Dean Jones’ mind was racing when, in the middle of a sold out SCG on January 16, 1993, he made a simple request he’d live to regret.
“Curtly, take your sweatbands off, please,” Jones said to West Indies legend, Curtly Ambrose during the first final of the 1992-93 ODI tri-series.
The request seemed innocent enough on paper. According to Jones, the white fabric of the sweatbands clashed with the white ball, affecting his ability to see it out of the hand. As for the bowler; sweatbands don’t affect their ability whatsoever — so what’s the big deal?
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But the towering Antiguan was notoriously a player not to be messed with. Most quicks tipping two-metres and bowling above 140km/h aren’t.
And yet, here was Jones, clinging to his spot in the ODI team, intentionally poking the bear.
“I thought if I get him upset, get his arousal levels over the top, I think it might make him bowl a bit loose,” Jones recalled in 2016.
Needless to say, Ambrose didn’t bowl loosely. Quite the opposite, actually.
That Jones’ request was to blame for sending the West Indies on a winning run that left Australia empty-handed over its home summer is a stretch to say — but not necessarily a lie.
Ambrose went on a tear that night, snatching 5-32 as the West Indies comfortably defended 239 to win by 25 runs. Two days later in Melbourne, Ambrose was at it again, taking 3-26 from his ten overs as the West Indies won by four wickets to clinch the series.
The misery for Australia, and dominance of Ambrose, didn’t end there.
Ambrose took 33 wickets that Australian Test summer. No visiting bowler has taken more than 30 in a Test series in Australia since.Source: News Corp Australia
Next up was the last two matches of the corresponding five-Test series — a chance for Australia to redeem itself and end the season on a high. But Ambrose’s thirst for wickets was far from quenched.
He utterly blitzed the Australians, taking 19 wickets in two Tests to finish the series with 33 at just 16.42 runs apiece. No bowler has taken more than 30 wickets in an away Test series against Australia since.
The series was tied at 1-1 going into the final Test in Perth, where Australia was skittled for 119 in the first innings. Ambrose took 7-25. Allan Border’s side couldn’t recover, losing the match by an innings and 25 runs, and the Frank Worrell Trophy in the process.
No one man can shoulder the blame for the loss of an entire series, let alone two. Australia’s quicks were outgunned by Ambrose and Ian Bishop while Brian Lara belted the host attack to the tune of 466 runs at 58.25. Meanwhile, David Boon was the only Australian to average more than 40. Jones didn’t even play.
Nonetheless, he knows that when Australia’s failure in the summer 1992-93 is discussed, it’s always going to come back to him.
“Many people ask me why I was stupid enough to ask Curtly Ambrose to take his sweat bands off,” he wrote in a column for The Age in 2015. “It become (sic) a massive international incident in the cricket world back then and completely changed the fortunes of the West Indies (in 92-93).”
Richie Richardson and Ambrose after winning the Frank Worrell Trophy in Australia in 1993.Source: News Corp Australia
To understand the mindset of Jones at the time of his ill-fated request, you need to go back one match when Australia played Pakistan in Sydney. Jones’ thumb was broken by a Wasim Akram short ball before he was bowled by Mushtaq Ahmed for 13.
The then 31-year-old was by no means in poor ODI form, but he was wary of promising 21-year-old, Damien Martyn, taking his spot as he had already done in the Test arena. Jones wrote in his column that he felt he had to have an injection and play the final injured otherwise he might never get back in the team.
Making matters worse, however, was that Jones’ confidence took another hit just minutes before the game when coach Bob Simpson decided it was a fitting time to reveal who would play the fourth Test in Adelaide.
Jones was the only batsman to miss out, kept on the outer by Justin Langer on debut.
“To say I was pissed off would be an understatement,” wrote Jones, who controversially hadn’t played a Test all summer despite making 276 runs at 55.20 in Sri Lanka before the start of the summer.
“I was furious.”
Jones felt he was playing to keep his ODI spot in 92-93 having just lost his Test position.Source: News Corp Australia
When Boon and Mark Taylor arrived at the crease for the second innings, Jones watched in a corner by himself, plotting how he could “embarrass” selectors with a big score. Noticing how the openers were struggling against Ambrose, Jones started to think outside the box on how he could upset the bowler’s momentum.
“I don’t know if it was the drugs or what, but I thought if I told Ambrose to take his sweat bands off it would create a massive stir within the Windies team and might get Ambrose to bowl a different line and length,” Jones wrote.
He didn’t keep the idea to himself, instead asking for the approval of Simpson who was discussing the team’s plans for the Adelaide Test which the No.3 couldn’t care less about. Simpson gave his tick of approval, although his teammates’ were not as forthcoming.
“‘You will get us killed’, they yelled at me. I personally couldn’t give a s**t about them as they were going to Adelaide,” Jones wrote.
“So when Boony nicked off to Ambrose, I then passed Mark and Steve Waugh going out to bat. Mark then said to Steve, ‘he is not going to do it, is he?’”
But on arrival at the crease, he did — much to the bemusement of Ambrose.
“I found it to be a strange request,” Ambrose said in 2016. “I mean, what was the big deal, what was the reason? I had been doing it all of my career.
“I was very reluctant to do it … I was there with Richie (Richardson) and a couple of the guys and I was like, ‘I’m not going to do it because I can’t understand the request. It’s nonsense really’.”
Ambrose reluctantly agreed to take off one of his sweatbands.Source: Supplied
“He just thought it would get to him,” remembered Richardson. “Well, it did get to him.
“I think Deano regretted it because he obviously didn’t know Curtly Ambrose very well … the rest is history.”
Jones’ partner at the other end, Taylor, was just as unimpressed as Ambrose.
“I had 11 West Indians and one Australian batsman sledging me, and it was Mark Taylor,” Jones said in 2016. “He’s going to me, ‘I’ve got two kids, what are you doing?’”
Richardson eventually talked Ambrose into taking off the sweatband on his right wrist “for the sake of the game”. That didn’t mean Ambrose had to be happy about it.
“I was really upset with him (Jones) and I told myself, ‘I’m going to make it damn hard for him. I’m going to really rough him up’,” Ambrose said.
“I didn’t want to hurt him but I want him to be as uncomfortable as possible.”
He added: “It’s not a smart thing to do to rattle a fast bowler.”
In Jones’ words, the next three balls were “the fastest you’ll ever see in your life”. The first was just short of a length outside off stump, which Jones left at the last millisecond. Jones played around the next ball that hit his pads and was followed by a strong, unsuccessful appeal for LBW, while the follow-up narrowly beat his outside edge.
The irony is that Jones actually survived the onslaught while Taylor didn’t. He attempted to flick Ambrose off his pads but top-edged the delivery to Phil Simmons fielding at point.
Meanwhile, Jones made a scratchy 13 — again — off 22 balls which included two lucky boundaries off outside edges to Ambrose. He was eventually dismissed by Kenny Benjamin, not Ambrose who accounted for Boon, Taylor, Ian Healy, Tony Dodemaide and Craig McDermott.
Jones only made five in the second final in Melbourne, and was left out of Australia’s tour of England in 1993. He returned in early 1994 and made a series of half centuries against South Africa and New Zealand, but was dropped for good later that year following a lean tour of the former.
Ambrose continued terrorising Australian sides for the decade’s remainder but did so largely on his own as the West Indies lost its grip on world cricket. Australia’s tour of the West Indies in 1995 proved to be the sliding doors moment, as the visitors claimed their first Test series win in the Caribbean since 1973. Even so, Ambrose took 70 Australian wickets at 25.35 across all formats following the summer of 1992-93.