Unyielding fielding

Jonty Rhodes... born to field!-S.S. KUMAR

“If each guy saves me one run, it gives me ten runs. Margins in most 20-over games come down to three or four (runs),” Jonty Rhodes, the Mumbai Indians’ coach, tells N. Sudarshan.

Gravity defying acts on the cricket field are no longer a novelty. It’s more a norm. But it was not so two decades ago. It all changed when a youngster with blond hair in his early twenties made an entry. Now after a fulfilling playing career, the South African Jonty Rhodes is busy teaching the Mumbai Indians in the IPL and the South African national team, the skills which he employed to swoop on the ball from backward point. He doubles up as an ambassador for surfing in India and the still immaculately shaped 44-year-old spoke to Sportstar on the sidelines of an event in Chennai.

Excerpts:

How has the art of fielding changed over the years?

Nowadays with T20 cricket, the IPL and better bats, the batsmen take on the fielders. So defending your boundary has become very important. Keiron Pollard fields in the ring for the first six or seven overs and later on he is near the boundary. In my days the best fielders used to field at positions like the backward point. Now you see them at mid-on, long on, long off or wherever the ball goes. If you can’t catch it, at least you can stop it and get the ball back in.

So the emphasis is more on all-round fielding?

Yes. You have got to field everywhere. For long Andrew Symonds was perhaps the best all-round fielder. He was excellent in the ring. He had very strong arms, so he was good at the boundary as well. People like me and Herschelle Gibbs were good in the ring, but not as good at the boundary. But nowadays you see most fielders do both. From David Warner to Suresh Raina to AB de Villiers, when he is not keeping.

What do you tell your boys when they go out on to the field?

Save one run. If each guy saves me one run, it gives me ten runs. Margins in most 20 over games come down to three or four (runs).

In the recent Champions Trophy, India was perhaps the best fielding side. What do you think has changed from before?

The limited overs set-up has had an effect. You used to have four or five really slow guys but now there are none. Nowadays with shots like ‘Dilscoop’ and the reverse sweeps, you really can’t hide fielders. So I think it’s the IPL. I remember doing some work with the late Bob Woolmer while he was coaching Pakistan. The senior players said, ‘Jonty is wasting his time here. In the sub-continent there is no culture of fielding.’ That was in 2004-05 and may be it was so. But now, young players are getting coached by international coaches and play with international players. It’s not just the international guys doing great things on the field, but young Indians too. The whole intensity and ethos have been absorbed by them. It’s also that if you haven’t scored any runs with the bat, you still have a job to do. So the IPL has gone a long way in improving the skills.

Who do you think are the best fielders in India? Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina?

Life will go on for the Mumbai Indians without Sachin Tendulkar from next year, but his legacy will endure.-ROHIT JAIN PARAS

Yeah…. and (Ravindra) Jadeja too. But those two guys really stand up. I like Raina’s enthusiasm. He reminds me of myself a little bit. He will dive for a ball even if he knows he can’t get it. Many guys later think ‘may be I should have gone for it’, but with Raina, there is no confusion. He will either stop it or the ball will storm past. I used to do the same thing. My team used to criticise me. But sometimes you would catch one and the photo would be on the newspapers (laughs).

Rohit Sharma captained the Mumbai Indians (MI) side recently and won the IPL too. Has that given him more confidence as a batsman? He opened for India in the Champions Trophy and did reasonably well.

When I watch him at the nets I think, ‘for someone so talented how on earth hasn’t he played much for India?’ There have been instances where after someone takes over the captaincy, the form suffers. But with Rohit, it hasn’t happened. He is a fairly quiet man. He is not a Kohli and has a different body language. But he is an intense guy when he bats and leads from the front. It might not be in your face but he leads by scoring runs and winning games for the team.

Sachin Tendulkar won’t be around for MI next year. How big a loss is that?

It’s hard to believe. He has been there for 20 years now and has been synonymous with cricket in India. But I think it will be ok. We won the trophy last time while he was injured for the last couple of games. Two years ago we won the Champions League without him. So there is definitely life after Sachin. But the way he has inspired younger guys to be hungry for runs is great. Someone like Kohli, who probably has more 100s and 50s than any other player in his age group right now. With Sachin setting such high standards, the younger guys want to do better. He might retire but his legacy will live on for a long time.

India will be touring South Africa later this year. How do you see the series?

It will be fiery. But it seems the BCCI and the South African board are not the best of friends at this stage. It’s frustrating because cricket lovers would want to see the two best sides play more than two Tests. But it will be a good Test series. India for quite a while was not a good touring side. Now there are a lot of characters such as M. S. Dhoni, Kohli who can help take on South Africa. Zaheer is getting back to shape as well. He may not be as fast as he was once was but he is a great swing bowler.

What about South Africa? Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis might be at the end of their careers. How do you see them in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup?

We always keep thinking how we are going to survive without some but ultimately we do. Like how Mark Boucher replaced Dave Richardson, who was our first wicketkeeper-batsman. But with Kallis it will be very difficult. You replace him with a batsman, you lose a bowler and vice-versa. But we have been fortunate enough to have had all-rounders of calibre like Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and now Kallis. Hopefully someone will come along.

It will be interesting to see the effect on the South African Test team because it has been a settled unit for close to three years now and that has helped it get to No. 1 in the rankings.