Jonty Rhodes: inspirational fan favourite

As a batsman he began his international career with some shortcomings in his technique, but managed to work those out to become a top-class international player. 

He made his Test debut in November 1992 on his home ground of Kingsmead against India and proceeded to play in 52 tests before retiring from the Test arena in November 2000. (Image: Ethekwini Living Legends)

Brand South Africa Reporter

Cricket is a game that has much to do with statistics and averages, but one cannot judge Jonty Rhodes purely on those because he was worth far more than the story those numbers tell.

As a batsman he began his international career with some shortcomings in his technique, but managed to work those out to become a top-class international player. What is more, his selection introduced a new dimension to fielding, as he became generally recognised as the best fielder in the world, the inspiration for a South African team that set a world standard in the field.

That is how Jonty Rhodes first came to the attention of the world: South Africa was facing Pakistan in March 1992 in the World Cup in a match played in Brisbane. The dangerous Inzamam ul-Haq was at the crease for Pakistan when he discovered just how good Rhodes is in the field.

That run out

Swooping onto a ball from his position at backward point, Rhodes raced ul-Haq, who had ventured down the pitch, to the crease, beating him, with his right arm holding the ball and extended like Superman, with a dive that knocked all three stumps out of the ground. The pictures were shown around the world and a legend was born.

He made his Test debut in November 1992 on his home ground of Kingsmead against India and proceeded to play in 52 tests before retiring from the Test arena in November 2000. Rhodes totalled just over 2 500 runs at an average of 35.66, scoring three centuries and 17 fifties along the way.

Although his average was not out of the ordinary, his average of over 45 in his last 20 Tests illustrates that, with hard work, he managed to overcome his shortcomings.

His three Test centuries were all innings of the highest class. The first saved a test in Sri Lanka on a turning pitch. His second at Lords helped South Africa crush England by 10 wickets in June 1998 and his third against the West Indies in January 1999 was an undefeated innings of 103, blasted off only 95 balls with eight fours and six sixes. That set a new South African record for the fastest century in terms of balls faced.

Vast experience

Rhodes averaged just over 35 in 245 one-day internationals, playing more one-day games than any other South African player, but that unremarkable average needs to be put into perspective. He was often been called upon to come in near the end of an innings and score quickly whilst rotating the strike.

There was another Rhodes factor that came into play: his running between the wickets. Where other batsmen were running one, he would pick up twos. Where others were running two, he was running three, keeping the fielders under huge pressure.

When he was in the field batsmen were noticeably wary of taking a quick single anywhere near him, but they somehow, at times, still made the mistake of taking him on. His skill at the position backward of point was truly magnificent and it was a big bonus for the Proteas as he prevented runs that normally existed against other teams.

World record

He holds the world record for most dismissals by a non-wicketkeeper in a one-day international, after taking five catches against the West Indies in the Hero Cup in Bombay in 1993/94.

There was a notable rise in the level of the Proteas’ play when Jonty Rhodes was in the team. Constantly encouraging his teammates and setting the example for others to follow, he had an uplifting effect on his team. His optimism and boyish enthusiasm made him a favourite of fans throughout the world, wherever he played.

It was not just the fans that respected Rhodes; he was, in October 2002, overwhelmingly voted the best fielder in cricket by the players, who in a poll gave him 75 percent of the vote, with Australia’s Ricky Ponting a distant second on 20 percent. Obviously the majority of players disagreed with Australia’s notoriously one-eyed cricket commentators who choose Ponting above Rhodes!

Inspirational

Rhodes proved to be an inspiration to his team mates throughout his career. Maybe his award as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1999 best serves to illustrate that numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and especially not in the case of Jonty Rhodes.

He hoped for a fairytale ending to his international career in 2003, when he played for the Proteas in the World Cup on home soil, but in a cruel blow he suffered a broken hand against Kenya in South Africa’s second match, bringing to an end a wonderful career in the cruellest manner. The presence of Rhodes could surely have helped the Proteas reach the Super Sixes, something that they failed to do.

It was his fourth World Cup, but, unfortunately it did not bring the fairytale ending that it should have produced for one of the real gentlemen of the game.

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