Rhodes: AB wanted to quit Test cricket long back

The former South Africa cricketer is in the city as the mentor for the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) franchise, Ruby Trichy Warriors.

Jonty Rhodes tried to remain calm and composed about his mentor role with the TNPL franchise.   -  M. Vedhan

After speaking for a few minutes, Jonty Rhodes winked at the scribes and asked, “Am I making sense?”

His grin was unmistakeable.

The former South Africa cricketer, in the city as the mentor for the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) franchise, Ruby Trichy Warriors, was at his jovial best as he literally brought a bit of sunshine on a rather gloomy Wednesday afternoon.

But then, not all of it was fun. Rhodes did blast a few bombs on South African cricket as he revealed that AB de Villiers had made up his mind to quit Test series a year and a half back when Cricket South Africa (CSA) persuaded him to stay. “I think he (AB) wanted to retire from Test cricket a while back and CSA persuaded him to stay on. This was well before his injury, sometime around 2016. He was talking to people about carrying on or not in Test cricket,” Rhodes said.

He also indicated that the fans in South Africa were critical about de Villiers’ dilemma. “In South Africa, people are critical, they don’t see IPL. They are against players making money, avoiding national duties. BCCI is the only board that doesn’t allow its players to participate in any other leagues. Our guys go from IPL, CPL, Big Bash. Then there’s big work load,” he said, adding: “But then, the guys train really really hard…”

Rhodes, however, admitted that the decision on when to hang up the Test boots should be left to de Villiers. “Rumours come in from all sources. I spoke to AB de Villiers yesterday about the Global T20 League, and not about his Test cricket career. I am not an advisor of his career, so he doesn’t ask me about opinions. Every cricketer — from Sachin Tendulkar to MS Dhoni — knows when their time is right. Everyone calls time in a different time,” he said, adding: “The frustrating part from the South African cricket’s point of view is, when you are waiting for somebody to come back in, you are trying to block the moving in.”

So what went wrong for the Proteas in England, where it literally surrendered to a rather formidable English bowling attack?

Rhodes put it simply. “To compete against England in England, you had to play good cricket. In Tests, you can’t compete in one session. You have to win at least two sessions. There was no consistency in batting. You can point fingers, but it is not just about AB de Villiers not being there. The uncertainty and whom we are trying to play to fill AB’s shoes is just not possible. About his (AB)’s future, it is going to be up to him. If he’s not going to be there, it has to be clear so that Faf du Plessis can plan the team properly…”

While he spoke about South African cricket, Rhodes tried to remain calm and composed about his mentor role with the TNPL franchise. “I don’t have any expectation (from the TNPL). I am always flabbergasted by what I see on Indian roads, and in international venues. I am looking forward to a first-hand experience of this incredible machinery, this animal called cricket in India,” Rhodes said.

Taking a pause, he continued: “There’re so many aspects to it that we ex-international cricketers and IPL coaching staff don’t get to see. India keeps unearthing newer talents, and I just want to see them. So, there’s no expectation.”

Over the years, Rhodes has made it a point to travel to nooks and corners of the country. Be it participating in the surfing festivals in Tamil Nadu or biking through the rough terrains in Rajasthan, Rhodes has made it clear that he loves travelling to India.

At an age, when most of his contemporaries find tired legs, Rhodes is a common face in the coaching staff of almost all the major T20 tournaments across the globe.

Even Rhodes admitted that it’s the athleticism that has given him the edge.

“100 per cent… (I played hockey) In hockey, when you dribble a ball with the stick is how I learnt to run in the covers. As a tennis player, I would have to return serve through the backhand or forehand. That is how the split jump came from. I was a football player, too. I was not a goalkeeper, I was a centre forward. If you came into the box, the 'keeper comes off his line. That’s what I would do as a backward point fielder — just keep the batsman and cut the angles. When he comes closer to the ball, comes hard at it, you would be ready to go. That was the anticipation. I got lots of things that way. The reflexes were good,” Rhodes said with a smile on his face.

With the South African in the house, there were questions on who did he look up to as a fielding icon. And without thinking for a moment, there was Rhodes’ reply — “Peter Kirsten!”

While he still regrets Cricket South Africa’s decision of turning de Villiers into a stumper, Rhodes believes a turnaround is on the cards.

Perhaps, it’s this optimism that gets a cricketer going!