CHENNAI: Jonty Rhodes shares a special bond with India and calls it his second home. The former South African cricketer – years after retiring from the game – remained connected with India thanks to his nine-year long stint as fielding coach with the Mumbai Indians. Having worked closely with the likes of Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah in the MI setup for years, it was only natural for Jonty to take the next step by applying for the Indian team‘s fielding coach’s position.
Jonty, who featured in 52 Tests and 245 ODIs for South Africa, felt the decision to apply was a no-brainer, even though he wasn’t among the three shortlisted by the BCCI on Thursday. “As a fielding coach I did a couple of years of coaching with the South African team till the 2007 World Cup. Since then, I have only worked in India. I am way more familiar with the cricketing set up in India than I am in South Africa,” said Jonty, who is here as brand ambassador of the Covelong Point Surf, Music and Yoga festival that will take place from August 23 to 25.
Despite being one of the high-profile names in fray for the fielding coach’s job, Jonty seemed to know that he would lose out to R Sridhar. “I am sure my interview was not as good as the one with the incumbent coach because he has been there for the last couple of years. Players have definitely worked with a plan. And you can see the progress as it just doesn’t happen. I am expecting that from an interview point of view – he kicked my butt,” Jonty quipped.
The 50-year-old feels despite making massive progress in their ground fielding, there were areas where the current Indian team could improve. “The Indian players have certainly got fitter, but they still can improve on their agility. We grew up in South Africa playing multiple sports. All these sports made me the fielder I was. Fielding is about lateral movement, I don’t think the Indians are yet at their best in that,” he said. Another area of concern for the Indian fielding unit, according to Jonty, lies in their slip catching. “Away from home, slip catching has been an issue for India. They could have beaten South Africa and even England last year (in Tests) had they not dropped a few catches,” he said.
Jonty believes Indian players could get better on the field by engaging in other sporting disciplines. “Indian players should play sports such as badminton which offers sideways movement. That should be one area of focus for them,” Jonty said.The last few weeks have seen South African cricket being hit hard by the exits of Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla. While Steyn retired from Tests to focus on shorter formats, Amla called it quits from international cricket. While Jonty made it clear that these two players can’t be replaced, he expects the next lot of cricketers to step up. “Steyn has been in and out (in the last year-and-a-half) due to injuries. Amla, in the last 18 months of his career, wasn’t in the best of form. So, in that regard, South Africa hasn’t relied on those players extensively. You can’t replace players like Amla or Steyn, but we have players like Kagiso Rabada and Ngidi (Lungi) who are making a mark,” said Jonty.
When South Africa last toured India in 2015, they lost the four Test series 3-0. Will the upcoming three-Test match series featuring the two teams in India see a change in the fate for the visitors? “Probably not,” said Jonty.