The guy who taught us that catches do win matches. The dude who made athleticism an important criteria to be selected in a team. The one who hammered the opposition before they knew it, with unorthodox shots and delightful strokes. Throwing your body in a dive to the ground, and yet, not losing that huge grin on your face became a norm for all teams who looked up to this man for inspiration.
There is much more to this man who hardly had his feet on the ground. Sure, he was down-to-earth, but we all know what he was famous for- his flying run-outs and gigantic hands holding on to dramatic catches. South African fans could breathe a sigh of relief only after they were assured Jonty was prowling at the backward point region to stop runs and pull off gravity-defying stunts.
To his credit, this batsman – who fought epilepsy from a young age – did not just create wonders in the cricketing arena. As a kid, he was a boy-wonder in junior cricket as well as football tournaments. Did you know that he also represented South Africa at hockey and was chosen to be part of the 1992 Olympic Games squad in Barcelona? Unfortunately, the squad did not qualify to go to the tournament then. He got a chance in the trials of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games but tragically missed out due to a hamstring injury. Perhaps, all this explains his tremendous agility, which he earned quite a reputation for.
The day of March 8, 1992, a World Cup match went down in history books as did the name Jonty Rhodes. A green flash diving from point and crashing into the stumps to create an exceptional diving run-out of Inzaman-ul-Haq made for an epic cricketing moment. It turned out that it wasn’t a flash in a pan as Rhodes made the tournament his own with his acrobatic fielding antics. Then came the 1993-94 Hero Cup in India, wherein Rhodes held a world record to his name by snaring 5 West Indian catches, which was the most by a non-wicketkeeper.
Indeed, he came lower down the order usually at No.6 but often gave timely contributions with the bat. It did make the world sit up and take notice of this unorthodox, clever foxy handy batsman. 1999 was his year with his value to the SA side being rocognised as he was one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year. He averaged just a notch above 35 in test cricket, which is quite healthy since he batted lower down. The credit to this goes to his coach Bob Woolmer under who’s eagle eye he experimented and amended his batting technique without any qualms.
In 2000, he retired from Tests to concentrate on his ODI career. With time, he became the irreplaceable backbone of a flourishing South African side as a thorough match-winner. Unfortunately, his ODI career was cut short by a nasty finger fracture during the 2003 World Cup which led to an early retirement.
We aren’t complaining since a host of teams like Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and the IPL Team Mumbai Indians earned his services as a fielding coach. His bubbling energy level was so infectious that it was often learnt that he left youngsters behind biting the dust during the fielding drills.
The Indian yesteryear stars were known for their sloppy drops and ambling movements on the field, but today the new team India has emerged as one of the best fielding sides in the world. We are sure DVDs of Jonty Rhodes’ fielding exploits are tucked away neatly in many of our youngsters’ closet!Published 28 Jul 2013, 02:54 IST