Jonty takes guard for a new innings

“There won’t be any more coaching assignments for me. I am not going to join another IPL team. I am done with it,” says the former South African fielding legend, Jonty Rhodes.

Jonty Rhodes... keen on entering the fitness and wellness industry in India in a big way.   -  M. Moorthy

It came as a surprise when, in the middle of the chat, Jonty Rhodes suddenly said, “I am not going back to any IPL teams. I am done with it.” The former South African cricketer, who was in charge of Mumbai Indians’ fielding department, recently parted ways with the franchise after a nine-year stint. This led to speculations that he would take up international coaching assignments.

But that isn’t the real story. Talking to Sportstar over telephone from Bhutan — where he had been to attend a talk show — Rhodes sprang a surprise by saying that he is planning to float a fitness and wellness company in India, and that he would now only focus on that, and not on coaching.

It is difficult to imagine that the ever-enthusiastic Rhodes would no longer be seen in the dugout of any cricket team. The former South African fielding legend, however, said that he is taking fresh guard for a completely new innings.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Question: For the last few days, your social media posts were full of pictures from Bhutan. How did the motivational speaking session go?

Answer: This one was a bit different, as I was talking to the CEOs of various companies. It was more about leadership, and there were around 150 CEOs from various companies accompanied by their spouses. This went for a couple of evenings. I have been doing motivational talks for quite some time.

Ever since you parted ways with the Indian Premier League franchise, Mumbai Indians, there are talks that you are considering other international assignments. So, what’s next?

I want to get into the wellness industry in India in a big way. I have seen how Indian cricket players have sort of adopted fielding and fitness as an important part of the game, which was not prevalent when I used to play against India. Thanks to the IPL, it has grown from strength to strength. My focus next will be on the fitness and wellness sector, with the target being other sports sector or even non-sports sector. Fitness has been an important part of my life, and I have certainly seen in the years that I have spent in India that there is a big requirement for assistance from a professional athlete with regard to fitness. Cricket has a large focus in India, and I think it is an opportunity to try and make changes in fitness and training techniques of other sportsmen and women in India. I also want to focus on the corporate side. I think wellness is an area about which I can address cricket fans or sports fans, but (so far) not much could be done for people who don’t do any (fitness activities). Lifestyle issues are a big problem in India. And for me, fitness is not just about somebody running 10 kilometres or someone running a marathon or spending an hour in the gym. I believe fitness starts with wellness and personal health. That happens if you make simple choices — be it your diet plan or whether you sit in your chair the whole day or whether you get up and walk around, or whether you take an escalator or climb up the stairs. It is as simple as that. It is not a case of having someone spend an hour in front of the mirror at a gym, lifting heavy weights. There is a great scope in India to make a difference in the fitness and wellness sector.

So, basically you want to start a sports and wellness company. Is that what you are hinting at?

(Laughs) Yes, that’s exactly what I am hinting at. I have a doctor from Mumbai on board, and a strength-conditioning coach from South Africa. We are trying to put together programmes that would benefit the sports people and the non-sports people. It is very specific, and you need to have individuals and the corporates in the programme, but it is an avenue that I am trying to explore. I have been doing a lot of corporate talks at various companies in India and I really believe that there is a great need for bringing about a change in lifestyle. People are not aware that simple choices they make can change their health.

Does that mean Jonty Rhodes would no longer take up any coaching jobs?

Yes, there won’t be any more coaching assignments. I am doing the television work that I had already signed up for. But I am not going to join another IPL team. I am done with it.

But what if any national team approaches you? Would you still turn down the offer?

Yes, I would. Coaching a national side is even more strenuous. I spoke to Akash Ambani about my decision, and he was very supportive. I had spent nine years at Mumbai Indians, and I feel this is the right time to do something new. My coaching career had reached the crossroads. In the 10 years of the IPL, I spent nine years with Mumbai Indians as the fielding coach and loved every moment. But then, do I want to be a fielding coach for the next 10 years? Probably not! I loved doing it, but looking ahead, I had to look for other avenues and other opportunities.

If there is a time to make a difference in the wellness and fitness sector in India, it’s now. There is a growing awareness, and while interacting with the people during my (motivational) talks, I have realised that even the companies and the CEOs are aware that times are changing and they need to adapt to the change.

When did you take the decision? It must have been a tough decision to make since you are walking into an unexplored territory, especially at a time when your career as a fielding coach is on the upswing?

I think (it happened) about a month ago. I have always been involved in cricket (and coaching) since the second edition of the IPL in 2009. So it has been a big consideration for me, because the longer I would have got stuck in the IPL, tougher it would have been for me to get into other businesses. But I must admit that my profile has been raised in Mumbai or anywhere in India due to my association with Mumbai Indians. Also, after 10 years, there will be a lot of changes in the IPL next season. So, if I had to take a break from coaching, I thought this was the time. It has been an incredible journey with Mumbai Indians, but had I not taken a decision now, I would have perhaps continued being a fielding coach for another five years. I admit that the process is a bit scary now, because we are trying to set up a company and since it would be an Indian organisation, I have to understand the legal side of it from a South African national’s perspective. It is also very much an unknown territory. As a cricket player, I was the first guy to be a full-fledged fielder, so I am accustomed to the unknown territories, and hopefully we will approach the business with equal passion.

Jonty Rhodes comes ashore after surfing at the Kovalam beach, near Chennai. The former South African fielding legend has decided to take his mind off cricket, at least for now.   -  PTI


I am almost 50 years old (48 to be precise). I have two kids, a daughter named India (two and a half years old) and Nathan, who is six months old. In 2019, I will turn 50, and I want to be a healthy man for my children. I don’t want to get into the fifties and then have too much stress or have cardiac problems, or blood pressure issues. Wellness and fitness for me is more than just hitting the gym. It is about making healthy choices on a daily basis.

Since you want to bring about a change in the fitness and lifestyle of Indians, what are your thoughts on the Indian cricketers, who many feel have taken fitness to a new level?

I think Virat (Kohli) is playing a big part. We all know how hard Virat Kohli trains. Every second day, he is putting himself up and is going through a proper training programme. He has lost incredible amount of weight. He is playing a big part. M. S. Dhoni is in very good shape as a senior player, and he is very good in running between the wickets.

My only concern on the fitness front is that cricket is not a linear game; it is more lateral. I have played a football match with Virat, Dhoni, Manish Pandey and K. L. Rahul. My only problem with the Indian team is that not many guys play other sports. Fielding or catching is not just about having good hands, it is about having good feet. If more young Indian cricketers play other sports like badminton (which people have access to) or hockey, it would make them better. I played four sports — hockey, tennis, cricket and soccer — in my days and they helped me immensely to become a better fielder. In the Indian context, be it professional sportsmen or even those at a social level, playing games like badminton or squash will help develop power in the legs.

I am looking to create awareness among sports people and non-sports people in India. There are so many cricket academies, but there is no academy to just teach cricket skills. There are thousand others learning cricket, but if you want to be an all-rounder — in the true sense of the term — you have to keep a few things in mind. If you consider T20 cricket, it is not the yardstick, because fitness in Test cricket is paramount, and there if you feel fatigued or lose concentration, you make mistakes. You would be injured. It is kind of a complete approach that I want to look at.

Talking a bit about cricket, India will be touring South Africa by the end of December. Do you think the teams are evenly matched?

India have certainly shown their class in the last nine series — of which six or seven were played at home. The team has shown how dominant it can be in home conditions. South Africa have always relied on pace and bounce, and the wickets there can benefit their fast bowlers, but India can turn to some good fast bowlers too. They have certainly shown that. In one way, it doesn’t nullify the home advantage, but certainly brings that down a little bit.

If you have Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, and have the best players of spin like Rohit Sharma and Kohli, then you can afford to play on turning wickets. You have great exponents, both in batting and bowling. In South Africa, we are accustomed to the pace and bounce and our batsmen thrive on that. I know in Test cricket, bowlers need to pick up 20 wickets, but if you don’t have 400-500 runs on the board, it gets tough. For India, batting will be the most important factor.

So what do you think will be the key to India’s success?

They, of course, will have to decide who opens the batting. It is always a good problem to have when you have too many batsmen in the side who are in good form. As long as they don’t chop and change much and back the players, there should not be a problem.

The key for India will be to back their players and not change too much after one match. They have got a very strong squad and that’s why they have been able to beat strong sides. If someone is injured, the next guy comes in with ease. Look at Murali Vijay! He came back with a hundred. All these guys who have come back are playing well. So India have a strong squad to choose from. The key for India will be being consistent with the selection of players.