Tier 3, Divecha Pavilion: a rather unusual spot to be for a man recording every ball bowled. John Rhodes doesn’t seem to mind, though. He’s kept scores at a mind-numbing 200 Tests and a few thousand first-class matches over a period of 60 years now. Yet, he says he is “only 69”.
What started off as a hobby is now a passion, obsession really. “I did my first match way back in 1955,” he says, his eyes focused on the action below. He carries a pad, like the ones kids in India used to take to their exam halls; but this one’s way bigger. And it can accommodate 10 pencils, three of them black and the rest colour.
“You know what, I have watched Vinoo Mankad play in the Lancashire League in the 1950s. Also Vijay Manjrekar,” he recalls, preferring to call him the “original Manjrekar”. Sanjay wouldn’t mind that. “And there was also a man from Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, playing in that league. His name was Bob Barthez and he was white.”
Rhodes, who used to work in the “food industry” in Lancashire, is happily retired now. He’s wearing a T-Shirt with “Old Trafford” on it. “My son is a Manchester United supporter. I don’t watch football; those guys are overpaid,” he says. Maybe he hasn’t heard of Ravindra Jadeja.
So does he do this just for fun? “Sometimes, clubs hire me for a match or two. I pick and choose games, so I am not on any payroll. Once he kept scores for the Zimbabwean team at Lord’s in 2000. He was also there when India were thumped 0-4. “I have a log book,” he says before reaching out to his bag. “I key in all the data from the score sheet to this book after the match is over. Then I seek the autograph of the centurion(s) and bowlers who pick five wickets,” he adds.
“Look at this one. This was after the Lord’s Test last year. That’s Rahul Dravid’s autograph!” Rhodes got Dravid to sign the log book after the Trent Bridge Test too, but he couldn’t make it to The Oval where The Wall scored this third ton of the series. “I’ve also got Brian Lara’s autograph after he scored that 400!” he says, eyes still on Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and their blossoming partnership.
He turns back the pages to show one scoresheet of the ‘spot-fixed’ Test of 2010. “Look at these no-balls. They bowled huge ones, plenty of them.” On the very next page, he’s pasted a note which says why the Test was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Rhodes was in Ahmedabad too and he plans to cover the entire series. His favourite Test? “It has to be the one in which Jim Laker took 19/90 against England at Old Trafford in 1956.” Of course!