Rhodes: Israelis' would make great cricketers

Former South African international tells 'Post' developing cricket in a country with no history of the game difficult, but definitely positive.

Jonty Rhodes 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
Jonty Rhodes 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Former South African international Jonty Rhodes believes Israelis would make great cricketers due to their tenacious attitude. Rhodes is in Israel to play on an Israel Invitation XI in a three-match one day series against India A starting Sunday, organized as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. The 38-year old Rhodes played for the South African national team from 1992 to 2003 until he was forced to retire due to injuries. He was voted one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1999, and is considered by many cricket experts to be the best fielder the game has ever known. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Friday at the Israel Invitational XI practice ground in Hadar Yosef, Rhodes said developing cricket in a country with no history and culture of the game is difficult, but definitely positive. He also said he thinks Israelis have what it takes. Saying his only experience of Israel was through Leon Uris's book 'Exodus', Rhodes was "desperate" to come to Israel, and is taking the time off between his three games this week to travel to the north and Jerusalem with his wife. "I'm a Christian, so for me this place has a massive relevance and I was desperate to come. Leon Uris's 'Exodus' is the closest I've ever got. I loved it, couldn't put it down," Rhodes said, adding that he hasn't been to a new country since he played in Bangladesh for the first time in 1998. "My knowledge of Israel comes from the 'Exodus' and how tenacious and determined the people here are to have transformed the desert into this thriving economy. It's genius, and the people here are tenacious to be able to make a living in a really harsh environment," he said. "I think they really would make great cricket players. If you can turn a desert into a garden you would be an awesome cricketer because you have determination and grit." The Israeli invitation team will consist of Jewish cricketers from around the world, including former South Africa international player Adam Bacher. Bacher, who will captain the Invitation team, has been to Israel on several occasions in the past, and has represented strong South African teams to the Maccabiah games. Other players will come from Australia, Ireland, India, South Africa and Israel. One Israel team member, Solomon Varsulkar, the 20-year old left arm spinner, was the first Israeli ever chosen by International Cricket Council Europe as one of the world's finest young talents, to participate in the 2008 ICC Cricket Academy 2008 in India. Chairman of the Israel Cricket Association Stanley Perlman, is proud that the series is being played. "This is an achievement in itself to assemble the greatest Jewish cricket players from around the world," He said. "There aren't many Jewish players in the world today," but assured the fans that, "the guys are cricketers in their own right." In bringing this international match up to Israel in celebration of its 60th anniversary, Perlman hopes to spread the fanfare of the game in Israel. "We are building it up. The demand is small, but it is the strongest non-Olympic sport out there right now." The BCCI, the governing body for cricket in India, accepted the invitation from Perlman earlier this year to send a team to the event. The India A team will consist of "fringe players," and those who have caught the eye of the Indian selection committee during the recent Indian Premier League tournament, according to Cricinfo. Bensiyon Songavkar, an Indian Jew, will be in the interesting position of playing for the Israel Invitational team against his countrymen. "I will be playing against an Indian team in Israel for an Israeli team and that will be a bit strange. But I am looking forward to the trip," Songavkar said before his arrival. The games between the Israel Invitation XI and India A will take place in Ashdod Park on July 13, 14, and 16 starting at 10 a.m. Daniel Kuhn contributed to this report For more of Amir Mizroch's articles, see his personal blog Forecast Highs