Name: Jonathan Neil Rhodes
Born: July 26, 1969 in Pietermaritzburg
Profession: Cricketer and entrepreneur
Family: Wife Kate, and children, Daniella, and Ross
First job: Member of South African cricket team
Favourite food: Anything goes
Favourite drink: Wine
Favourite destination: India
Mantra: Live every day to the fullest
The appam and the lamb stew have just been served at Dakshin -the South Indian specialty restaurant at the Sheraton in Delhi, and as we uncork a bottle of 10 Chapters Shiraz, Jonty Rhodes lets out a sigh-"this is my second lunch in the last 30 minutes. I have been to India so many times and I just love the food. And yes, I know how to eat appams." He laughs as we sip the wine- something that has brought this South African cricketing legend to India.
Funny as it sounds, I am not meeting Jonty for a cricketing interview. Today, he is not even here as a sportsperson, but as a Partner and Director of his wine company 10 Chapters.
"I am a wine convert. Nearly 20 years ago when South Africa reentered international cricket, we were all a bunch of beer drinking guys. We hadn't toured anywhere in years and didn't know what sophistication meant. It was just 'manly' to drink beer, so we did that. Today, though, the entire team drinks more wine than beer. Wine is good for your health. And I find it a great mood enhancer as well. There's nothing that I like more than a glass of chardonnay or shiraz, on a cool evening at home in Durban."
How did a cricketer get into the wine business, though? "I always loved wines. And when an old school friend asked if I would join him in his wine making business, I readily agreed. I am happy that as a celebrity I am able to market the wine to all parts of the world. I am not a wine expert by any stretch of imagination. The one thing I am good at, though, is drinking the wine and saying 'this is great'. That's what I am here for, to help Vijay Mallya and United Vintners market our wines in India," he says.
Jonty turns 40 in July next year, and yet, those toned muscles and that superb physique is just as it was when he was a sprightly 28-year-old flying through the air to catch a blinder on the cricket field. How does he manage to stay so fit (despite the wine)? "I am actually quite small in size for a South African, unlike the giants I had for mates in the team, for instance. And I never really believed much in weight training. It's more of running, surfing, and mountain biking for me. I follow the routine everyday and, of course, do a lot of stretches."
What about those magical reflexes on the field? "I used to practice with Gary Kirsten (current India cricket coach). I would stand 15 feet away against a five metre-wide goal post and ask Gary to hit the cricket ball hard at me. The bet was that I wouldn't let any of the shots go past me." Now I know why this guy is no ordinary mortal. Lesser men would end up with broken fingers-if not broken limbs-were they to stop a cricket ball hit hard from that distance.
But that's enough of cricket for now. The Fish in Coconut Sauce has been served, a new bottle of wine has been uncorked and Jonty gets busy with the food again. "Every time I come to India, I put on 3 kilos," he jokes. "It means an extra 5 miles of mountain biking when I get back to Durban."
It's time to pose for the photo ops, and Jonty obliges by doing a few jumps in the air, drinking a glass of wine, posing on the stairs of the hotel and even giving me an old Proteas rugby hug. "I used to play a lot of sports you know-rugby, soccer and hockey. I even got selected for the South African Hockey team for the Barcelona Olympics in 1996. But I refused since cricket was my life. And now, of course, it's cricket and wine."