“Before that, I was a massive Kim Hughes fan, and Allan Border, but it evolved into Deano. We used to buy the cricket magazines and get the posters and Deano was one which I always put up.”
That Jones had a touch of showtime about him, with zinc cream smeared on his bottom lip and being the first international cricketer to don sunglasses on the field, made him even more appealing to any youngster growing up in the 1990s.
“I enjoyed that. He did it for his own reasons but it does make you stand out and get recognised. He had an affect on the youngsters, for sure,” Hodge said.
Hodge, soon to turn 46, shared a bond with Jones. They each played for grade club Melbourne, the pair in the first XI together when Hodge was only 15.
“When he showed up, it was like Christmas for everyone. Having a legend coming to play for Melbourne was always a joy for everyone,” Hodge said.
That there was 14-year age gap meant a precocious Hodge was seen as Victoria’s next great batsman, one tipped to build on the legacy Jones had built. Jones got to play in 52 Tests, Hodge a more modest six, but many think each should have played more.
Hodge was 19 when he debuted for his state under Jones’ captaincy in 1993-94. Still living at home, it was Jones who gave Hodge the nickname “Bunkie” while sharing a room with Jones and Darren Berry on a pre-season camp in Darwin. Hodge had still been sharing a bunk bed with his brother in the family home at the time.
“That’s where he brought that nickname out. It was the first time I had really gone away with a bunch of men. I had gone to the cricket academy … I said I still slept in a bunk at home. They found that interesting that I was going to make a Sheffield Shield debut but I still slept in bunk beds,” Hodge said.
He also had a poster of Jones on his wall, so it was somewhat surreal for Hodge to suddenly be alongside Jones in the state side.
“We spent a lot of time together. I know he was at the crease when I made my first century, against Tasmania. That was a pretty cool moment,” Hodge said.
Jones and Hodge went on a tear in that summer. Hodge compiled 903 Shield runs at 50.16, with one century, in 10 matches while Jones, having been controversially overlooked for the previous winter’s Ashes tour, delivered 846 runs at 84.6 in only six matches, with four centuries.
The following summer, Jones, again spurned by Test selectors but arguably in the form of his life, produced 1216 runs at 76, with four tons, while Hodge found the going tougher, returning 343 runs at 22.86, with the one ton. Hodge learnt plenty.
“Deano was always keen at any time of the day to talk cricket, especially batting. In fact, I was happy to ask questions. When you actually get a chance to spend time with someone who has played one-day cricket and Test match cricket and been successful at it, it’s good fun to talk about,” Hodge said.
“You would talk about various bowlers around the world – how did you face Wasim Akram, all sorts of bowlers.”
Those cricketing conversations continued long after Jones had retired and even since Hodge stopped playing in recent years, with each man turning to coaching. Both were also overlooked for roles coaching the Vics and the Big Bash League’s Stars and Renegades.
In a quirk of fate, Jones never celebrated a Test or one-day international century at his beloved MCG. He had a modest Test record at his favourite venue, averaging 25.1 in six Tests spread between 1986 and 1991. His top score in this time was 59, achieved in his first innings, against England in a heavy defeat, and matched in his final knock, against India, in a strong win.
He was also unable to get to three figures in the 50-overs format that he often dominated, but he still delivered many memorable knocks, and drew inspiration from raucous home-town crowds.
Fittingly, Jones was given a lap of honour, complete with music from Elton John and INXS, in a moving private family tribute at the MCG in October. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was no chance for a community farewell. Now comes that opportunity for fans here and abroad to really say thank you, something the Jones family had wanted.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.