MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli key players for India against South Africa: Jonty Rhodes

Virat Kohli’s (above) ability to play of the backfoot will help him in South African conditions, feels Jonty Rhodes © PTI

Mumbai: Jul 24, 2013

Former cricketer Jonty Rhodes gave a huge morale-boost to the Indian batsmen for their upcoming battle against the South African pace attack in the three-Test series later this year, saying they possessed the wherewithal to confront the high-quality home team bowlers led by Dale Steyn.

“In the IPL, they (Indians) are playing against the South Africans and Australians. They have a lot more confidence playing against them. They have the ability and the skill. They are not afraid of the pace,” Rhodes told PTI in an interview in Mumbai.

“Dale Steyn is fast but he is not going to kill you. Vernon Philander bowls 130 kmph but he bowls in good areas and Morne Morkel gets bounce. It needs different skills to face those three different bowlers, but the Indian line up certainly has the ability to outclass the South African pace attack if they put their minds to it,” said the 43-year-old former Proteas player.

India are scheduled to play the world’s highest-ranked Test team in three matches scheduled at Kingsmead (Durban), Newlands (Cape Town) and New Wanderers Stadium (Johannesburg) between December 26 and January 19.

Rhodes, who played 52 Tests and 245 ODIs for South Africa, was in Mumbai as the brand ambassador for his country’s pizza chain ‘Debonairs Pizza’.

The ex-cricketer, renowned for his extraordinary fielding at backward point and who has become a fielding coach after his playing days, termed Virat Kohli and India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the real danger men for his home country as both were good players off the back foot.

“Kohli is a very strong player. He accumulates runs very quickly. He will be a real danger man in South Africa and don’t forget the captain (Dhoni) batting down the order. He [also] scores runs at a fast rate and is not afraid of the short-ball.”

“That is going to be another key in South Africa, the guys who pull and cut. Kohli and Dhoni play very well off the back foot,” he said.

Rhodes said Kohli is the right choice for vice-captaincy and described Dhoni as a street-smart cricketer.

“I have only watched Dhoni during IPL and watched how smart he is. He has got a great record in winning matches and tough contests. He is street smart. His batting is definitely not traditional. Every time he brings in a bowler, every time a new batsman comes to the crease, he has got a specific plan for that. I have great respect for the way he has led the team in the last four seasons,” said the Natal-born player.

He further said playing in South Africa will be tough for a sub-continental team but backed the Indian batsmen, saying that they should occupy the crease for long periods.

“Playing a Test series in South Africa is always difficult for a team from the sub-continent. South Africa are the number one ranked Test team currently. India have struggled a bit in the last year and and a half,” Rhodes said.

“The key to do well in South Africa is to bat for long. There is bounce in the wicket. Even if you win the first session of the day, you could still be bowled out at the end of the day. You have to bat well in all three sessions.”

“India has a team that is capable. They are batting long. Shikhar [Dhawan], Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, all these guys are used to batting for long periods of time. That will be the key when they tour South Africa.”

“They have got a bowling attack that can get 20 wickets but can their batsmen get big runs, that will be the key,” he said.

Rhodes said he looked forward to senior cricketer Tendulkar, who has played 198 Tests and all set to complete a mind-boggling 200th match, to do well.

“Sachin Tendulkar is not in the team because he wants to play 200 Test matches. He wants to do well for the India. He still has got that ability. It is 24 years of international cricket, a record in itself. He is going to play his 200th Test match now. Most records are meant to be broken but I don’t think this is going to broken, not for a very long time anyway.”

Rhodes was diplomatic when asked to respond to former Australian captain Ricky Ponting‘s recent rating of retired West Indian great Brian Lara ahead of the record-setting Indian ace Tendulkar.

“Lara, Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting are the three of the best players I have seen. It’s difficult for me to pick one over the other, but all of them have different reasons for being such top players,” he said.

“It is difficult for me to separate. I know Ricky Ponting would say Brian Lara is the guy who would bat quickly. But you have got to remember that Tendulkar batted for a long period of time and we had to grind ourselves and bat for a long period of time because the wickets were slow and turning, so you couldn’t put bat on ball.”

Rhodes, the fielding coach of the Indian Premier League (IPL) side Mumbai Indians, praised Rohit Sharma and said India’s new ODI opener now needs to establish himself in the team and cement his place.

“He is now opening the batting for India, so it’s a new position for him. He has to find his feet somewhere. As a player he can play anywhere. I really think he is a special player. Good to see him get the opportunity and hopefully convert that and establish himself in the side. If you watched IPL 5, he won us a lot of matches by playing through the innings. In a 20-over game scoring 50 or 60, that is winning the game. He has to convert that.”

The South African advised Sharma to learn from the way Kohli converts his half tons into centuries.

“Virat Kohli’s conversion rate from 50s to 100s is pretty amazing. Once he gets in, he certainly goes through. Maybe it’s a skill that Rohit would take on. He is so gifted and being so talented he plays so many different shots.”

Rhodes backed the much-debated Decision Review System which has come under the microscope with several debatable umpiring decisions occurring during the ongoing England-Australia Ashes rubber.

“I support technology. Innovation or technology, anyway you can make the game fairer to both teams. It might be wrong sometimes, but it is wrong for both sides. Unfortunately human error is something you can’t get away from but if you can reduce that then you have a role within the game.

“You may say we are not going to use it because it is not 100 per cent foolproof but it does reduce the possibility of getting it wrong on the field. I think it is fair for both the teams,” the former cricketer maintained.

Rhodes said though he had not watch all the matches of the ICC Champions Trophy, won by India, he had been impressed by the fielding of players like Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja during the IPL.

“I didn’t see all the matches in Champions Trophy but from what I have seen from IPL, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, [Ravindra] Jadeja, they all are superb. What IPL has done is that it has introduced a whole new level of fielding,” he added.