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Fielder of dreams
By Oliver Brett

The phrase "burst onto the scene" is an over-used cliché but in the case of Jonty Rhodes that is exactly what happened for him on 22 March, 1992.

South Africa were playing in their first World Cup and Inzamam-ul-Haq was going well as Pakistan chased a low target in Brisbane.

Jonty Rhodes in action
Matches: 245
Catches: 105
Runs: 5,935
Highest score: 121
Average: 35.11

Inzamam went for a risky run and the next thing television viewers saw was a horizontal green blur followed by three flattened stumps.

In a fraction of a second, Rhodes had worked out that he could pick up the ball and hurl himself at the stumps before Inzamam could regain his ground.

Rhodes ended that tournament regarded as the best fielder in the world and it is an accolade he has never lost.

Always to be found at backward point but usually able to patrol most of the ground between gully and cover, Rhodes has taken some of the finest catches the game has seen.

The 33-year-old's batting has never been as brilliant as his fielding, though he has always had a phenomenal eye.

And his decision to retire from Test cricket in the middle of 2000 actually heralded a period of sustained success with the bat in one-day internationals.

Now Rhodes, with Allan Donald the only survivor of that 1992 World Cup squad, has managed just two matches of South Africa's campaign this time around.

He broke a bone in his hand while fielding on Wednesday in South Africa's win over Kenya at Potcehfstroom, and has been replaced by Graeme Smith.

And it seems likely he will not play for South Africa again, as he had already announced he would retire after the tournament.

So how will today's cricket fans explain the Rhodes phenomenon to their grandchildren in 50 years' time? They will tell them that Rhodes effectively made fielding cool.

He inspired youngsters to hurl themselves at the ball, and took some of the most outrageous catches ever.

And his exuberance inspired coaches all round the world to make sure all fielders would give 100% commitment.

Above all, his constant clapping and shouting - inspiring his bowlers and irritating the opposing batsmen no end - created an irresistible buzz in any match that South Africa played.

'Hell of a blow'

As a junior, Rhodes shone in football and hockey.

In fact so good was his hockey that if South Africa had qualified for the Olympics in 1992, Rhodes may well have gone to Barcelona rather than play in the World Cup that year.

And the epilepsy from which he suffers has at no stage undermined his ability to perform at the highest level.

Now, if the World Cup runs to form and Australia meet South Africa at the Wanderers on 23 March, not only will we miss the presence of the best spinner ever in the final in Shane Warne, but also the finest fielder as well.

And however well Messrs Pollock, Gibbs, Gilchrist and Lee perform, it simply won't be the same.

As former South African bowler Fanie de Villiers said: "He's the best thing that South African cricket ever had, both on and off the field. It's a hell of a blow."

South African all-rounder Jonty Rhodes
"I really see it as a blessing"

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