It’s a lazy post-lunch session. The runs have dried up as New Zealand are bowling a defensive line to Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. A few who may have had a filling meal during the break could be seen catching forty winks. Sitting in one corner of the grandstand with his eye closed, Allen Jones may come across as one of those. Only, he is not. He has a white cane folded underneath his seat. He is blind.
The 72-year-old Jones is a cricket fan unlike most. He can’t watch it, but he enjoys it nonetheless. So much so that he has religiously attended most matches at the Basin Reserve for the last 30 years. “I enjoy very much sitting in this place, it’s good for hearing,” he says, having taken his seat behind long on/third man. “I’ve tried different places, but right above the pitch, here, it’s extremely good.”
Jones has been blind since birth. As a young man, he says, he followed cricket a bit and used to admire the hard-hitting Australian Alan Davidson. Then he attended a few games at the Basin. “And I got very interested in it,” he says.
It was the New Zealand-England Test match in 1984. Ian Botham took a five-for and hit a century in the first innings of that drawn game. After that, cricket became a lifelong passion for Jones. He would travel by bus from his home at Island Bay, Wellington, and be at the Basin whenever there was an international game. “I even went to England and Australia to attend Test matches. I go to Australia to attend every season-opener Test, which is generally played at the Gabba (Brisbane),” he says.
But the Basin is his favourite venue in the world. “I really enjoy the Basin because it’s small and compact. I think it is one of the nicest cricket grounds in the world,” he says.
But how does he make out the aesthetics of a ground despite his disability? “I listen in to the commentary on the radio, and you can hear what the different positions of the ground are. (Right now) I can hear the people on the bank over there. And hear the Indians in crowd here in the stands. Moreover, I have walked around on this ground. So I know the shape of this ground,” he says.
He has been to the WestPac stadium as well for a few One-dayers. “I am not so keen on it. It is too big,” Jones says.
Even those who can see, can see where he is coming from.
Among his favourite players are Richard Hadlee and Jimmy Neesham. Hadlee for obvious reasons, and Neesham because he is from Jones’s alma mater: Auckland Grammar. He attended the match against England where Hadlee dismissed Alan Border for his 300th wicket. He was there when Neesham knocked back Rohit Sharma’s stumps on Saturday for his first wicket in the Test.
However, it’s the commentators —Henry Blofeld, Geoffrey Boycott and Jim Maxwell — that he most admires. For, he sees the games through their eyes. The reason that he doesn’t attend the Plunket Shield games is because there is no broadcast. “I rely on ball description. It is absolutely must for me.”
Jones says he takes a passing interest in rugby, “but it’s cricket that I like. I like the leisurely nature of Test cricket. I am not too keen on One-dayers, but may attend the World Cup next year.”
Does he ever wish he could see, so that could watch cricket?
“Not now, not when you have been blind for 72 years,” Jones replies. “See,” his choice of words is ironic here, “the main thing is to concentrate on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.”