A legend in his own right

Jonty Rhodes was a supreme fielder and stealing a run from him was really a tough job for a batsman.

G. VISWANATH

South African all-rounder Jonty Rhodes announces his retirement from international cricket. Rhodes broke his hand during the World Cup match against Kenya.-— Pic. AFP

Jonty Rhodes was a supreme fielder and stealing a run from him was really a tough job for a batsman. He was one of the popular figures in South African cricket and there was no doubt that he was always the focus of attention, not only among the lovers of the game but among the media as well.

Jonty Rhodes gave a new dimension to fielding and catching. He made budding cricketers realise that fielding, apart from batting and bowling, could be an interesting and exciting business. Three years ago he retired from the Test cricket and now with the mega event on in his country, he is sadly out of the centre stage due to hand injury.

The ace fielder announced his retirement from international cricket as soon as he was out of the South African team. The fan club in his website reflects his popularity in South Africa. After his hand injury, sustained during South Africa's match against Kenya, 99 per cent of the fans expressed their desire for Jonty Rhodes to continue playing international cricket, even if it meant a 30-odd appearances for the Proteas in limited-over internationals.

Rhodes is in touch with the large followers of the game through his website and visitors to this site voted in favour of his continuance in international cricket soon after his injury.

But a couple of days later, the `Yes' vote for his retirement increased by six per cent, taken over a sample of over one thousand fans. The substantial jump from a fraction to six per cent was due to the fact that it had become clear that he would not be fit to take further part in South Africa's World Cup campaign.

Though, Rhodes dream was to bid adieu after helping his country win the World Cup, that dream was shattered. There have been instances of cricketers prolonging their careers and reluctant to leave the scene because of monetary benefits and glamour. But the Australian selectors have a different perspective, they received flak, after they had dropped Steve Waugh from one-day team. But they stuck to their decision.

Rhodes, the world's No. 1 fielder attempted to catch Kenyan batsman Maurice Odumbe in the 31st over and in the process injured his hand. The medical investigation showed a broken metacarpal bone. Even though the bone specialists tried to reduce the healing time by inserting two pins. Rhodes was crippled.

Three weeks healing and recuperation time for Rhodes forced Chairman of Selectors Omar Henry to go in for a substitute in Graeme Smith. "Don't cry for me. It's time to get back to the real world. I have had a great ride. It is not quite the script I envisaged, but I see it as a blessing that I have played in 245 one-day internationals and took part in four World Cups,''said Rhodes after announcing his retirement from international cricket. Described as the `heartbeat,' by his mates, Rhodes chose cricket's less glamorous department of fielding to contribute to the team. He was reasonably a good bat, his utility and value came to the fore in the short version of the game.

Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje used him as a vital cog in the wheel of the South African team for five years. Woolmer said Rhodes played Test cricket, because of his showing in the one-day cricket and his fielding.

Rhodes came into prominence at the `Gabba, Brisbane, during the South Africa-Pakistan Benson & Hedges World Cup match. Pakistan was well on road to victory with Imran Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq in the middle and they were doing well against the South African bowlers. A chance came to Rhodes and he did not let it slip. His run out of Inzamam was simply out of the world.

Thereafter, the name Rhodes spelt magic. He tried to improve as a batsman and made contributions as well, but South Africa always was 20 or 30 runs plus with him on the field. After the World Cup heroics in Australia, Rhodes had his next big moments at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. South Africa played West Indies in the CAB Jubilee Cup tournament. Heavy rains lashed the city the night before and the overs were cut short. It became a `Rhodes Show' after he took the first of the five catches, including that of Brian Lara. Mumbaites returned home happy, having seen a great fielder of the modern era in action.

Rhodes was a permanent fixture at backward point. He dived and stopped square drives and cuts and plucked catches from the air. He took 34 catches in one-day internationals and 105 in Tests. His fielding had a positive effect on other players like Derek Crookes and Herschelle Gibbs. At times they appeared as good as Rhodes. He was often compared to Colin Bland. Old timers still have a high regard and give their vote to Bland because they feel he was an `allround fielder' efficient from anywhere in the ground.

To the present generation, it's of course Rhodes. He had already played the maximum number of one-day internationals for South Africa, 245 in all and 52 Tests. Cricket takes time to produce great batsmen, bowlers and fielders. Bland and Rhodes have been the most talked about fielders in the history of the sport. This generation was fortunate to see the great Rhodes in action.