Catching up with Jonty Rhodes


Often referred to as the greatest fielder of all time, former South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes was recently down in Goa for the launch of YU Hotels. He chats with NT BUZZ about Goa, his love for travel, Bollywood films, and of course – cricket

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

Q. What do you miss most about your playing days?

Interestingly, I don’t miss anything, although I wish I had travelled and experienced more of the local culture back then. As a coach I make sure to get a bit of the local experience. I was with Mumbai Indians as a fielding coach and whenever I would go to a different city I would get someone to pick me up and we would drive for a few hours through the city, try some street food, and get back.

Q. How has cricket changed as compared to how it used to be back then?

I think it is less flamboyant. It is definitely more of a business and there are a lot of rock stars, but, I think we had way more fun. If you were someone who is grumpy and you wanted to say a few words to the opposition there was no stump microphone, no multiple cameras around. Players used to just put up with it and carry on.

People often say there isn’t any character to the game now. Recently a South African player was banned from a game for his celebration as the match referee felt it was not in the spirit of the game.

When we were playing, which is a long time ago, without the policing, without the concentrated focused attention on the player, we could just be ourselves and play the game.

Q. You have a strong opinion about the four-day test cricket concept.

I think test cricket should be five-day cricket and there should be no other option. Some matches are finished in three to four days, some can go into a draw, some go on till day five and it’s exciting.

I understand commercially there may be reasons but that’s why there is T20. Five-day cricket needs to stay that way. It is there to test the skill, the mental and emotional ability of players.

Q. How has the role of a coach changed?

Coaching is very different now. It’s not that difficult, but it’s different. I was one of four coaches at Mumbai Indians and in the 2020 season I will be one of four coaches at Kings XI Punjab.

When I was a cricket player we only had one coach and he basically had to handle all aspects of the game. A teammate would help with the fielding and other departments. In today’s times when you have different coaches handling various departments, it takes a lot of pressure off the coach. Today I think players are just focused on their own game, since there are so many coaches available. So they’ve lost their sense of teamwork in a way which is a big part of the process. In our times we all worked for each other and together as one unit.

Q. Do you think nowadays it is easier for the players to blame a coach or physiotherapist or someone else and shun responsibility?

Yes. In the recent past I have worked a lot in grassroots development coaching. I have been to Nepal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and a couple of places in India. When we travel we try to empower children to take ownership. Because when there’s a big management contingent it is easy to rely on their advice, and, to not accept responsibility in every aspect of the game. So while working within grassroots we focus on coaching the local coaches because they should teach with a certain intensity and technique. Cricket is a game of habit. Players need to take decisions themselves on and off the field. We can guide, but they need to take those decisions themselves.

Q. The Indian Premier League has emerged as a much preferred tournament. What do you make of it?

The T20 for me as a fielding coach has been such a great growth experience, especially in India. From an intensity point of view, I love IPL (Indian Premiere League). It has offered great exposure to players to be coached by some fantastic international coaches and also to play against the very best in cricket. Indian players are growing in leaps and bounds and India has an abundance of talent.

Commercially it generates a lot of income for everyone – the owners, the players, sponsors, etc. The best players and coaches in the world come to India and play here.

Also, it has spilled over to other leagues like the Caribbean, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and other leagues. IPL has been a big part for cricket’s growth as a sport.

Q. You have contributed a lot to Indian cricket, do you regret about not being as active in South Africa?

I’ve been working six months over the year, mainly in India, giving talks, coaching camps in Sri Lanka and I’ve been kind of all over the sub-continent doing as much training work. You cannot justify spending six months away from my country, coaching and doing as little work in South Africa. So I want to change that. I don’t have my own academy but I just launched what we call the Jonty Rhodes Wave. It’s more about how you practice the game. My focus now is more on coaching at the grassroot level.

Sport has a way of bringing people together and uniting them. To me my focus now is what difference I can make.

Q. Who is your favourite cricketer in India currently as compared to your favourite back then?

I don’t have any favourite players from when I was playing although I was quite happy to see the back of Sachin Tendulkar. In my talks however I speak about Virat Kohli and his consistency. He has transformed himself from the fitness point of view and he has got his basics in place.

Also, watching Rohit Sharma practice and play is an experience by itself, especially watching him play the big hitters.

Q. In India, cricket and Bollywood is a major combination. Who is your favourite Bollywood actor?

I watched my first Bollywood movie ‘Gully Boy’ on the flight over to India recently. I don’t understand Hindi so I read the subtitles. I loved it and download the soundtracks. I met Siddhant Chaturvedi too, recently at an event.

I remember one dialogue of Ranveer Singh from the movie which stands out for me. After translation it says: “Don’t let reality define your dreams, let your dreams define your reality”.

Q. How do you like Goa?

I have been to Goa a few times to deliver corporate inspirational talks. I love the rich local red soil. My wife is an architect and from an aesthetic point of view, it’s a lot about the right use of local materials and the red earth is just so beautiful. I also love the old architecture which has Portuguese influence. We have a Dutch influence in architecture in South Africa. I’m a surfer and I love being on the beach; Goa is a wonderful beach destination. Near the ocean is where I feel refreshed and it’s a beautiful place to ride around too.

Q. How do you manage the Indian spice?

I love the spice and that’s the lovely thing about India’s diversity. The spice varies from across regions too; it’s different in the north and the south, with its own flavour and tradition and absolutely delicious. I was close to Hyderabad a few days back and the mutton biryani there was beautiful.

Q. And your favourites would be…

I like the palak paneer. We don’t have a lot of vegetarian options back home; we do salads.