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Clean sweep

A great fielder, a useful batsman, and a caring human being. That's Jonty Rhodes for you, a guy to love on and off the field



Jonty Rhodes: `Throughout my career, I've tried to be as close to children as possible, because I am still a child myself.' — Photo: Murali Kumar K.

"I AM a very lazy guy. I would make a good brand ambassador for a bed!" admits the genial Jonty Rhodes, the former South African cricketer, popularly known as The Ferret. Arguably the best fielder to have ever graced modern cricket, Jonty was here for a brand promotion in the city, doing the most unlikely of things — playing a match with school kids and then washing the soiled whites with them!

Rhodes shot to fame in the 1992 Cricket World Cup when he sailed majestically over the stumps to run out Pakistan's Inzamam Ul Haq.

"I tripped on my shoelace and the cameraman caught it on tape. That's why I'm here," he laughs. But apart from being a brilliant fielder, Jonty is a gentleman, both off and on the field. In fact, Jonty has also served as one of the cricket's best-known goodwill ambassadors.

Epileptic as a kid

"Children are fun basically. Throughout my career, I've tried to be as close to children as possible, because I am still a child myself. Children are very enthusiastic, they don't mince words and are very truthful, " says the sweet-tempered Jonty.

This is quite evident, because he's amazingly patient with children. Haven't we heard of all the work that he has done for epileptic children?

He had a lot of time and energy for each child at Baldwin Boys School, and took a lot of interest in answering all their queries, even if some of them did seem petty for a giant of a cricketer like him.

"I had mild epilepsy as a young guy. It wasn't a very big issue, but I had to be very careful. I got concussions all the time so I wasn't allowed to play without wearing a helmet. When I was batting as a 12-year-old, way back in the 80s, I don't think anyone else wore a helmet," he recalls.

"People still don't know much about epilepsy. A lot of stigma is attached to it, especially when it involves children. But I've always tried to put children at ease, because their parents have told them that it was the same with Jonty. Epilepsy can be very hard on kids because they might get teased. So I am happy to be able to play a supporting role," says Jonty, with a glimmer in his eyes.

During his long and illustrious cricketing career, he not only set the benchmark for fielding, but also showed how fit a human being can be.

"I have stopped playing and have now become a lazy guy. But I have taken to surfing. It is hard work and I am bad at it. I'm trying hard and sometimes even sneak out of office to head down to the beach for a couple of hours," he grins. After retirement, Jonty has shied away from public life, apart from an endorsement here and there.

He has even rejected a high profile coaching job to be with his family and pursue a new career.

Bank employee

"I work with a bank now. It is like restarting my whole life. I still don't know what to do, so the bank is good enough to give me time to find out what I am good at. My belief in God has helped me define success differently. So when I score a hundred under pressure, I know it is not fate, but it is God's will in my life. He has helped me enjoy my life and helped me make other people happy."

He believes that it is important for children to choose their own careers rather than have someone else choose it for them.

"I think it is important to be able to do as much as possible. In junior school I was playing tennis, soccer, cricket and hockey and even athletics. It made me an all rounder. Kids must be encouraged to play as many sports as possible."

No controversies

Jonty has steered clear of controversy all his career and is known purely for his cricketing credentials.

A brilliant fielder, a useful batsman, prime motivator and the team's talisman — that sums up what Jonty meant to his team.

And Jonty has never ever forgotten, even for a moment, what a responsible role he plays in public life.

"I used to watch basketball and one of the players was very aggressive. He used to fight with the players as well as the spectators. So I told him that he was a bad example for kids watching the game. He turned around and said that setting examples was the duty of the parents. That was very sad. I, as an international sportsperson, have a very important role to play. You must never forget who you really are."

ANAND SANKAR

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