Age might have caught up on him but former South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes is still as enthusiastic as he used to be while fielding at backward point for the Proteas. The 47-year-old, who is on the coaching staff of the Indian Premier League (IPL) side, does not watch a lot of Test cricket in a lot of detail these days but had some pertinent points to make about the South African Test team, pink-ball and the evolution of fielding.
Rhodes was present in New Delhi, the Indian national capital, as the mentor for young aspirants looking to make it in the Indian Junior Premier League (IJPL), a T-20 tournament that will be played across India and is going to feature 16 teams. Speaking to Sportskeeda, Rhodes expressed his excitement at being a part of this tournament and how things are looking up and ahead for Indian cricket.
“Look, the only difference between these cricketers (ones who will feature in IJPL) and those who play in the IPL is that the latter lot gets an awful amount of money. These young cricketers are playing for the same reason as I started – passion and love for the game. In my day, we never got such high salaries. It is not a complain and I think this is an incredible opportunity for these youngsters, especially in a country like India,” Rhodes said.
“When you are living in a country like India, which has a population of more than a billion, playing for the national team becomes incredibly hard and sometimes the path is not clear. You go to Mumbai and see, in a local park, 8 or 7 matches going on at once and it is chaotic. This is a platform for youngsters to showcase their talents. It is not in competition with the BCCI but we are providing youngsters opportunity to make a name for themselves,” he added.
Talking about what he would be looking to teach young players who get selected, Rhodes said, “There are two aspects to it. First, it will be a lot easier to change these kids, because they are so young, as compared to older cricketers in the IPL – where I get only six weeks. I can come over and start saying change this and change that but I think it is more about how you practice more than anything else. It is often said pratice makes a man perfect but my father told me perfect practice makes a man perfect.”
Rhodes also spoke about the South African Test team, currently touring Australia, and how the batting is not as strong. “I think Australia is a tough place to tour and right now even more so because they have a full strength bowling line-up including Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. We have done well in ODIs but I think its true that our batting has been exposed in Tests in recent times,” he said.
Quinton de Kock, who opens the batting for South Africa in ODIs, could be an option for a 2, 3, 4 or 5 slot but Rhodes said this early in his career may not be the right time. “I am not too sure (about sending de Kock up the order). He has a great record in ODIs and is a dangerous batsman but right now, sending him up the order would not make sense. David Warner is someone who has transitioned well and adjusted his game brilliantly.
“I think a player like de Kock certainly has a lot of ability but at the moment, against Australia, might not be the right time to send him up the order. He is a dangerous player to have at number 7. Just when Australia have picked up 4 or 5 wickets and think they are running through the line-up, he comes along and scores 80-odd at a strike rate of 90 or 100 and that usually proves to be the difference in the end. Where did Adam Gilchrist bat? The same,” he added.
There has been a lot of debate about the credibility of pink-ball Test cricket as it has received mixed responses. Rhodes, talking about pink-ball cricket, said, “There was a lot of debate when T20 cricket started as well. People said it is not a proper form of cricket. See, I certainly do not think Test cricket is in trouble but there is a need to maintain it. The game is changing and it is now a form of entertainment. You want people to come and watch you play. Cricket needs to be made interesting by other ways than changing the way it is played,” he said.
Rhodes’ connection with Indian cricket and India is not unknown to anyone and the fielding great is a regular visitor, for purposes both sporting and non sporting. Not only is he the fielding coach of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, Rhodes was associated with the Indian Surfing Open, which took place in Mangalore earlier this year.