In the majority of cases, inclusion in our Unlikely Lads series is due to a player having some sort of obvious deficiency. Perhaps they were incapable of bowling a hoop downhill, were just a tad rotund or slightly lacking in consistency. Or perhaps they just really reminded us of the Honey Monster. Either way, the important thing is that it’s basically an excuse for us to gently poke fun at some people who have achieved more in the world of cricket than we ever will. In fact anyone who gets off their sofa at the weekend has already achieved more than we ever will.
So just to clarify: no-one was making fun of Liam Plunkett.
In the case of our latest entrant to our hall of fame/shame, his unfortunate deficiency was being made out of biscuits. After one career-threatening injury just as he was making his mark, he fought his way back to fitness and the top of his game before being once again struck down, to be rarely, if ever, seen again. We are, of course, talking about
As a bowler Simon Jones had it all. Fast, aggressive and able to reverse swing the ball around corners, he was much more than just ‘the handsome one’ in England’s bowling attack for the 2005 Ashes. The image of him cleaning up Michael Clarke’s off stump with the batsman not playing a shot is one of the most enduring from that rather memorable summer that we like to talk about every single day of our lives. As dismissals go it ranks up amongst our very favourites, to the extent that we could happily sit and watch this YouTube clip on repeat for days at a time.
But Jones’s story was much more than just that one series. He actually made his Test debut way back in 2002, preceding the likes of Steve Harmison and Rob Key. After a promising performance against India, taking four wickets as England won comfortably, he was included as England’s secret weapon for the 2002/3 Ashes tour. Sadly things didn’t quite go to plan.
The first day of the first Test at the Gabba is best remembered for two things: Nasser Hussain winning the toss, choosing to field and watching Australia rack up 364/2 and the horrific injury to Simon Jones. After a promising first spell, in which he picked up the wicket of Justin Langer, Jones caught his studs in the turf while sliding, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament. As injuries go, it was a bad one. This author once put his back out lifting up a particularly full tray of Jammie Dodgers and that really, really hurt, so we can certainly empathise with Jones’s plight. Although thankfully there weren’t 28 thousand Australians shouting abuse in the office that particular day.
It was 2004 before Jones reappeared at the top table, finding himself back in the side for England’s tour of the West Indies. It was here that England’s bowling attack really clicked. Steve Harmison was enjoying his annus mirabilis, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff had developed into fine bowlers and Ashley Giles was, er, Ashley Giles. England won the series 3-0 with Jones picking up a heartening eleven wickets.
Then came a disappointing summer – Jones played just two of England’s seven Tests against New Zealand and the West Indies, due to a combination of injury and the form of James Anderson – followed by a rather more successful winter in which England won in South Africa for the first time in about a million years. After a quick warmup thrashing of Bangladesh, it was time for the Ashes.
We’ve talked about the 2005 Ashes a lot. In fact, we’ve probably talked more about that particular topic than anything else, ever. Indeed last year we wrote five articles looking at each individual match in depth. A large part of that was spent eulogising about Simon Jones and his wonderful performance, topping the bowling averages for the victorious home side. Even when picking up yet another injury at Trent Bridge he managed to have a huge impact on the game, firstly by taking 5/44 and secondly by being replaced by substitute Gary Pratt, with hilarious results.
Sadly it was the final act of Jones’s international career. He was part of the squad that toured Pakistan and India but had to withdraw due to his ongoing injuries. Over the next few years there was constant talk of a return, of how Jones was back and better than ever. Sadly it never happened. His body just couldn’t be trusted for four (or five) day cricket and his time passed; he’s still technically a county cricketer, but hasn’t been seen playing for Glamorgan since last August.
But we’ll always have the memories: that delivery to Michael Clarke, the five finger salute at Trent Bridge and the time he threw the ball at Matthew Hayden’s head for a laugh. Plus that run-up, ambling into the crease like he just wasn’t that bothered before unleashing a 90mph yorker. He must have some seriously strong shoulders.