Whether you are a new found lover of the great game of cricket or a commentator who blissfully chides at the game from the comfortable confines of the commentary box, or an established youngster on his way to breaking in either the school team or that important state level cricket eleven, it is highly unlikely that you may have not heard the name of Jonty Rhodes. The man who captured the imagination of the international cricket with his unimaginably high standards of fielding, a facet on which he based his stellar international career recently turned 46 on July 27th.
With a career that lasted over a decade beginning way back in 1992, almost running in parallel to South Africa’s resuscitation into international cricket and came to an unwitting end in 2003 following South Africa’s loss in the ICC World Cup, Jonty has left with an indelible mark on the game. Every move of his in the cricket field was marked by tremendous joy he fetched for the fan and gave rise to lofty packs of respect with which the simpleton is adulated and respected in every part of the world where cricket is witnessed as being more than just a game and is in fact considered an eternal source of inspiration and thrill.
A competitor par excellence and a sportsman of tremendous regard for the game, Jonathan “Jonty” Rhodes went on to establish his name as the benchmark for painfully correct tedium that fellow cricketers, rising talents and other contemporaries decided to follow for excelling in the often undervalued art of fielding.
Putting up a case for Jonty
If you are a fan who relishes Sachin’s straight drive or regards Dravid’s forward defense, or falls for Ponting’s powerful pull shot or simply stays in awe of Brian Lara’s cover drive, then you are harshly labeling Cricket as being just a batsman’s game. On the other hand, if you are a die-hard fan of Akram’s in swinging Yorker or a great admirer of Curtly Ambrose’s good length delivery that withers away from the off stump, then even then you are missing the point.
But the moment you slip away from your enervating sense of oblivion about the true aspects that govern the game and began to understand cricket in its totality, you would curiously start gazing at important and unmistakably keen fielding positions: the often undervalued but potent turning point forces of the game. A sharp catch to the slips or that great diving attempt to stop a boundary and you are already seated in Jonty’s alley where the game was way more than being a batsman’s glory or a bowler’s pride.
The game has only just begun to give the often forgotten fielder its due respect. Sharp catching positions that offer the perfect bait to a bowler to pitch in the right areas concerning the threatening batsman in front have begun to prove the batting orders nemesis. Indeed catches win matches is vastly regarded when the unevenly balanced game begins to slip away from the grip of a particular team. But, keeping Jonty and his sublime brilliance at fielding into perspective, whether you are chasing or defending in order to win, a captain is supposed to marshal his fielding unit as the troops on whose brilliance the game can be changed and hence, the outcome overturned. Jonathan Rhodes first dived to great glory when he ran a sluggish Inzimam Ul Haq out in a crucial limited overs cricket World Cup game between South Africa and Pakistan. Inzi’s run out trembled a Pakistani batting collapse where the otherwise chase-able score of 212 became a daunting task for the Pakistani’s who bundled out for a paltry 173.
A simple smiling Protean
The world expects nothing short of an entire world of a South African cricketer. You can be a Lara or a Tendulkar, a Jayasuriya or Martin Crowe but as South Africa’s opponent you know that a lot is at stake if you are to win a contest, regardless of the battle taking place on the test or one day battle field and that, conquering express pace bowling or a steady batting lineup alone aren’t enough to outplace the mighty South Africans.
The fact that the team batting first or chasing had to literally steal every single run and defend it from the impregnable and relentless pursuit of a lad known as Jonathan Jonty Rhodes made the game all the more interesting and the contest every bit its worth, whether you were a South African fan or a fan of their opponents.
Playing alongside a team that was always evenly matched by breathtaking talent in both the batting and bowling departments, Rhodes competed with some of the best teams in the world with the combined might of heavyweights from South Africa’s contingent, such as Jack Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Alan Donald, Hansie Cronje and Lance Klusener. Even then, with awe inspiring agility and invaluable commitment to the team’s cause, Jonty made a name for himself for his prized exploits in either taking the most inconceivable catch in the cricket field or by effecting an unimaginable run out.
An effective all round cricketer
With 245 one day appearances and 52 test match appearances, Jonty who boasted of a highly respectable batting average of 35 in either versions of the game, accumulating over 8400 international runs. In the regard of his power hitting and cautious batting, and the ability to dig in when the chips were down, Rhodes was more than just a handy fielder and an effective middle order bat for the starry South African side. There was a phase during the late 1990’s and upon the mid of the 2000s, when Jonty Rhodes became the central pivot around which South Africa’s mighty cricketers took the opposition to the sword in a relentless fashion.
An ace fielder
During the early part of his career, Rhodes locked horns with the batsman’s psyche when he made the batsman slog painfully for every single run that he was required to snatch away from his ever prepared response at preventing the outcome of one. Diving around came easy to him and jumping in the air to display genuine acrobats, all for stopping that crucial single run silently increased the team’s chasing run rate.
Ball after ball, dive after dive, the point and long on or long off areas became a lion’s den from which stealing a run was akin to snatching a piece of meat from the den of the king of the jungle.
Later on in his career, opponents from Australia, Windies and those from the sub-continent were asked to be ‘Jonty-like’ in lifting their fielding standards. Rhodes claimed 139 catches from international appearances and grabbed 285 catches from domestic and first class appearances.
A charming sportsman who made India his second home
Among the things lesser celebrated about Jonty’s popular and spectacular international sporting career that made him a household name is his love for life beyond cricket.
It also transports us to a lesser frequented world of Rhodes where his constant support to other cricket teams outside South Africa’s national boundaries have made his legend a glowing colossus of inspiration both on and outside cricket’s tumultuous field.
He lent priceless service to the highly successful IPL outfit of Mumbai Indians where as the side’s head fielding coach, Rhodes instilled great self belief and technical prowess to each of the playing eleven’s game that ultimately enabled the side to defend small totals and make the life of their opponents difficult.
How long does he remain involved with cricket is not known for Jonty’s personal standards of fitness are second to only a phonetic who seldom rests his guard in front of the constant demand for being absolutely fit. While it allows the man from Pietermaritzburg, Natal to be professionally involved with his second love, Hockey being the first, it also gives Rhodes the great chance to visit his favorite country and in turn, it gives us, huge Jonty Rhodes fans the priceless spectacle of watching one of cricket’s brilliant pursuers in live action.
Featured Image Source: cricketcountry.com