South Africa in England: Great Performances July 3, 2012

'Jonty Rhodes: not just a fielder'

At Lord's in 1998, he repaid the faith his captain placed in his batting with a match-winning hundred
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If there was a cricketer you couldn't grudge fortune smiling on, it had to be Jonty Rhodes. With his combination of constant optimism and boyish charm, Rhodes was impossible not to like, but in June 1998, England had four reasons to feel differently. That's the number of times Rhodes should have been out, when instead he went on to score a match-winning century at Lord's, in difficult conditions.

Under cloudy skies, Dominic Cork engineered a South African slump and Rhodes walked out to bat at 46 for 4. "When I joined Hansie [Cronje] at the crease, the ball was swinging and Cork and Angus Fraser could exploit those conditions," Rhodes remembered. "Hansie said the only way we could get ahead was to counterattack, because we are going to get an unplayable delivery sooner or later."

Their aggressive approach almost backfired immediately. Rhodes flashed hard in Dean Headley's first over and the edge carried to slip, where Michael Atherton put it down. In Headley's next over, Rhodes took him on again and Atherton held on, but it was a no-ball. Those two chances seem to throw the England's bowlers off kilter and they lost their discipline. The Independent wrote that Headley offered Rhodes "ample width to feed his whirring bat", as more than half of the first day's 135 runs came in boundaries.

"Even though the wicket was swinging, it was also a bit slower," Rhodes said. "And because I'm quite a short guy who pulls quite easily, that helped me. The lengths the England guys were bowling suited my style of play and I was able to pull and cut a lot of deliveries." By tea, Cronje and Rhodes felt they had done well to "stem the flow of wickets" and wanted to continue pushing forward.

The pair stayed together for a large part of the second day as well, eventually sharing in a stand of 184. "When Hansie departed, his message to me was to bat for as long as possible. We thought anything above 300 was going to be a good first-innings score." Rhodes' 43-run stand with Shaun Pollock took South Africa to the brink of that total. More memorable was Rhodes' own battle through the 90s.

He was nearly run out on 93, and on 95 he should have been out again on Headley's lbw appeal. "It hit front pad and then the back pad. The umpire said he heard two noises, so he must have thought it was bat-pad and I was given not-out. I was almost prepared to walk, it was so plumb."

He was almost made to on the next ball. "Headley was angry and he bowled me a bumper, which hit me on the back of the head," Rhodes said. "If anything, it allowed me to relax a bit. I had been in the 90s for a while, so it gave me a chance to sit down, take a breather and get through to the hundred."

The milestone came up in typical Rhodes fashion, with a scampered three. It represented a culmination of two years' hard work to return to the Test side. He had been dropped in November 1996, after six innings without a half-century and criticism over his lack of off-side play. He had to work on his technique while on the sidelines, a time in which he had the support of his captain.

"I vindicated Hansie's faith in me with that hundred," Rhodes said. "In the time I was out of the side, every time I scored runs for Natal, Hansie was the first guy who phoned me. He would say, 'You're not out of the picture, keep going, keep working hard, I know you'll be back.' So it was pretty sweet from that point of view."

"In the time I was out of the side, every time I scored runs for Natal, Hansie was the first guy who phoned me. He would say, 'You're not out of the picture, keep going, keep working hard, I know you'll be back'"

After being recalled, Rhodes proved the point with 95 in the first Test, at Edgbaston, and felt more relaxed for the Lord's fixture. "With the situation and the conditions at Lord's there wasn't a lot of pressure on me," Rhodes said. "I was still nervous, though, but it was about being able to control it. Adrenaline can make you sharper but the key is not to let the adrenaline become fear. If you really are worried about getting dropped, and I was just before it happened to me, that fear becomes too much and inhibits your abilities. If you can harness that fear, it's awesome."

Even though Rhodes had to control his emotions and ride a choppy wave to get to his hundred, his celebrations were not emphatic. "It wasn't a case of my job had been done and I could get out of there." But there was something special to mark the occasion. "Either Allan Donald or Pat Symcox wrote on a piece of paper, 'Jonty Rhodes: not just a fielder,' and someone took a picture of it for me."

Part of the reason Rhodes was subdued in his celebration was because he knew there was still a Test to win. South Africa bowled England out cheaply, made them follow-on and went on to win by ten wickets. "The way that the bowlers responded just showed how tough the conditions were," Rhodes said. "It wasn't moving a lot off the wicket by the time England got to bat but it was still swinging."

The victory saw South Africa take a 1-0 lead in the series, but even that was not enough to get Rhodes too excited. He said he was "probably the only guy who didn't go up to the balcony" because of his experience on the 1994 tour, when South Africa won at Lord's but couldn't take the series. "Dr [Ali] Bacher was on the balcony then, with all the guys, and I was in the dressing room when he came into find me. Lord's was just full of South Africans and they asked me to come up," Rhodes remembered. "I said, 'Doc, we've only played one Test, there's still two to go.' It was the same in 1998. We had three Tests to go where we really had to knuckle down and if we had won the series, then I would have been the first guy on the balcony, waving the flag."

On this tour, South Africa will visit Lord's last. Rhodes won't be in England to witness any possible triumph. When he's not working with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, he is enjoying leading a quiet non-cricketing life, but he still has thoughts about how the contest for the No. 1 spot will be decided. "What England have shown in the past - and we learnt from it in 1998 - was that if you score a hundred, it's not enough. Those guys were scoring 170 and double -hundreds, and now South Africa have players like AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, who get in and go the distance too. England also have those guys, so whoever can remove the top orders will win the series."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • FallsDown on July 5, 2012, 4:44 GMT

    Easily a better fielder than Mark Waugh, Ponting and Symonds.

  • on July 4, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    Better fielder that Mark Waugh? Naaah.

  • AlbertEinstein on July 4, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    @anuradha_d: If we take your definition of a great man, then even ordinary players like Tendulya will become rubbish, as I cannot recall a single match where he made a century and India won.

  • Jabulani on July 4, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    Well seems like Cricinfo will not publish my replies...my problem is not with Jonty the public entity, as some of you have pointed out he is almost beyond reproach. He however does not always conduct himself in a likewise manner when out of the public-eye.

  • Meety on July 4, 2012, 2:00 GMT

    Rhodes IMO was the best "stopper" of a ball in the covers that I ever saw. I wouldn't say he was the best fieldsmen I have seen though, I'd have Punter & Symonds slightly ahead, & Mark Waugh above them all. Splitting hairs anyway - as he (Rhodes) was brilliant. I will never forget that run out in the W/Cup where he sort of crash-tackled the stumps! Priceless! Imagine Rhodes on Red Bull or Gurana!!!!!!

  • on July 3, 2012, 18:49 GMT

    the only guy i will pay to watch fielding alone.

  • MitenD on July 3, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    Top guy. Fantastic fielder. But he was an average batsman. Would have never made it in that talented SA side if he wasn't a great fielder.

  • NP_NY on July 3, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    @Jabulani: You must have extremely high standards to like someone! Can you pls enlighten us on why Rhodes lost your respect?

  • thirdmanboundary on July 3, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    Another great article, Firdose. Thank you. Jonty was such an exuberant, upbeat presence on the field and off. Who else would be grateful for being hit on the back of the head by a fast bowler because "it allowed me to relax a bit?"

  • ExplicitPlatinum on July 3, 2012, 14:49 GMT

    I'm a Pak fan and I have to say, Jonty Rhodes is a gem for international cricket that has come from a never ending supply of South African talent. But do you guys think that Suresh Raina is living upto this "Fielder batsman" role? Certainly he is talented. Virat Kohli is an excellent fielder but NEVER would I like to put that forward as he is a HUGELY TALENTED batsmen.

  • FallsDown on July 5, 2012, 4:44 GMT

    Easily a better fielder than Mark Waugh, Ponting and Symonds.

  • on July 4, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    Better fielder that Mark Waugh? Naaah.

  • AlbertEinstein on July 4, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    @anuradha_d: If we take your definition of a great man, then even ordinary players like Tendulya will become rubbish, as I cannot recall a single match where he made a century and India won.

  • Jabulani on July 4, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    Well seems like Cricinfo will not publish my replies...my problem is not with Jonty the public entity, as some of you have pointed out he is almost beyond reproach. He however does not always conduct himself in a likewise manner when out of the public-eye.

  • Meety on July 4, 2012, 2:00 GMT

    Rhodes IMO was the best "stopper" of a ball in the covers that I ever saw. I wouldn't say he was the best fieldsmen I have seen though, I'd have Punter & Symonds slightly ahead, & Mark Waugh above them all. Splitting hairs anyway - as he (Rhodes) was brilliant. I will never forget that run out in the W/Cup where he sort of crash-tackled the stumps! Priceless! Imagine Rhodes on Red Bull or Gurana!!!!!!

  • on July 3, 2012, 18:49 GMT

    the only guy i will pay to watch fielding alone.

  • MitenD on July 3, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    Top guy. Fantastic fielder. But he was an average batsman. Would have never made it in that talented SA side if he wasn't a great fielder.

  • NP_NY on July 3, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    @Jabulani: You must have extremely high standards to like someone! Can you pls enlighten us on why Rhodes lost your respect?

  • thirdmanboundary on July 3, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    Another great article, Firdose. Thank you. Jonty was such an exuberant, upbeat presence on the field and off. Who else would be grateful for being hit on the back of the head by a fast bowler because "it allowed me to relax a bit?"

  • ExplicitPlatinum on July 3, 2012, 14:49 GMT

    I'm a Pak fan and I have to say, Jonty Rhodes is a gem for international cricket that has come from a never ending supply of South African talent. But do you guys think that Suresh Raina is living upto this "Fielder batsman" role? Certainly he is talented. Virat Kohli is an excellent fielder but NEVER would I like to put that forward as he is a HUGELY TALENTED batsmen.

  • mahjut on July 3, 2012, 14:28 GMT

    @anuradha_d. mmm sounds catchy but men with 'occasional' failures are men hiding a lot ... and bats with only occasional failures are, in truth, limited to one (and even he has his doubters - in the limitations of his experience at least). There is no doubt that Jonty was not a GREAT bat -BUT, he was a huge asset to the saffer side and on occasion made the difference with the bat - i guess that is all one wants of a player. i am ambivalent towards him but have not seen many field quite as well ...

  • gudolerhum on July 3, 2012, 14:25 GMT

    @Jabulani - sad to see such a bitter comment about someone whom you have probably never met. He has always come across as gracious and sportsmanlike on the field. Sorry, there must be a problem - and I have hunch where it lies.

  • on July 3, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    Nadeem, best fielder ever? No. Colin Bland a fellow South African was also superb. Neil Harvey, Derek Randall, J.R Reid, Clive Lloyd, Learie Constantine. All of them superb fielders in the class, or in several of them far superior fielders. And, for the most part, better batsmen.

  • Seether1 on July 3, 2012, 10:52 GMT

    @Jabulani: Why would you say that? Jonty has always come across as a humble, friendly and fun-loving guy

  • karthik666 on July 3, 2012, 10:36 GMT

    excellent article - Firdose Moonda

  • anuradha_d on July 3, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    Great Men ( and Batsmen) are remebered for their occasional failures.......medicores are rembered for their occasional successes.

    Jhonty was as medicore as a test match batsman gets

  • Jabulani on July 3, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    I appreciate him as a player, but I have absolutely no respect for him as a person!

  • Truemans_Ghost on July 3, 2012, 6:57 GMT

    But how did he end up judging Master Chef?

  • on July 3, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Nice article,rhodes was one of my most favorite players,his reverse sweeps were awesome.

  • wanatawu on July 3, 2012, 5:57 GMT

    Rhodes you was a star, good luck man

  • Nadeem1976 on July 3, 2012, 4:18 GMT

    First of all i would like congratulate Johnty Rhodes for being first professional cricketer. Before him cricket was gentlemen game now it's professional game. He is the best fielder in history of cricket ever and he changed how cricketers field today. I love this guy and i think without him 90's would be tasteless.

    The standards set by Johnty rodes in fielding are that high that he can be selected in all time IX only because of his fielding. Man was magician.

    I am waiting to see great series between eng and sa and i hope that sa wins because some body needs to give a match to eng at home now.

  • tiseye on July 3, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    "not just a fielder"...... no, but the best i have ever seen!

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  • tiseye on July 3, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    "not just a fielder"...... no, but the best i have ever seen!

  • Nadeem1976 on July 3, 2012, 4:18 GMT

    First of all i would like congratulate Johnty Rhodes for being first professional cricketer. Before him cricket was gentlemen game now it's professional game. He is the best fielder in history of cricket ever and he changed how cricketers field today. I love this guy and i think without him 90's would be tasteless.

    The standards set by Johnty rodes in fielding are that high that he can be selected in all time IX only because of his fielding. Man was magician.

    I am waiting to see great series between eng and sa and i hope that sa wins because some body needs to give a match to eng at home now.

  • wanatawu on July 3, 2012, 5:57 GMT

    Rhodes you was a star, good luck man

  • on July 3, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Nice article,rhodes was one of my most favorite players,his reverse sweeps were awesome.

  • Truemans_Ghost on July 3, 2012, 6:57 GMT

    But how did he end up judging Master Chef?

  • Jabulani on July 3, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    I appreciate him as a player, but I have absolutely no respect for him as a person!

  • anuradha_d on July 3, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    Great Men ( and Batsmen) are remebered for their occasional failures.......medicores are rembered for their occasional successes.

    Jhonty was as medicore as a test match batsman gets

  • karthik666 on July 3, 2012, 10:36 GMT

    excellent article - Firdose Moonda

  • Seether1 on July 3, 2012, 10:52 GMT

    @Jabulani: Why would you say that? Jonty has always come across as a humble, friendly and fun-loving guy

  • on July 3, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    Nadeem, best fielder ever? No. Colin Bland a fellow South African was also superb. Neil Harvey, Derek Randall, J.R Reid, Clive Lloyd, Learie Constantine. All of them superb fielders in the class, or in several of them far superior fielders. And, for the most part, better batsmen.