Jacques Rudolph—Neither a Jack nor a master of the batting trade

In January 2007, Jacques Rudolph removed himself from the international arena and joined Yorkshire in an attempt to rediscover his batting. He signed a three-year Kolpak deal which automatically made him ineligible to play for South Africa © Getty Images

On May 4, 1981 Jacobus Andries Rudolph popularly known to the cricketing fraternity as Jacques Rudolph was born at Springs, Transvaal. If prophesies were to be believed, he was envisaged to be one of the greatest South African Test batsmen looking at the sheer weightage of runs at the domestic cricket. But even after 12 seasons of international cricket Rudolph is yet to establish himself in the South African team. But with the propensity of grinding out epics, Rudolph’s insatiable hunger for scoring tonnes of runs makes him one of the game’s greatest batsmen albeit in the First-Class cricket. At the international level modesty has been the order of his career. Sarang Bhalerao looks at the career of Rudolph.

Disenchantment, shudder and joie de vivre these are the three epithets one would associate with Jacques Rudolph in the early part of his career.

Disenchantment: As a 21-year-old he was selected to play against India at the SuperSport Park, Centurion in 2001 but after the sordid episode of Mike Denness, where the match referee suspended six Indians the scheduled third Test match was considered as a First-Class game after severe protests from BCCI. For Rudolph, playing an international attack it was akin to a paid internship before a full-time job. Yet the world-wordiness pervaded since the Test debut eluded him.

Shudder: There are a few things beyond your control. When South Africa toured Australia in the summer of 2001/02 Rudolph waited patiently for his chance. Finally when he was chosen to play the third and the final Test match at the Sydney, an unexpected announcement came during the last minute. United Cricket Board president Percy Sonn forced the selectors to change the side. Rudolph had to make way for his room-mate Justin Ontong. “It was not a great experience, but you learn from things like this and they build your character,” Rudolph later admitted to Wisden Cricket Asia.

Joie de vivre: After waiting patiently Rudolph became the 289th Test cricketer for South Africa in Test cricket at Chittagong against Bangladesh. “Past incidents had taught me that international cricket is harsh and patience is a useful bedfellow,” said Rudolph. The debut game was Rudolph’s chance to vindicate his selection in the team. He entered history books. The innings of unbeaten 222 was a compendium of concentration, doctrine in discipline and exemplification of excellence. The third wicket record breaking stand of 429 with Boeta Dippenaar was another feather in the cap for Rudolph.

“I have learned that you have got to be more patient, and that shot selection needs to be much better at this level. I am a great believer in the power of the mind. Even if you give your best, you can always do better,” said Rudolph to Wisden Cricket Asia.

Life after dream debut

South Africa visited England in 2003 to play five-match Test series. The series was level at 2-2. Rudolph failed to make a decent impression; scoring 132 runs at an average of 14.67 with 55 being his top-score in the fourth Test at Leeds.

In 2004, he scored his second Test hundred against West Indies at Cape Town scoring 101 as South Africa piled up 532 in the first innings. The match was drawn but South Africa won the four-match series by the margin of 3-0.

In March 2004, Rudolph had a very good tour of New Zealand where he scored 72, 0, 17, 154*, 93* and 0 in the six innings. The series was drawn at 1-1.

In August 2005, the biggest challenge awaited Rudolph as South Africa visited Sri Lanka. In the first Test at Galle, he scored 102 against the attack that comprised Chaminda Vaas, Ferveez Mahroof, Muttiah Muralitharan and Upul Chandana.
Against India, he scored 61 in the second Test match at Kolkata but in the other three innings of the two-match Test series Rudolph struggled.

At Perth in 2005, Rudolph played a match saving innings of 102 not out against Australia. He was slowly developing into an integral member of the South African batting line-up.

But a string of promising starts and lack of big scores made his case quite complicated. Ashwell Prince another left-hander was impressive and he was competing with Rudolph for the middle-order spot. Eventually after the Sri Lankan series of 2006, Rudolph was dropped from the South African Test team.

The county season

In January 2007, Rudolph removed himself from the international arena and joined Yorkshire in an attempt to rediscover his batting. He signed a three-year Kolpak deal which automatically made him ineligible to play for South Africa. “No one wants to lose a player of Jacques’ class, but we are building for 2008 and there’s no point involving Jacques now if he can’t be in our plans for later. But it might be a win/win situation because I’m sure Jacques will get more depth to his batting while he’s over there,” said Mickey Arthur the then coach of South Africa.

At Yorkshire, in the company of Pakistan’s middle-order batsman Younis Khan and England’s Michael Vaughan, and with legendary Geoffrey Boycott being an active part of the club, Rudolph was committed to discover his own game. He found the environment professional which was opposite to what he was used to in South Africa where things were too intense at times.

In the first season with Yorkshire, Rudolph extended his contract till 2011. But he was released in early part of 2011 since Rudolph wanted to return home. Rudolph returned in the second part of the county season but could not prevent Yorkshire from relegation. In 2012, Surrey signed Rudolph as their overseas player as cover to Murali Kartik.

Return to the South African Domestic competition

Rudolph was part of Titans team. He scored 954 runs in 10 matches for Titans. In the MTN40 he scored 383 runs at the strike rate of over 100 while in the Pro20 league he was the second highest scorer.
The rich vein of form was noticed by the selectors and Rudolph was included in the South African Test team against visiting Australian team after a hiatus of five years. “His experience and current form make him an asset to South Africa and at the age of 30 he has plenty of good years of cricket ahead of him. Jacques has underlined once again the importance of good domestic form and the fact that it is the gateway to national selection,” said Andrew Hudson, the selection convenor.

Rudolph flattered to deceive not for the first time. He often got starts but failed to score big. He played away from the body and the bowlers seemed to have worked him out at the international arena. One felt that Rudolph played too many shots. He did not bide his time.

At Dunedin, another failure would have permanently ended his Test career. Rudolph was asked to bat at No. 6. It was a lifeline given to him in order to resuscitate his career. Rudolph justified that faith shown on him by the selectors and scored an unbeaten 105.

Against Australia in 2012 Rudolph failed to make a significant impact in the series. After the first two Test matches he was dropped in favour of Dean Elgar. Rudolph lost his way during his second international stint; so much was promised but it was akin to a mirage.

Jacques Rudolph—Neither a Jack nor a master of the batting trade

Jacques Rudolph lost his way during his second international stint; so much was promised but it was akin to a mirage © Getty Images

No more a contracted player

In March 2013, Rudolph wasn’t awarded the central contract by Cricket South Africa. Rudolph’s second coming in international cricket was not successful.

He is keen to move to Durham. Rudolph would prove a proficient signing having played 48 Tests and having been part of several seasons in county cricket, predominantly with Yorkshire for whom he has amassed 5,429 first-class runs at 52.20. He also played five matches for Surrey at the beginning of 2012.
Rudolph is itching to bat for long periods and score more runs. He has that predisposition in the First Class games. Sadly that trait was sporadic when he was part of South African Test team. What prevented Rudolph from becoming an all-time great batsman is a million-dollar question.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)