Cricketers everywhere want to emulate Jonty Rhodes; his athleticism and enthusiasm on the field are legendary. He has been a role model for youngsters not just for his game but also for having fought epilepsy and showing that one can succeed despite a serious ailment.
Hindustan Times caught up with the South African team’s fielding consultant. Here is the jaldi-five we put to him a little while ago.
How was the experience coaching the Pakistanis before their recent tour of England?
I spent only four days with the national team, three days with the ‘A’ side and three days assisting academy and state level coaches. It was interesting for me. I had never been coached in fielding; I worked out techniques by myself by watching goalkeepers make stops and by deciding what are the best positions. I was never taught how to throw.
Having to go and coach people and to explain the processes, I learnt a great deal. Despite this, they dropped five catches on Day One (of the first Test). Bobby (Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer) joked to me ‘had you not been there, they might have dropped 10’. You are never going to be able to change that overnight.
How did the Pakistanis receive your sessions?
Their attitude was positive. I was worried about Inzy but he caught a flu the day I arrived (in Pakistan) -- may be I was lucky. Bob had a big part to play. Pakistan’s work ethics have become very good and they’re prepared to dive and get dirty. I was anxious when I arrived but they were very keen to learn.
You were so excited in the dressing room when South Africa won with that world record chase against Australia. How much did the win mean to SA?
It was important. During the ’90s, we were labelled chokers. We were winning many games and then losing the all-important crunch games. That (one against Australia) was a crunch game against a really good side. The positive way the guys played showed they must have been listening to Graeme Smith a lot about playing brave cricket.
Sometimes, talk is very easy, but it was translated into positive cricket that day. Playing against the world's best side and getting a world record score has gone a long way in making the South Africans really believe in their ability, which we always had.
First thing on the back of the mind was that we have lost crucial games. I believe that is out of our way now and the guys are going forward.
How do you rate Smith’s captaincy?
He is only 25. He has got in very, very young. Performance wise, he was scoring runs; he has scored two double hundreds in England. He handles pressure very well but, as a leader, he’s finding his feet. You can't just captain a side anymore; you must also spend time with the team. It’s not just about having a guy with a cricket brain; he also needs man management skills. As part of the management, you coach a captain. That human element is important. That, for Graeme, will take some more time because he is a young man growing himself and is finding out what works for the others and finding out what works for him.
Wasim Akram (diabetes) and you (epilepsy) worked your way around ailments. What message do your successes send across to youngsters?
Throughout my cricket, I never focussed on negatives. You have got to focus on positives. If you know what you can't do, you have work on your strengths, which is what I do --- use my feet (while batting), be fast on the field, and run around. I never allowed epilepsy to be a major focus on my life.
If you have a disability or ailment, and if you focus on it, it'll be a wretched life. If you look at the positive side --- and that’s what I do --- life is a lot better.