Jones ready to seize second chance

Fast bowler determined to make up for time lost to injury and impress with England A team while Zimbabwean dispute escalates
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The Independent Online

Darren Gough is short and stocky. Andrew Caddick is lanky and a bit uncoordinated. Angus Fraser...well he just plodded along.

Simon Jones is a rarity among English fast bowlers. He is an athlete. This was more than apparent during his two Test matches in 2002 and it is the reason why England's selectors are doing all they can to get him fit for February's tour of the West Indies.

Before boarding a plane for the Caribbean in four weeks time the Glamorgan paceman needs to successfully come through an England A tour of Malaysia and India. Jones left for Asia with Kent's Ed Smith and this winter's National Academy intake on Monday and the three matches he is scheduled to play in the Duleep Trophy - India's premier first-class tournament - will give Michael Vaughan a good indication of whether his body and his bowling will survive 10 weeks in the West Indies.

Jones's brief adventure with England in 2002 excited many. He looked like he enjoyed the big stage and everything he did, whether it was running, throwing, batting or bowling seemed to be at 100mph. On his debut at Lord's he scored a swashbuckling 44 and sent the middle stump of India's Virender Sehwag cart-wheeling. Then in Brisbane last winter, his pace proved too much for Justin Langer in the first Test of the Ashes series.

Sadly, however, Jones was injured shortly after. Chasing down a Ricky Ponting straight drive Jones went to field the ball in the manner an athletic man would - by sliding. I was always told not to do this by Don Bennett, the Middlesex coach. He told all our bowlers the risk of injury was not worth the run you may have saved. His advice was to put a boot on it.

In today's game however, bowlers as well as batsmen are expected to be dynamic in the field and down Jones went. His slide did not take into account the sandy outfield and his left knee got stuck in the ground. This caused his body to jack-knife and in a hideous fall he ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee. Watching him writhe around at The Gabba clutching his knee was a desperate sight.

Recounting the moment when a sportsman seriously injures himself is not a pleasant task but it is something Jones now appears to be comfortable with. "When my knee went I didn't feel pain," he said calmly, following his final training session at the National Academy in Loughborough. "But I knew I had done something serious because of the way I felt my knee move. The specialist ran on and told me he was 99 per cent sure I had done my cruciate. On the stretcher I did wonder whether my career may be over but Kirk Russell [the England physiotherapist] told me in the dressing room that they could do amazing things with knees these days. It was sickening to do this on the first day of the Ashes series."

Followers of any sport would have little idea of how demoralising it is for an athlete to be injured. Being paid to sit on your backside doing nothing sounds idyllic but it is a lonely and frustrating experience. Jones flew back to England and was operated on immediately. For six weeks he was told to do nothing. When his leg first came out of the splint it was not strong enough to work the pedals on a bike. The following two months were spent painfully breaking down all the scar tissue and mobilising the joint.

Intensive treatment was required and Jones ended up living with Erjam Mustafa, the Glamorgan physiotherapist. During the week the pair worked on the knee for between four and five hours a day. Mustafa only allowed him to return home to Swansea at the weekends.

"It was unbelievably frustrating," he said. "There was a lot of international cricket on the television at the time - which was a stinker. I occasionally watched England in Australia because the splint on my leg prevented me sleeping. But I found it very hard. At times I couldn't watch. My father [Jeff Jones, the former England fast-bowler] and my family gave me great support but it got me really down. I just used to sit there with my leg up thinking how hard I had worked to get out there and it had gone."

By the start of the 2003 English season Jones's rehabilitation had reached the stage where he could jog but he still found it hard to watch matches he knew he should be playing in. "I did not want to be in the Glamorgan dressing room last summer," he said. "You feel out of place because you are only there some of the time. You miss out on the banter and you don't know what the current jokes are. I'd watch a bit of cricket after my treatment if the boys were fielding. But if they were batting I left straight away. I felt I was just getting in the way."

For Jones those days have now thankfully gone. A couple of Second XI matches in August helped ease him back into the swing of things and since the end of the season he has been a regular at the Academy. There he has been able to concentrate on his fitness and work on his action with Troy Cooley, the England bowling coach.

"The knee injury has not forced me to modify my action," he said, "but the break has given me time to correct other things that needed looking at. Troy is very good and has helped me a lot. I believe the changes will give me greater consistency and make me a better bowler. The days are certainly long though. We are in the gym at 7am on the versa climber - which is a spew session - and finish at 5.30pm."

It is too early to tell if Jones has the nous and can develop the control which would turn his potential into match-winning performances but few can doubt his determination following this return. Rod Marsh, an England selector and the director of cricket at the Academy, is a big fan of the Welshman. After spending several years in charge of the Australian Academy, the former "baggy green" wicketkeeper knows what it takes to get to the top and he has been pushing Jones's cause.

The prospect of 14 weeks on tour is something Jones is understandably looking forward to. "I can't wait," he said. It is a big test but it is the reason why I have been going through all this for the past 14 months. I don't feel under any pressure. The fact the selectors have backed me gives me confidence.

"The injury has made me realise how important cricket is to me and what life would be like if I didn't have cricket.

"My aim is to be England's strike bowler, England's Brett Lee." If Jones were to reach his goal, he would solve a lot of England's problems.