The Critcs: Book Review: Just too much of a good thing

Jonty: Fruits of the spirit By edward griffiths
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The Independent Online
There are times when the life of one of South Africa's favourite cricketing sons reads like the equivalent of a heavily syruped pancake. Jonty Rhodes, it would seem, is perfect. A staggeringly talented athlete, graced with self- discipline and humility and a generally sunny disposition as well as an unshakeable belief in the Divinity.

The mix needs a liberal dose of lemon juice to cut through the cloying sweetness, but there is none to hand. As biographies go, Edward Griffiths' study (CAB, pounds 9.99; available from Sports Pages, Charing Cross Road) is as frustrating as it is fascinating.

Those emotions are not confined to Rhodes' exemplary behaviour. Griffiths' style quickly irritates. He overplays the terse word-as-sentence, sentence- as-paragraph device: "...and collapsed dramatically at the wicket. Unconscious." Or: "...and, each time, they had ended with nothing. Chokers." There are some sloppy mistakes which would indicate the publication was rushed through, leading to howlers such as: "...to run out Ali[stair] Brown with a direct hint." A handy one no doubt.

On the man himself the impression is of confused reasoning when looking for what drives the inner Rhodes to become so good at sport. Take the enjoyment of it. There is an innate sense that enjoyment of anything, let alone sport, is spontaneous. You like something or you don't. So it is a trifle disturbing to read: "He was relentlessly taught to enjoy the game, for the game's sake - for no other reason." This was the young Rhodes in his formative years and it smacks of indoctrination.

In fact he clearly enjoyed sport from the outset. The family home in Pietermaritzburg had a hallway large enough to accommodate Rhodes' and his two brothers' appetite for all games. "We played sport all the time," he says. "Every sport, every day."

Commendable, but just a touch one-dimensional when that appetite for games prompts statements such as: "My time at Merchiston [a prep school] was the busiest... There was hardly ever a spare minute. The worst period of the week was from after sport on Saturday morning until Monday when we could start with sport again." Had the youngster not heard of books, for heaven's sake?

Academe hung around in the background. Little mention is made other than his taking four and a half years to gain a degree in commerce, a qualification which had to take second place to his cricket and hockey commitments.

His religious beliefs are not to be sneered at, and indeed he has a remarkably broad-minded approach to Christianity: "I can feel as close to God fielding at backward point as I would in a church." Yet one cannot help but detect a suspicion of piety when he credits the Lord with the hundred he scored against England at Lord's last summer. He received a letter which told him that it had been down to his own work. Rhodes disagreed saying: "That was the devil at work. He tempts us to be selfish and proud."

As an example of clean-cut, clean-living, Boys' Own hero, this man's life embraces the lot. He has his cross to bear, the epilepsy which is induced when he is struck on the head (as he has been frequently in cricket), but Rhodes copes with it as he copes with any adversity, with a smile.

But these fruits of the spirit are just a bit too much to swallow all at once. There appears to be too much perfection in one so young. Too good to be true. Not so the book.

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