Cricket: Rhodes pulls off stroke of genius

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The Independent Online
WHILE DOMINIC Cork was the hero for England on a day of brilliant cricket even if it only lasted for 34 overs, Jonty Rhodes will rightly have received a similar welcome when he returned to the South African dressing-room. He had launched a most inspiring counter-attack and by the end had communicated his exub-erant enthusiasm to his more stolid captain, Hansie Cronje, who was his partner.

In the first Test match at Edgbaston, Rhodes had played an outstanding innings of 95 in which he had demonstrated how much he has worked on his batting in the last few months. A rather frenetic batsman who shuffled across his stumps, often playing across the line of the ball, has now turned into a most decisive stroke-maker whose bat invariably comes down straight.

He came in when South Africa were 46 for 4 and in deep trouble. Daryll Cullinan had been out to the last ball of the 16th over. In the next over Rhodes faced Angus Fraser's last two balls. The second was barely short and yet Rhodes went on to the back foot and drove him decisively past cover point for four. Fraser will have been hard-pressed to believe what he saw.

When the players returned after a break of an hour and a quarter for rain, Rhodes drove at a wide one from Dean Headley in his first over and Mike Atherton dropped a difficult catch above his head at third slip. It was a naughty stroke by Rhodes and you could see that he knew it from the way he walked away to square leg, ticking himself off and trying to collect his concentration.

Down at the other end for the next over, he faced Cork. The ball was well up to the bat, on or just outside the leg stump, and Rhodes drove him wide of mid-on for four.

It was not only the stroke of the day, it was the stroke of the summer, but just in case there was any doubt about it later in the same over he swivelled with marvellous quick footwork and pulled Cork from outside the off stump into the new Grandstand for six. That one will be remembered for a long time, too.

It is not easy to keep up the tempo on a day which is being broken up into small pieces by the rain. Apart from the batsman having to re-accustom himself to the light and the bowling as well as the pace of the pitch, these breaks make it difficult for him to hold on to his concentration.

But it was no problem for Rhodes. Rain and bad light cost another 16 overs in the middle of the evening session, and when the players returned Rhodes at once drove Mark Ealham through the covers. In Ealham's next over Cronje did likewise, and you could almost feel Rhodes's influence in this stroke.

Rhodes has always been one of the great contemporary cricketing entertainers with his fielding, and his batting has become just about as compelling. In this remarkable innings it is fair to say that he batted as he fields.

He provided non-stop enjoy-ment and even the most partisan English supporters will have found it hard to be so about Rhodes. He communicates fun and enjoyment whether batting or fielding in a way which transcends all boundaries and makes him unique among modern cricketers.