Rhodes credits the Pakistani great for his entry into cricketing folklore as one of the greatest fielders ever.
Twenty-one years ago, Colombia’s Rene Higuita left the football world wondering whether he had changed goalkeeping forever with his pyrotechnics: the superlative ‘Scorpion Kick’ save.
On Sept 6, 1995, England, on course to starting a new chapter after failing to make it to the 1994 World Cup, were playing Colombia in a friendly at Wembley.
The unbelievable happened when Jamie Redknapp took a shy at the Colombian goal, only to be blocked by Higuita.
Only, it wasn’t an ordinary save. Higuita dived forward, legs curled up behind him like a scorpion’s tail, and tapped the ball with the soles of his boots to safety outside the six-yard box, leaving over 20,000 Wembley spectators gaping.
Three years earlier, something equally out of the ordinary had occurred on a cricket pitch during the 1992 World Cup, when South African Jonty Rhodes sent Inzamam-ul-Haq back to the pavilion with a stunning diving run-out.
Rhodes, in an exclusive interview with Dawn, credited the Pakistani great for his entry into cricketing folklore as one of the greatest fielders ever.
During his recent visit to Karachi in connection with the coaching-based TV reality show ‘Kriket Superstars’, Rhodes said it was Inzamam’s run-out on March 8, 1992 at Brisbane that pitch-forked him into international limelight.
South Africa scored 211 in the allotted 50 overs. But rain interruptions reduced Pakistan’s innings to 36 overs and the target was revised to 194.
“It was a wet day. We had to get a wicket. There was big storm in Brisbane that afternoon so the ball was wet,” recalled Rhodes, who had debuted against hosts Australia a few days earlier and went on to represent the Proteas in 245 ODIs.
“In those days, batting second with a rain-rule was very tough. Inzy and Imran were at the crease and were going crazy. But also in [our] defence, our players couldn’t hold the ball as it was a very wet outfield,” he reminisced.
Rhodes said he had already seen Inzamam running towards the non-striker’s end, and also Imran raising his hand as if signalling, ‘I am not coming’.
“When I got the ball I thought Inzamam was very far down the wicket and I was on the circle because we were trying to save the boundary,” he said, describing what flashed through his mind those precious seconds.
“I was looking at the stumps, I could see Inzamam there and I could see Imran. Inzy was already a big boy at age 22, though a bit slow, so I thought I would have more time just to run there and pull it off.”
South Africa were in desperate need of a wicket, but the ball was wet and a direct throw may have missed the stumps so Rhodes just dived at it.
“It was a good picture, the run-out. But it was close, Steve Buckner could have easily said not out as there was no third umpire. It was out, but very close,” he recalled.
The South African never looked back after that astonishing piece of athleticism, which became a ‘perfect photograph’.
Rhodes said his on-field presence of mind was not an example of some natural brilliance, but a result of playing different sport as he grew up.
“My fielding was a combination of tennis, returning serve, left or right movement, football as a centre-forward, goalkeeper, the goalkeeper would cut the angle down.
“As a backward-point fielder I saw myself as a goalkeeper so I would get closer to the batsman where the ball comes faster. So I have to get ready before the ball is bowled; anticipation was the key.
“I was a hockey player as well. You run to the ball with the end of a stick in a low position. So I could run quickly in a bent-over position. Running to pick up the ball for me was very easy as I could move quickly.”
Fortunately for him, all that ‘practice lessons’ clicked on the day it mattered, and he executed a run-out that triggered Pakistan’s collapse at the Gabba.
When Inzamam fell two runs short of a personal half-century, Pakistan were cruising at 135-2. But with his departure Pakistan’s fightback also vanquished as they ended 21 runs short of the target.
It was South Africa’s fifth game in the tournament, and with two wins and two losses till then, a crucial one for them, as it was for the Imran Khan-led ‘cornered’ tigers, who had only one win in their four matches up to that point.
Pakistan were battling for survival, nobody at that point would have dared predict that at the end of the World Cup, it would be Imran who would be holding the famous Waterford crystal trophy, and Inzamam, then a rough diamond, who would go on to become a national hero.
The sports pages the next day featured the match report with an accompanying photograph showing a Rhodes in midair running Inzamam out.
“Inzamam and that photographer launched my cricket career,” Rhodes, now 47, said with obvious relish.
— Header photo: V.V. Krishnan/The Hindu
Published in Dawn October 11th, 2016