Remembered fondly for his incredible athleticism and all-round fielding excellence, former South Africa cricketer Jonty Rhodes is hardly ever recognised for his batting exploits. As great as he was with his understanding of the angles as a close-in fieldsman, Rhodes was also a smart operator with the bat in the Proteas middle-order.
While Rhodes was a competent Test batsman over 52 games for South Africa, it is in one-day cricket where he delivered his best for his country. The aggressive right-hand batsman scored 5,935 runs at an average of 35.11 and strike-rate of 80.90.
Now when modern-day cricket fans are so used to batsmen dominating the proceedings in shorter formats and it is common for players to average in upwards of 40 with a strike-rate well past 90, Rhodes’ numbers may seem inapt to them for a career spanning 245 ODIs.
But fans of the past will know how batters outside a rare few found it an arduous task to maintain a strike-rate above 70 without compromising on their consistency and seeing their averages dip significantly. In that era, for Rhodes to blaze his willow for over 80 runs per 100 balls and still average past 35 shows what an invaluable player he was for South Africa.
When Jonty Rhodes hit cricket’s first-ever reverse sweep maximum
In his prime, Jonty Rhodes was a fantastic middle-order aggressor, who could hit the long ball, plus manipulate the field with adventurous strokes to put the opposition bowlers and captains under great pressure.
An example of Rhodes’ spunky batting and unfazed attitude came during the home summer of 2001-02 where the Proteas were hosting arch-rivals Australia.
During one of the games played in the seven-match ODI series that followed the three Tests on Aussie’s largely successful trip, Rhodes smashed cricket’s first-ever reverse sweep maximum. The maiden instance of a player hitting a six off what remains a highly unorthodox stroke.
Facing part-time leg-spinner Darren Lehmann, Rhodes went on the offensive to a ball bowled closer towards the off-stump. The intent and smarts with which the player always batted were on display here as he gauged the ball’s trajectory quite early and, recognising that Australia have their third-man up, went up and over and sent the ball past the boundary holdings.