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Cricket: Rhodes gets his batting together

THIS First Test match has been so full of eccentricities that it has been easier than usual not to do justice to some of the more normal happenings. One of these has been the batting form of Jonty Rhodes, for he has looked a better player in this match than ever before.

He has hardly missed a Test match since South Africa returned to the arena in 1991 and, since then, his fielding has enlivened and delighted just about the entire cricketing world. His batting has almost seemed incidental to his fielding.

It was extraordinary to realise that his recent century against Gloucestershire was only the third he has made while wearing his South African cap. In 32 Test matches, he has only scored 100, against Sri Lanka, when his 101 not out helped South Africa to save the match.

But batting at No 6 in the South African side may not have given him the chance to play that many big innings, although he has made a great many healthy and important contributions. It seems a long time ago now that Clive Lloyd, and, before him, Gary Sobers scored the bulk of their runs for the West Indies at No 6. I wonder if they would have batted that far down the order today.

Rhodes is now a much straighter batsman than he has been, with a good array of strokes, and he has become a particularly handsome driver of the ball. He has obviously worked extremely hard on his batting. The likely reason for this is that while his fielding makes him an automatic choice for South Africa's one-day side, he has found himself increasingly left out of the Test side.

His fielding was no longer saving him and he understood that, if he was to re-establish a permanent place in the side, he would have to do something about his batting. It is a tremendous credit to him that he has managed to turn himself into the player he has now become.

After his innings, even if he was a mug in the field, he would surely be one of the first on Hansie Cronje's list when he is choosing a Test side.

The fact Rhodes is worth 35 runs at least to South Africa before he even takes the field must mean that he will now be an automatic selection. His batting, as it was in this innings, is as joyful, infectious and exhilirating as his fielding. Put them both together and he is worth the gate money on his own.