In the fourth part of a new series, ANDRE HUISAMEN identifies the elegant Jacques Rudolph as one of the most underrated former Proteas.
From a record-breaking score in his Test debut in Bangladesh to ultimately a career full of ups and downs on and off the field, Rudolph remained a class act.
The Pretoria-born probably never fulfilled his potential as one of the most dynamic South African batsmen since the turn of the century but, growing up, Rudolph was everything I expected a national cricketer to be.
During a time when the opening spot alongside Graeme Smith was firmly up for grabs in the Test team, Rudolph appeared to be the saving grace after scoring 222 not out on debut against Bangladesh in Chittagong back in 2003.
To this day, it remains the highest Test score on debut by a left-handed batsman and evident of a player who patiently waited in line for the smallest of opportunities.
Rudolph developed as one of the brightest talents from South African cricket’s domestic system, scoring runs for fun throughout his career at the Titans and Eagles before representing Yorkshire, Surrey and Glamorgan in the County Championship.
A call-up to the Proteas fold was pretty imminent from a young age. But, he started his international career on the back foot after being controversially removed from the team to start against Australia in 2002.
He would, however, respond in style when he eventually got a crack at it a year later, which led to a breakthrough season for Rudolph as he was named the South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year for 2003.
Another instant classic moment, when thinking about Rudolph’s career, has to be his heroic century against Australia at the WACA in Perth back in December 2005 – he batted for more than a day to save the Proteas from the jaws of defeat.
Rudolph oozed class and was a perfect fit for a Proteas team that began to develop into a strong and competitive unit.
Unfortunately, he also readily aired his thoughts and concerns in public.
In 2007, Rudolph signed a Kolpak deal with Yorkshire, ultimately declaring himself unavailable for South African selection.
Quite outspokenly, Rudolph then made it no secret that he wasn’t happy with Cricket South Africa’s quota system. He angered many Proteas fans when he declared his desire to hopefully represent England one day in line with his move to the UK’s county system.
But, in 2011, on the back of a few very successful seasons at Yorkshire, Rudolph returned to the Proteas fold under Gary Kirsten. Those Proteas went on a famous run of victories over the likes of Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka, and has been described by some as the greatest South African Test team ever.
Rudolph’s role then was pretty influential and despite not always receiving the recognition for his efforts, he quietly remained consistent and went about his business in a somewhat charismatic fashion.
These days Rudolph is a photographer of African wildlife, heavily involved with nature conservation in South Africa.
Rudolph might not have been everyone’s cup of tea for certain controversial reasons and, in many instances fans had the right to be angry at him, but to me he was everything the ‘gentlemen’s game’ is all about.