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Cricket: END OF THE RHODES; Emotions to the fore as Steve signs off...

Byline: BEN MOTTRAM

FORMER England wicketkeeper Steve Rhodes admits he will miss strapping on the pads and going into battle as he prepares to face the final curtain today.

After 20 seasons of dedicated service on the playing staff at New Road, Rhodes will retire from first-class cricket and hand over the gloves to the next generation after the Pears' final game of the season against Lancashire this afternoon.

The 40-year-old has enjoyed a glittering career at Worcestershire, securing a full set of medals with two County Championships, two one-day leagues, the Benson and Hedges Cup, the NatWest Trophy and even the Refuge Assurance Cup.

And although the sands of time have run out on Rhodes' days behind the stumps, the Bradford-born cricketer has revealed that his hunger for success still burns brightly as he now looks forward to his 'second career' on the coaching staff next summer.

'I'm hanging up the gloves but I'm not moving out of the dressing room just yet,' joked Rhodes, who had taken 1,135 catches and completed 123 stumpings going into his final championship match.

'I'm really looking forward to joining the coaching staff and can't wait for my apprenticeship under our director of cricket Tom Moody and for my second career to start.

'Many players when they retire claim the thing they miss the most is the dressing-room banter. This way I'll still have that even though I'm on the other side of the fence.

'There are definitely no regrets over my decision and haven't thought 'maybe I could have done another year' because the club has two young wicket-keepers ready to step up.

'I'm sure there will be times next summer when I will fancy putting on the pads and having a bash, but I know in my heart that now is the right time for a change.

'Having said that, I'mnot thinking about the finishing line yet and I'm desperate to go out with a win. The hunger is still as strong as it was for my first game - you never lose that.' Rhodes was an integral part of the club's golden era in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has remained a fierce competitor behind the stumps and a plucky batsman throughout his time at Worcestershire.

Affectionately nicknamed Bumpy by his team-mates, Rhodes is renowned for being the chirpiest man on the field and insists he will bow out with a smile on his face today - whatever the result.

'I've got so many wonderful memories that I will take with me,' said Rhodes, who was named one of Wisden's five Cricketers of the Year in 1994.

'Playing for England was a huge personal high. Running out to field with Hicky (Graeme Hick) with an international shirt on was very special - it was something that the pair of us had talked about for hours in the slips.

'With Worcester I will always remember the game against Glamorgan a few years ago when we needed maximum points to win the championship on a tricky wicket. Hicky just strode out and smashed a brilliant ton to win the match for us - that was a great day.

'Perhaps hitting my only one-day century at Old Trafford in 1991 to win the Refuge Assurance Cup was my best innings. I certainly picked a good game to get a high score.' Any thoughts Rhodes had of drifting away in the twilight of his career abruptly ended last month when he was put in charge following Ben Smith's shock decision to quit the captaincy.

However, Rhodes insists he has revelled in the added pressure during the final weeks of his playing career.

'Being handed the captaincy has been relatively straightforward and not a massive distraction,' said Rhodes, who made 11 Test appearances for England. 'I've been vicecaptain before and the guys will tell you I never shut up so it makes no difference if I'm captain or not.'

With a handsome victory needed against Lancashire today to preserve the club's topflight status next season, Rhodesknowshe will have little time to reminisce during his final few hours as a Worcestershire player.

However, he admits that when he walks off the field for a final time the memories will come flooding back.

'I will think about all the guys I have played alongside, the good times and the people who have always backed me,' he said.

'The Worcestershire supporters have always been terrific to me. I may have been born up in Yorkshire but this is my home and always will be.

'I'm sure I will have little bit of emotion after the game but I'm going to try to keep it under wraps, although I'm making no promises.'

CAPTION(S):

GAME OVER: Steve Rhodes plays his last match for Worcestershire today before taking on a coaching role
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 12, 2004
Words:801
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