It was during the 1992 World Cup that the cricketing world witnessed a player who became best known not for his batting or bowling, but his extraordinary, almost superhuman fielding skills. South Africa’s veteran cricketer Jonty Rhodes, who turns 50 today, changed the face of fielding in cricket forever.
Rhodes announced and demonstrated on the international cricket stage that fielding can win you matches and tournaments through his splendid match awareness, athleticism, reflexes, and matchless anticipation skills.
In modern-day cricket where the difference comes down to the slightest of margins, it is quite common to see teams giving their everything on the field. But Rhodes was the pioneer of this tradition. Perhaps, he lived a dream which inspired players across the world to believe that this indeed is possible.
Rhodes was also known as “Rubber Man” because he would save runs on the field by stretching full length which was hardly witnessed before. He was flexible as rubber and agile like none other.
Rhodes featured in 52 Test Matches for South Africa and played 245 One Day International Matches. He played International Cricket for 11 years- from 1992 to 2003. Apart from being a live wire on the field, he scored 5935 runs in ODIs and 2532 runs in Test Matches.
When epilepsy prevented him from playing Rugby
Having been diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age, Rhodes was initially interested in Rugby. However, he could not continue Rugby since that triggered epileptic seizures and doctors had recommended him to stay away from Rugby.
Luckily for cricket lovers, he chose cricket.
Man of the Match for his fielding effort
In still a scarcely believable incident after 26 years of its occurrence, Rhodes won the Player of the Match more for his fielding efforts than his batting. As per the data available, this match was played at the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai and South Africa were up against West Indies on 14 November 1993.
South Africa batted first and managed to score 180 runs. The West Indies seemed to be cruising towards a comfortable win. However, Rhodes became South Africa’s most unlikely saviour.
Rhodes showed the cricketing world a spectacle which they had never witnessed before, leave alone imagined. Rhodes turned the match on its head through his sheer brilliance on the field. He took as many as five catches, some of the chances he created on his own by his unbelievable anticipation and charge on the ball.
South Africa won and in an unprecedented incident, Rhodes was declared man of the match more for the five catches he took than the 40 runs he scored.
It was less than a couple of years ago that Rhodes’s reputation as a fielder had increased by leaps and bounds. In the 1992 World Cup, he ran out Inzamam-ul-Haq by throwing himself parallel to the ground from backward point. That was perhaps just the beginning of the numerous performances he would go on to produce for the next decade.
Seven catches bag him Man of the Match
Rhodes went on to become the Man of the Match in a domestic match for bagging seven catches. For a wicketkeeper, bagging a few regulation catches in an innings is well expected but any more catches than that will inevitably include a special effort.
For an outfielder like Rhodes, to take seven catches in a match, speaks volume of his match-winning ability as a fielder.
Perhaps nobody worked harder on his craft than Rhodes in a team which was filled with hard-working gentlemen. He would often be blamed for delaying the team bus for an extra session of catching.
And on the backward point position, the world has not seen a greater fielder than him. He could produce a direct hit even while being off balance and his reputation as a fielder was enough to stop the batsmen from picking up a quick single.
Much of his athleticism also comes from the fact that he was a hockey player too and was even selected for the 1996 Olympics in the hockey team- an offer he politely refused to focus on Cricket.
Having spent a lot of time in India for his professional obligations, Rhodes has a special connection with the country. He even named his daughter ‘India’ when she was born in Mumbai in 2015.
Rhodes has applied for the position of Indian fielding coach and it would be no surprise if he is indeed given an opportunity. After all, who is better than Rhodes to assume the role of the fielding coach?
Best wishes and Happy Birthday to Jonty Rhodes.