Cricket: Rhodes on the test map at last: Glenn Moore meets the Yorkshire exile realising his cricketing dreams as England's wicketkeeper

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The Independent Online
THESE Yorkshire cricketers, they are just like London buses; wait around for ages with just the occasional sighting and then a clutch of them come around at once.

First Ray Illingworth, England's chairman of selectors, then Darren Gough in the Texaco Trophy, and now the adopted Yorkie, Richard Stemp, the Aussie Tyke, Craig White and the exile, Steve Rhodes, who each wait in hope for Test debuts at Nottingham tomorrow.

Not that Rhodes needs to be told anything about waiting. When it comes to hanging around in the shadows, he is up there with the likes of Neil Kinnock. For Rhodes, though, at least the waiting is over. Eight years after he first toured with England B and six years after he was picked to go to India with the full side (the tour was aborted because of Graham Gooch's South African connections), he will be behind the stumps in a Test.

Since first being recognised in 1986, the 29-year-old has been on four of the five subsequent A tours and played four one-day internationals, three in 1989 and one last month. Always in the frame but, until this season, also on the fringe. Two years ago, with even Jack Russell suffering from the move towards wicketkeeper / batsmen, it seemed that Rhodes would spend his career in the international twilight. With Richard Blakey, on the strength of his batting, promoted to the senior squad to visit India, Russell went to Australia with the A side and Rhodes had a winter checking out the job centre.

'I never gave up, though obviously I was disappointed that winter,' Rhodes said. 'I always felt my game was improving and, all the while I was in the A team, opportunity may be just around the corner.'

'If anything, missing out that winter made him more determined,' Tim Curtis, his Worcestershire captain, said. 'He had done all the right things on his previous tours but at that stage Jack was ahead of him.'

But is Rhodes better than Russell now? 'I can't say he's better than Russell, or the likes of Colin Metson and Paul Nixon,' Curtis said. 'They all look pretty good to me. You have to be a real expert to tell. I would not choose between them. You have to look at other factors, such as what they contribute to the team.'

As a wicketkeeper, Rhodes is not as stylish as Russell and, given the nature of Worcester pitches, is markedly more comfortable standing back. But he does not miss much. There is little to choose in their batting, though here Rhodes has the edge. Of all the batsmen to benefit from four-day cricket, none have grasped so thoroughly the opportunity to develop the art of building an innings. After three centuries in 12 years, he has scored four in the last 12 months, the latest against New Zealand.

Where Rhodes possesses a clear advantage is as a communicator. He is constantly lifting and advising his bowlers and fielders on the pitch and is a popular, effervescent personality off it.

Mark Ilott, another hoping to play in tomorrow's first Test and who has twice toured with Rhodes, most recently on the winter trip to South Africa, said: 'He is superb to bowl to. He is always encouraging and he always seems to know just what you want to hear about, whether it is how the ball is moving or whether you are on the right line and length. Having him behind the stumps gives me confidence, he is a quality keeper. He is also a lovely bloke, a great tourist and someone I have a lot of time for.'

Rhodes, voted player of the tour in South Africa, said: 'The A tours have been valuable to me. I am a lot better player now than when I was first in the England set-up. I have played a lot of first- class cricket and with experience has come consistency and the ability to recognise situations and know how to react to them. There is always something to learn in every day's cricket.'

That phrase appears almost verbatim in Illingworth's 1980 autobiography. Illingworth was Yorkshire manager when Rhodes made his debut in 1981 as the county's youngest wicketkeeper. He has been a considerable influence since, right up to the present day, and had Illingworth not been sacked by Yorkshire a few years later, Rhodes might still be there.

In the event, the encouragement given Rhodes by Doug Padgett and Phil Carrick was not matched by the incumbent wicketkeeper, David Bairstow. When, three seasons later, the county's cricket committee suggested that Bairstow concentrate on being captain while Rhodes, then 20, kept wicket, it was met with a blunt refusal. Exit Rhodes to Worcester and, six trophies later, including all four competitions, the loss appears to be Yorkshire's.

(Photograph omitted)