Rhodes has his wits intact

Jonty Rhodes is game about seeing the lighter side of life.-M. KARUNAKARAN

A man who made backward point a preserve of the fielding elite, Jonty Rhodes has a tongue-in-cheek funny side hidden up his sleeves. Arun Venugopal finds out.

The zippy charm is unmistakable. Jonathan Neil Rhodes' sparkling eyes still bear residues of boyhood mischief even as he conscientiously signs autographs — by the dozen — at a promotional event in Chennai recently. And they are no half-hearted scribbles, mind you, while he ensures that every fan is pleased. He humours the large number of photo-seekers as well, cheerfully posing with each one of them. No grimace, not a single frown.

Jonty is tongue-in-cheek when I ask for “five to ten minutes of his time”. “Only five”, he says, implying that ‘five to ten minutes' would invariably stretch beyond five. Rhodes, however, loves to give elaborate answers, which are both clear and coherent. When asked about Graeme Smith's captaincy, Jonty feels that the former has done a good job.

“I haven't played much with him although we have had some interaction when I was the fielding coach of the team. All the captains from Kepler Wessels to Smith were different personalities. Smith has done well as captain. I have no complaints about him”.

While he is not sure about who would replace Smith as skipper, the fielding dynamite picks out AB de Villiers as the “captain of the future”. “AB has the respect of the team, has a great work ethic and is a team man”. Jonty also believes that de Villiers is presently the best fielder in the world.

The man from Pietermaritzburg is happy with the increase in South Africa's spin-bowling stocks. “There is a lot of four-day first class cricket being played back home and people have finally identified the fact that spin is important”. Lauding Imran Tahir as “brilliant” in the World Cup, he credits Smith with having shown confidence in the Pakistan-born leggie.

Rhodes, who is the fielding coach of IPL team Mumbai Indians, is in awe of Tendulkar's genius. “Sachin once asked me to give him some throw-downs during IPL-2. I had him beaten only once in half-an-hour of practice. When J. P. Duminy came along, I could beat him past the bat several times. That's the difference between a player like Sachin and others”.

For someone who made backward point a preserve of the fielding elite, Jonty hasn't had many opportunities to patrol the outfield. “I do miss the on-field action in the IPL. It was only towards the end of my career in Gloucestershire that I got to field in the deep”.

The 41-year-old Rhodes is fascinated by the diversity of India. “As a cricketer, all you see is the hotel and the airport. I have travelled as a coach now from Kerala to Kashmir. Each place is different and I am trying hard to explore them”.

Jonty, who was Kenya's assistant coach during the World Cup, has also found time to indulge in Indian cuisine. “I have a sweet tooth and am crazy about Gulab Jamun and Kulfi. There are some amazing dishes and I try out different restaurants every time”.

Even as we are about to wrap up the interview, a fan wants to be photographed with Jonty who is only too willing to oblige. The “five-to-ten minutes” have long since elapsed and Jonty signs off with the cherubic smile intact.