No. 1 thing a young kid needs is to have a person you can trust,” he says. “I asked all the great players – they talk about mental aspects, they all say that 85-90% of the stuff was mental. It was all about getting themselves ready for the contest. If that went well, the contest went well too. I say it is 80% mental and 20% talent, though you need talent first. Being a professional athlete is a very, very, very difficult job. Even in Australia, I am not even talking about being a cricketer in India.”
He will “probably explore it in the next book” more, Jones says – so there you go: Dean Jones’ Cricket Tips II. Sometime soon.
As the author says himself, “All the guys I spoke to – they gave me all this information for nothing, they wanted to share their experiences.” Cricketers like to talk a good game, especially about things they are/were good at. “You have to make it personal,” Jones explains. “You need the touch and feel – facing Wasim on a dustbowl with the ball reversing, the man trying to ruin your career, not everyone knows how to deal with it. Maybe no one does. If you want to learn, you need to learn from the masters.”
Most of the true masters are in commentary boxes these days, though, not on training fields. Which makes Jones’s tip-seeking and tip-sharing journey around the cricket world that much more valuable. I know I could have done with it when I was headed square-legwards at the sight of the big guy charging in.
Dean Jones’ Cricket Tips
96pp, £12.99, Scribe