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The tiger was proving to be an elusive beast. Only five minutes remained for the sanctuary to shut for the day and at any moment, they would have to join the snaking queue out of the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. That's when it emerged from behind the shrubbery, the animal they had travelled 180 km to see. All Jonty Rhodes got was a fleeting glimpse of it though. In his excitement, he had asked the driver to stop and reverse the jeep, only for the police escort vehicle behind them to blare its horn and chase the tiger away.
For someone who grew up in the proximity of wildlife in South Africa, it was a rather forgettable experience. Particularly, since the cricketer had gone to a great length to convince the South African team management to ease the stringent security protocol and let him and players Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp travel to the sanctuary during the Champions Trophy in 2006. The trip, however, seemed jinxed from the start. Rhodes, then the Proteas' fielding coach, and his colleagues had hopped onto a jeep at around noon straight from a three-hour strenuous practice session in Jaipur. It took them nearly five hours to reach Ranthambore. "Only to be told that the place shuts at 5 pm," recalls Rhodes, 43. His trek to Ranthambore six years ago, reveals the former South African cricketer, was his first attempt at breaking free from the sheltered, police-escorted life he had experienced on his numerous tours to India previously. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Little did he know that he would be back in the country in a few years, gallivanting across its length and breadth like few foreigners have managed to. Not to forget savouring the sights, sounds and spices of the land.