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A tribute to Jonty Rhodes: Former jack-in-the-box cricketer

A tribute to the best fielder known to mankind on his 47th birthday.

Jonty Rhodes
Jonty Rhodes flying across the field in trademark style

He describes himself as a “Former Jack-in-the-box cricket player” on twitter. Now, there couldn’t have been a more apt description for a certain Jonathan Neil Rhodes also known as Jonty Rhodes. The former South African cricketer could indeed jump out of nowhere on the cricket field just like Jack from the children’s toy box and surprise everyone with his swiftness in the field.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Jonty!

He not only used to surprise batsmen from the opposition but could sometimes also surprise his own teammates. Take the case of the famous run-out of Pakistan Inzamam-ul-Haq’s in the 1992 World Cup. The way Jonty flew and landed on the stumps would have astonished even his fellow South African cricketers. 

One has to see his run-outs to believe it, and his fielding definitely defied gravity.

“I was initially chosen in team for the 1992 World Cup just for my fielding”

With that historic landing at The Gabba, Brisbane, Jonty had announced his arrival in international cricket. Here was a player who was in the team primarily because of his fielding. He justified his selection to the 1992 South African world cup team, and took the level of fielding to a different level. I cannot recall any other player in the past or present (I doubt there will be one in future as well) who can claim to be selected in a team purely on the basis of his fielding.

Jonty was more than an effective batsman

But don’t get fooled by these statements and be under the impression that he was no good with the bat. His batting average of around 35 in both test matches (52 tests) & ODIs (245 ODIs) may not put him in the list of all-time greats, but he was much better than that what the numbers suggest. It won’t be wrong to say that his fielding skills overshadowed his skills with the willow. 

It is quite fitting and an incredible coincidence that the first run-out to be given with the help of the third umpire - which happened in 1992 in Kingsmead, Durban when Sachin Tendulkar was declared run-out by TV umpire Karl Liebenberg – was off the fielding of Rhodes. Till date he is the only non-wicketkeeper fielder to take five catches in an ODI innings. He achieved this feat against West Indies in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1993.

Multi-talented athlete

It is interesting to note that Jonty also represented South Africa in the game of hockey. He was in fact chosen for the 1992 Olympics squad and was also called up for trials to play in the 1996 Olympics, but was ruled out by a hamstring injury.

The Oxford dictionary defines an athlete as “a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.” In that sense and in every other sense, Jonty was a true athlete. Apart from his supernatural fielding skills, he was also an excellent runner between the wickets.

Brought glamour to fielding

Today fielding is considered as an important aspect of cricket, but that wasn’t the case during Jonty’s playing days and preceding him. Back in the 1990s, fielding was not considered to be as glamorous as batting or bowling. It was primarily because of him that people started looking at fielding as a key facet of the game. 

His breathtaking dives and plucking the cricket ball from thin air changed people’s perception about fielding. He once said, “Fielding isn’t work when you’re enjoying it.” Not only did he himself enjoy fielding but he also entertained spectators and brought joy to cricket fans when he put himself around the field and running out batsmen.

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