Jonty Rhodes looking forward to working with Anil Kumble

Jonty Rhodes speaks about Kings XI Punjab, his experiences of touring Pakistan for the Pakistan Super League and how fielding has changed over the years.

Jonty Rhodes will be leading the South Africa Legends in the UnAcademy Road Safety World Series.   -  Road Safety World Series

The next few months are going to be exciting for Jonty Rhodes. After leading the South Africa Legends in the UnAcademy Road Safety World Series, the former South Africa cricketer will join the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kings XI Punjab as its fielding coach.

Rhodes is looking forward to working with Kings XI’s head coach Anil Kumble. Having played in the same era, Rhodes admires Kumble’s coaching styles.

“I did not approach Kings XI Punjab. But I took the offer because of Anil Kumble and he was in charge. I quite happily said yes,” Rhodes said.

In a chat with Sportstar, the 50-year-old spoke about Kings XI Punjab, his experiences of touring Pakistan for the Pakistan Super League and how fielding has changed over the years.

Excerpts.

Q. You will be back in action after a while. How does it feel to play cricket again with some old friends? Your team reminds us of the good old South African team of the 1990s…

A. Well, the day after the game, you may actually think that 1990s were years ago! But afterwards, it will definitely feel like the 2020s (laughs). I think a few of the boys will be stiff. But it's great to see some of the guys wandering around, who certainly were superstars in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I'm more worried about what's gonna happen the day after the game.

That’s Jonty Rhodes speaking?

Yes, that’s Jonty Rhodes speaking, because I know I'm gonna be stiff the day after the first match. I have certainly done yoga, surfing, mountain biking, but I haven't played a great deal of cricket over the last 15 years. But I've stayed active and healthy. So, hopefully, it will be fun. It’s just great to connect (again). I have been in contact here and there over the past, but it’s so good to see them again. Some of the guys I hadn’t even see for six or seven years.

The last few weeks have been quite busy for you as you travelled to Pakistan for the Pakistan Super League (PSL). How was the experience? How did it feel to witness cricket returning to that part of the world? 

It was massive, obviously from Pakistan's point of view to not play the PSL in your country (so far). I have seen what the IPL has done and how it has lifted young talents in India. So for Pakistan not to have that opportunity — as all its cricket was in Dubai over the last 10 years, it was difficult to grow the game in that essence.

So to have the PSL there now, it will certainly benefit Pakistan cricket. They've always got young fast bowlers coming through and that's one thing you observe as a commentator. Every team has got these emerging players, who bowl fast, swing the ball and have good skills. And it was also interesting to see two or three emerging batsmen which they haven't had in the past. They kind of relied quite heavily on the players who've been there for a while.

Many teams are still apprehensive about touring Pakistan due to security concerns. You were there for some good two weeks…

I think obviously every team gets the clearance and go-ahead from the ICC. It's not a case of well, they just thought of that, you still have to get permission. And I think from my perspective, security was top notch. It was a real main focus, but I went out riding. I didn't tell anybody. I just organised the bike ride — I have some mates there. I didn't have any security. But you know, I rode for two hours on the road and came back with 15 other bikers. I think they were the more intimidating guys — 15 guys on Harley's (laughs)! I really did not think about it (security concerns). I am in pretty close contact with various security guys who have worked with the South African team. I just asked him please give me a heads up if they heard anything regarding security concerns. They didn’t, so from that perspective, I was good to go.

This season, you are back in the IPL as the fielding coach of Kings XI Punjab. The franchise has named Anil Kumble the head coach and KL Rahul the captain. What are your thoughts for the season?

I did not approach Kings XI Punjab, I got a call. Because it was Anil Kumble and he was in charge, I quite happily said yes. I really like the way he works. He is a thinking man's cricketer. He is someone who has played top-level cricket, but with a real brain around, away from cricket too. And I think you need that. If you're going to be a head coach or mentoring a team, you got to be more than just a cricketer. There are so many stakeholders in the game and if you’re just focusing on the cricket, you kind of get a little bit lost in it. I think Kumble’s awareness around the game is incredible.

And I've been loving watching K. L. Rahul. He has been playing some superb limited-overs cricket. His stats in white-ball cricket have been really good because he plays good cricket shots. He maximises the power play, not because he stands and bashes it but he cuts the ball straight and is devastating. He’s been consistent because he has just played good cricket.

You are returning to coaching an IPL team after a long time. What are you personally looking forward to? In franchise cricket, even coaches have a challenging job...

Yeah, I think it's just a different environment. Working with someone like Chris Gayle is going to be something exciting. He is such a larger than life character, not just as a cricket player but as a human. He's an incredible man. So, I am looking forward to working with him. I've worked in teams against him, where he frustrated us as the opposition guy who smashed us around.

I think coming back into the IPL, I've been focusing on grassroots and development cricket. So hoping by the time my time is up with Kings XI, I can be adding more than just to the IPL franchise. I want to make sure that we're growing the game in that area too so that you get young local players and future stars for Kings XI. You don't want to go to the auction every year and wonder where these guys coming from. As much as possible, you want to be growing the game in that region. So if I leave after two-three years, I want to make sure that I've left the game in a better position than I found it. I think that's what I'm excited about. So, I'm sure winning trophies is important, but growing the game in that area is something I've been doing for the last two years as much as possible.

You applied for the India fielding coach job. And now, as you are back in the IPL as a fielding coach, are you planning to take up any international assignments in the future?

The difficulty with international assignments is that it's a real commitment from a time point of view. In IPL, I'm going to be here away from home for three months of the year. I left home to go PSL first and then came straight here for the Road Safety World Series. After this, it will be the IPL. So, it's going to be three months out from home. That's a proper commitment. But if you add four or five more months to the year on top of that, then it is difficult. My wife and I have four children at home who are growing fast. Our daughter India is now five, son Nathan Jane is turning. Two older boys are 13 and 10. So before you know it, your son is finishing high school and if I don't spend enough time at home, I'm gonna miss them. I'm missing a lot already. For my wife, it's a big sacrifice. She works hard at home. They are of different age groups, they play different sports, with not much help at all.

So I don't think I'll be looking for an international or a national team to work after the IPL. I love the fact that I can go and coach in Nepal or over here — in Salem, Pune — and not be stuck in one place or team for eight months of the year.

Over the years, fielding has changed immensely in international cricket. What are your thoughts? Is there anyone in particular who has caught your eye?

Fielding now has evolved in the fact that there is a high expectation. I mean, at one stage I was thought of as the father of fielding. Now, I feel like a grandfather of fielding, because there's been a lot of young players who've come through.

And a lot of the players now — with the focus on fielding, they specialise in boundary field. That was an element of the game that I never had to work on. There was no powerplay when I was playing. So, a lot of the work was saving a single, saving the twos. From that perspective, when IPL started, for the first three years, if you had 10 catches in the tournament, seven or eight would be by international players. Now, of 10 catches, seven will be by local players. That’s amazing. There’s fielding coach not because of what we've done. We've seen that change, that transition because players understand it is an important element of not just limited-overs cricket, but it is a third arm of the game. It’s not just about batting and bowling, you do have to contribute in the field as well.

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