Jonty Rhodes: Striking the right balance

It’s not just about batting and bowling, you do have to contribute in the field as well, says former South Africa cricketer Jonty Rhodes.

Jonty Rhodes is an explorer. He likes to wander around the countries that he visits.   -  M. KARUNAKARAN

Jonty Rhodes, the former South Africa cricketer, led his nation’s Legends team in the UnAcademy Road Safety World Series before the event was called off owing to the coronavirus threat. He will also be joining the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kings XI Punjab as its fielding coach as and when the tournament kicks off.

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 style. “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…

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

Well, I think the day after the game, it might look like the 1990s were days before! But afterwards, it will definitely feel like 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, it’s good to speaking on South African team’s perspective. 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.

Rhodes and Anil Kumble were with the coaching staff of Mumbai Indians six years ago. They have joined hands again at Kings XI Punjab. Rhodes has great respect for Kumble’s coaching abilities.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

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 make the game grow 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 and swing the ball. And it was interesting to see two or three emerging batsmen, which they haven’t done in the past. They kind of relied quite heavily on the players who’ve been there for a while.

I rode a bike like I do in India. I got out and I rode around the mountains and got out as much as possible. So I’m certainly somebody who doesn’t like to be stuck in a hotel. And no matter what country I’m touring, I’m making sure I’m getting out as much as possible.

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…and the ICC (International Cricket Council), you get the clearance and g-ahead from the ICC. And, I think from my perspective, security was top-notch. It was the 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 more intimidating guys — 15 guys on Harleys (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 them to give me a heads up if they heard anything regarding security concerns. They didn’t, so from that perspective, I was good to go…

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This season, you are back in the IPL (it has been suspended till April 15 because of the coronavirus) as the fielding coach of Kings XI Punjab. The franchise has named Anil Kumble the head coach and K. L. 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 head coach or mentoring a team, you got to be more than just a cricketer. I’ve worked for a bank in South Africa after I retired — at Standard Bank as a sponsor, business banker. There are so many stakeholders in the game and if you’re just focusing on cricket, you kind of get a little bit lost in it. So 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.

Rhodes admires Chris Gayle and Lokesh Rahul, the Kings XI Punjab openers. Rahul is also the captain now.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

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 being, too. He’s an incredible man. So, I am looking forward to working with him. I’ve worked in teams against him, where he’s been frustrating as the opposition guy who’s been smashing us around. I think coming back into the IPL, I’ve been really 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 making the game grow in the area too, so that you get young local players and future stars of Kings XI.

You don’t want to go to the auction every year, and wonder where these guys are coming from. As much as possible, you want to be making the game grow in the region. So if I can 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 making the game grow in that area is something I’ve been doing for the last two years as much as possible.

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You applied for the India fielding coach job. And now, 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 the time point of view. In IPL, I’m going to be here, away from home, for just two months of the year. I left home to go to the 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 really is difficult. My wife and I have four young children at home, who are growing fast. Our daughter India is now five and son Nathan Jon is a toddler. The 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 really hard at home, with the four kids, with not much help at all. They are of different age groups; they play different sports. Both our parents live a long way away, so she doesn’t have a family as such to call on.

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

Rhodes enjoys working with youngsters and empowering them for greater deeds.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Over the years, the art of 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 so much that there is high expectation. I mean, at one stage I was thought like 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 patrolling the boundary. 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 the 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. 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.