30 January 2004
It’s not a year ago that a hand injury forced an early end to Jonty Rhodes’ international career. What’s the best ever fielder in the game of cricket getting up to now? Well he’s not sitting on his hands, as Brad Morgan discovered when he bumped into his old adversary the other day. There’s surfing to be done, after all, and banking – yep, banking – and have you heard of 20/20 cricket?
Besides writing for SouthAfrica.info, I present the sports news on a weekday radio breakfast show. It’s tough going, getting up at 3.40am every morning and trying to function like a regular human being thereafter, but such a life does have its perks.
Like one morning recently when one of South Africa’s favourite sons, Jonty Rhodes, was the in-studio guest.
It was great for me because I have known Jonty since school days. We’re the same age, and both played provincial schools cricket and hockey – though only one of us went on to far greater heights. Being up against Jonty, whether he was representing Maritzburg College or Natal, made winning a very tough proposition.
Nonetheless, he has remained a down-to-earth, friendly guy and it is always a pleasure to cross paths with him. As I told my mother after chatting to him in the studio: he makes it feel as if it was just yesterday that you last spoke to him.
‘I’ve never seen a fat surfer’
Jonty looks a little different these days. His hair is a minor mop, and he has a good tan. Very Durban surfer, really, which would be an accurate guess if you didn’t know any better. You see, Jonty is trying his hand at surfing nowadays.
“I’ve never seen a fat surfer”, he tells me.
While playing for the Proteas, says Jonty, it was easy to keep fit, running between the wickets and fielding. Now he needs to do something else to keep fit. He tells me he’s never been a guy for the gym, and had considered triathlon, but that it sounded like too much hard work.
So, surfing it is.
He has a phobia about sharks, but says he has worked through it. He started out on a longboard, but has since progressed to a mini-Malibu, a board that is shorter than a longboard, but is not yet a short board.
“I’m going to have to start going down to the beach at 6:30”, he says.
The reason he offers up that information is, I think, very exciting for South African cricket. “I signed for Standard Bank yesterday”, he elaborates. “I’ll be working under Errol Stewart.”
Stewart was Rhodes’ long-time teammate in the KwaZulu-Natal cricket team, a diligent guy who managed to qualify as an attorney while playing both provincial cricket for the KZN Dolphins and provincial rugby for the Natal Sharks.
Using his B.Com degree from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, Jonty has joined Standard Bank as an account executive. He’ll be handling 50 to 80 corporate clients, and is really excited about the new challenge.
He says he could have done golf days and lunches, a “token” doing the speaking circuit, but, he reckons, in five years new guys would come along out of the cricket ranks and then he would be done. Personally, I think he underestimates his status in the eye of the public, but that’s my opinion, and it’s his that counts in this instance.
“My degree was fairly general”, he explains, “but it had a focus on marketing and advertising.” So, how is it going to work with his new job?
“It’s three-fold”, Jonty explains. Firstly, there are those 50 to 80 corporate clients. Then, he’s going to be helping out with cricket sponsorship. Standard Bank is, at present, the national sponsor of one-day international cricket.
However, in just two months’ time, they’re going to be introducing 20/20 cricket to South Africa.
20/20 cricket was introduced in the United Kingdom, and is what it says: 20 overs a side. It proved to be a roaring success, especially in attracting young people to the game. “With 20/20 cricket, I signed more autographs than in a four-month tour of South Africa”, Jonty says. But, he adds, the aim is not just to attract children, but to make it a family affair.
While over in the UK, playing county cricket for Gloucestershire, Rhodes had the opportunity to speak to the men who marketed the game there, so he has returned to South Africa with some good ideas.
Besides Standard Bank, the United Cricket Board of South Africa and television sports channel Supersport have pledged their support for 20/20 cricket.
The run-out that astounded the cricketing world. (Photo: Jonty.co.za)
The man many regard as the greatest fielder of all time is also excited about what the game means for South African cricket. It’s a great way to fast-track players, he feels, because there is a big gap between provincial and international cricket. It teaches players to perform under pressure, because in the abbreviated form of the game every single delivery counts.
Surprisingly, Rhodes reckons that 20/20 cricket is not his game. He explains that he was a run-a-ball kind of batsman – “I think I had a strike rate of about 80 in 235 one-day internationals”, he says (80.91, actually) – but 20/20 cricket requires more than that. “I felt almost inadequate”, he says.
Partnerships the secret
So, what is the secret to the game? “Partnerships”, says Rhodes without hesitation. Just because it’s 20 overs of batting only, batsmen shouldn’t think they can just bash because, he enlightens me, teams often get bowled out in that time.
His overseas partner at Gloucestershire, Australia’s Ian Harvey, was a superb 20/20 player. “Because he could hit straight and pull.” That’s another of the secrets to the game, according to Jonty.
It even led to a change in his fielding position. Due to the importance of boundaries and the fact that many batsmen chose to hit the ball in the air, Jonty played a lot of the time at long on and long off, protecting the boundary from well struck straight shots!
Thankfully, this new form of the game keeps Jonty Rhodes involved in South African cricket.
The third part of Rhodes’ new job with Standard Bank involves children. The bank wants to use him for marketing to youngster. I reckon they’re on a winning wicket; Jonty’s feats, and the way he has lived his life, is the kind of example any kid would look up. A lot of us adults, too.
Which leads me on to another possible career. As our in-studio guest, Jonty read a sports bulletin I had prepared. To tell the truth, he wasn’t great, and I didn’t feel he posed a threat to my career. However, as host of show he was very good. He drew a great response from listeners, and the show flowed well when he did his thing.
Maybe you want to consider radio, Jo?