Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Jonty Rhodes is born - fielding genius who brought backward point to life
July 27, 1969 - Stats show Jonty Rhodes' Test average to be 35.6 and ODI average as 35.11, but that is hardly the case. In reality, he averaged at least 50 over his international career.
Rhodes may contribute 30-40 runs with bat per match but saved 15-20 runs in the field, diving at backward point, attacking the ball, stopping singles and effecting run-outs.
Rhodes made his debut for South Africa in 1992 in a Benson & Hedges Trophy game against Australia, shortly before the World Cup. He hogged the limelight for a facet of the game that was rarely given credit. The youngster hit home the fact that to prevail in the game of cricket, you don't only have to win the battle between the bat and the ball, but also have to outplay the opposition in the fielding department as well.
His run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the World Cup became an iconic moment as soon as it was relayed across the world and remains so to date. Rhodes found himself on umpteen hoardings, with the image of him flinging himself to uproot the stumps and remains a leading choice for advertisers even today.
In 2016, when he was the fielding coach of IPL's Mumbai Indians franchise, his second wife Melanie Jeanne gave birth to a daughter, whom they named India, after the country which he calls his second home.
"I have spent a lot of time here. What I love about India is that it's a rich mix of culture, heritage and tradition. It is a very spiritual country, very forward-thinking nation. I really like that combination. You have to have a good balance of life. With the name like India, she will have the best of both worlds and that sort of balance," Rhodes said after making headlines for the choice of his daughter's name.
Rhodes' first innings of note in international cricket, a 43, came against England. He scored a couple more 30s against West Indies and India and scored his first century in ODI cricket against Pakistan in September 1996, the first of his two ODI hundreds. The second and the last one came in the dusk of his career - 107 not out against New Zealand in 2002.
Rhodes made his Test debut in in 1992 against India at Durban. He did score 67 runs in his maiden Test and scored a couple of useful 80s and 90s thereafter but his batting potential was only realised after 1997 when he changed his technique completely .
The biggest flaw in his batting technique was his backlift which came down from gully, a habit he developed due to his exploits on the hockey field. In fact, Rhodes was so good at hockey that he also had an offer to feature in the 1996 Olympic games, but had to turn it down.
His batting skills apart, his biggest contribution to the game was energizing the fielding aspect of it and inspiring his generation and the future ones to accord more value to the discipline. It was not unusual for Rhodes to keep the team bus waiting as he did an extra round of reflex-fielding after everybody was done with their practice.
The effort he put into his fielding when married with his natural ability to attack the ball, made for a terrific combination as he saved runs not only by his athleticism but on reputation as well.
Rhodes was probably the first cricketer to take paternity leave after the birth of his first child. He unceremoniously retired, following a finger fracture in the early stages of the 2003 World Cup but returned to play his last First-class game for Gloucestershire the same year.
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