Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the build-up to 2019 World Cup in the countdown of the greatest moments in the tournament’s history. You can read the entire series here.
There are the world’s best fielders and then there is Jonty Rhodes.
The South African has largely been credited with revolutionising fielding in the 90s – so much so that his ability with the bat and running between the wickets would often get overshadowed by the acrobatics he could pull off in the field standing at backward point.
There was a statistical data piece published by ESPNcricinfo in 2005 that showed that Rhodes had the ninth highest number of run-outs since the 1999 World Cup, giving credence to arguments by some experts that he wasn’t the most accurate thrower in the field.
But it was one run out on March 8, 1992 at Brisbane in the World Cup league encounter that build the legend of the man from Pietermaritzburg, who had made his ODI debut in the opening match of the tournament a few days earlier. The entire incident probably lasted just for a few seconds but the memories of that superman like dive are still fresh in the mind of everyone who watched that game live in the ground or on their television sets.
Till that moment, Rhodes was probably just a rookie trying to find his feet in the tournament and his abilities went largely unnoticed by the fans and commentators. It’s a different matter that his ability to leap up from the ground that ultimately gave him the foundation to build his cricket career.
Rhodes was an equally brilliant hockey player and may have played for South Africa had the Proteas hockey team qualified for the 1992 Olympics. But the ability to sprint and quickly changed directions, which is important for a hockey player, came in handy for him on the cricket field.
Pakistan had done well to restrict South Africa to 211 and even though the target was revised to 194 from 36 overs after a rain interruption, it looked like Imran Khan’s team would ease through to victory with the talented Inzamam-ul-Haq and the skipper himself at the crease with score reading 135 for 2.
But it was clear that Pakistan needed to up the run rate and 19-year-old Inzamam tried to heave the ball to the mid-wicket fence but the ball hit his pad and trickled towards backward point.
Inzamam took off for a quick single as hitting the single visible stump from point was always considered a difficult preposition for any fielder. But his call for a quick single was turned down by Imran Khan and the youngster, who was looking in good touch till then, had to return from midway.
Rhodes wasn’t sure about knocking down the stumps from a distance and tried to rush in to get closer to the stumps as Inzamam turned to return to his crease.
It was at this moment that Rhodes instinctively decided to flung himself at the stumps, instead of throwing the ball at the stumps. He shattered all three stumps with his body was parallel to the ground.
Recalling that run-out, Rhodes recently told the officials Pakistan Super League website, ”I don’t think Inzi was a slow runner. He was 19 at that time. We had not seen him before, so it wasn’t the case of he was not good at running. There was a bit of thunderstorm, so the ball was wet and we needed a wicket as Inzamam and Imran Khan were taking Pakistan to our total.
“So, we were battling to get a breakthrough. I felt if I threw at the stumps, that there was a chance that I might miss. I could see from the corner of my eye that Imran did not move from the crease. So, Inzi had to move back and I had to come from the circle. But, Inzi surprised me by his speed and that’s why I had to dive through the air and ran him out.”
While that run out build a legend around Rhodes, it also gave Inzamam a slow mover tag that he failed to shrug off despite playing an important role in the semi-finals of the same World Cup, which Pakistan went on to win, and making almost 20,000 runs across all formats for the national team.