In love with India

In love with India

Jonty Rhodes, one of the greatest fielders cricket has witnessed, was admired for his unceasing energy on the field. Be it his athleticism or his unorthodox yet smart batting style, the South African brought something extra to his team.

Rhodes' gentleman nature makes him a big hit off the field as well wherever he travels. Rhodes is a much-loved figure in India and the feeling is mutual. Rhodes is very expressive about his connection with India and the bond seems to be getting stronger with his every visit to the country.    

A self-confessed outdoor enthusiast, the 48-year-old began exploring the culture of the country during his stay here with the Mumbai Indians for the Indian Premier League. Post his retirement, Rhodes joined the MI set-up as the fielding coach in 2009. In the last nine years, Rhodes has enjoyed understanding the rich diversity of India.

So special is the attachment that Rhodes even named his daughter India. "India is a very spiritual yet a forward-thinking nation. I like the combination. You have to have a good balance of life. With the name like India, she will have the best of both worlds and that sort of balance is nice," Rhodes had revealed the reason behind the name in 2015.

After a long stint, the IPL is set to miss Rhodes. He parted ways with MI ahead of the 11th  edition to focus on his business venture in India. Rhodes says his memories in India as a player are worth cherishing.

"My connection with India has definitely changed. As a player, you arrive at the airport, check in to the hotel and prepare for the game. The craze for the game is huge in India. The waiters and room boys would ask for autographs, photographs and match passes in every city and this is something I can never forget. As a player, you never get away from the attention. But you try and remove yourself from the public and focus on the game," he says.

Post his cricketing days, he describes how he embraced the adventurous side of him in the south of India. "I bought a Royal Enfield bike and I would ride to the team practice during IPL. I would surf in Mangalore and Mulki and in two or three spots in Vizag and Tamil Nadu. In Vizag, I would borrow a surf boat from a surf coach who is a good friend of mine. In this manner, I have tried to see as much as of India. I grew up in an area that was completely separated from the white community in South Africa. What I have learnt as a player and as a traveller is that the more you talk and spend time with people the more you learn about yourself."

Rhodes' wife, Melanie Wolf, is no less fond of the country. "Fortunately, my wife also enjoys India. I was doing commentary when India travelled to South Africa recently and I was based in Mumbai. My wife went to Hrishikesh along with the two babies. India was nearly three years while Nathan was just eight months old. I joined them and we had a great time. We bathed in the Ganga and offered prayers. She is not entirely committed to India but she shares my love for the country. We are under no illusions about the country's problems. There are issues back in South Africa as well. We aren't looking India through rose-tinted glasses. There are certain things we really respect about this country and we enjoy coming here," he explains.

Apart from surfing, motorbike riding is something that has interested Rhodes in India. "Getting to places in India is difficult. I don't ride bikes in South Africa because the speeds are excessive. People move around at 130 or 140 km/h. I only ride in India. I am here for four months in a year and if I stay in a particular city for a long time then I decide to go biking. I speak to one of the dealers and he gets me a bike. In Chennai, I ride on the east coast road while I have taken a bike to the Amer Fort in Jaipur. When in Mumbai, it's fun riding to Lonavla for breakfast. Riding a bike is another way of experiencing a place. I was never a car or bike guy actually. In fact, I am the brand ambassador for Montra cycles in India. But biking is a good way to see the country," he offers.

Rhodes agrees that he will miss being a part of the IPL, a league that has played a major role in his life. "I keep meeting players like Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik at different events. So I don't yes miss the IPL but once the league starts then it will start hitting me that I am no longer part of it. IPL has played a huge role in my life. But I have started a business venture in India and if I have to be with the IPL, then I have to dedicate two months to it. But I need to spend quality time for the venture and hence I took the decision," he says.

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