Tone-setter Rhodes the fielder of dreams

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The Independent Online

Jonty Rhodes may be 34 but he is the best fielder playing in England, which made Worcestershire's 41st run yesterday quite remarkable. Vikram Solanki played a shot to backward point and when the ball ran through the famously safe hands of Rhodes, the batsmen stole a quick single. Rhodes raised his hand to acknowledge his error to his Gloucestershire team-mates, which was remarkable because his errors are so infrequent.

He was more like himself when Anurag Singh played a ball gently into the covers, started for a run and stopped short when he saw Rhodes swooping in. Solanki, who was halfway up the pitch, turned sharply, but it made no difference. Rhodes scored a direct hit on the stumps at the bowler's end. That was the real Jonty Rhodes.

Ben Smith, Worcestershire's captain paid homage to him in defeat. "Backward point is a crucial area and Jonty can stop the ball on his right and his left. Having him is like having two fielders. He sets the standard and the precedent." Mark Alleyne noted the uncertainty his presence caused the Worcestershire batsmen: "It builds up the pressure," he said.

That run out was identified by both captains as a crucial moment. Worcestershire were 64 without loss in the 17th over and starting to cruise. The dismissal started a slide, the next nine wickets - many of them the result of more fine fielding by Gloucestershire - falling for 85 runs.

Matthew Windows, who caught Graeme Hick at extra cover, dived like a goalkeeper to cut off drives headed for the boundary. Ian Harvey at square leg displayed the variety of athleticism we expect from Australians and Martyn Ball was utterly reliable at first slip. None of the three catches he took was especially difficult but there was no question of his missing them. It is a shame he can't field substitute for England, as he did in India two winters ago.

Behind the stumps was the ageing (40 a couple of weeks ago), but peerless, Jack Russell. When Solanki had the temerity to charge Mike Smith, Russell stood up to him and remained there for the rest of the innings, running out Ben Smith and stumping Matthew Mason, who went down the pitch to a Ball off-break that was turning sharply down the leg side. It was as pretty as a picture: a self-portrait may be called for. But it was Rhodes who consistently caught the eye.

His international career with South Africa is over now and county cricket provides him with a plush retirement home. He must earn about £70,000 a year for five months work, and it goes a lot further in Durban than it would in Bristol.

Yet Rhodes is an unlikely main man. He remains an unreconstructed admirer of the late, bent Hansie Cronje. But his energy, spontaneity and commitment in the field are irresistible.

He is the clapping man. He claps twice before striding in, cat-like, as each ball is delivered. He claps at the end of the over, before trotting in from point to pat the bowler on the back as he walks down to third man before turning to Mark Alleyne and putting his arm around the captain's shoulder while passing on advice as they walk back down the wicket.

Rhodes was hardly called upon to play a part in the second act of yesterday's St John's Wood Massacre.

He came in at the fall of the third wicket with only 18 runs required. He hit a neat four off his legs but there was not enough time to show his wares as a batsman. It had been a short day's work, but a good one.

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