One of the quirks of being a cricket writer when there is no cricket on are that you take frequent trips taken down memory lane. I was recently taken back to 2006, for an I Was There article reliving Sri Lanka's one-wicket win over South Africa in Colombo, the last series South Africa lost away from home for nine years, until they went to India in 2015.
My first port of call was Mickey Arthur, the coach on that tour, who went on to oversee the start of South Africa's successful run away from home and is now in charge of Sri Lanka. Then I chatted to Andrew Hall, the allrounder who never quite got the Test run he wanted. Also on my radar was Jacques Rudolph; Colombo was the match that marked the end of his first stint as an international cricketer.
Rudolph has always been easy to approach and interesting to talk to, and has regularly been on these pages. He also isn't afraid to talk about tough topics, so I figured he wouldn't mind discussing not just the Test defeat but the series that resulted in him being dropped. He was more than happy to give me some time.
On the arranged day, we exchanged pleasantries and he told me about his travels earlier in the month. When South Africa moved from its strictest level of lockdown to one that allowed slightly more activity, Rudolph relocated his family and his four- and two-year-old sons from his parents' home in Bloemfontein, where they had been for five weeks, to his primary residence in Pretoria, so he could return to work. He needed a permit to make the journey, not least because the maximum number of people allowed to travel in a regular car is three and Rudolph's family consists of four members. "It was all okay in the end and we are back home now," he said.
So about that match in Colombo…
"Listen, I am not so good at remembering past matches," Rudolph said. "I'm just not sure how much I am going to add about that game. But I've got another story you might like."
I was all ears.
"Remember when I was dropped in 2005?"
I wondered if he had decided to reverse roles with me and test my memory, and though I couldn't say I remembered it decisively, Statsguru reminded me that Rudolph lost his Test place midway through South Africa's four-Test tour to the West Indies.
"The next Test tour was to Australia, and I didn't think I was going to go but then Boeta [Dippenaar, who is also Rudolph's business partner today] required surgery on his wrist so I was picked as the replacement batter. And then Jacques Kallis had an injury, so I played in the warm-up matches and I scored a fifty in one of them and I was picked for the first Test because Kallis hadn't recovered in time," Rudolph said.
"In the second innings of that Test [in Perth], I scored a hundred," he said.
Not just any hundred. A match-saving hundred.
Australia set South Africa an improbable 491 and got rid of Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers early. At the start of the fifth day, they needed eight wickets to win the Test. Rudolph spent a total of seven hours and 11 minutes in the middle, keeping Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, at bay and denying Australia victory. The local papers were impressed; more so because this was the same Rudolph who, on the 2001-02 tour, had been denied a debut in Sydney at the behest of then CSA president Percy Sonn. Justin Ontong was picked instead. The change was part tactics, mostly politics. South Africa needed a middle-order batsman to replace Lance Klusener and Ontong had been picked in the squad for that job, while Rudolph was selected as a top-order batter. Sonn argued that on a like-for-like basis, Ontong should play. But he was also looking to drive home the growing transformation narrative; Ontong is coloured and Rudolph white. Australian scribes remembered that saga and after Rudolph's heroics in 2005, dedicated column space to retelling his story.
"As it happened, an Englishman sitting in the Qantas business lounge in Singapore picked up one of the papers that had an article about me and the controversy about the previous tour and read it," Rudolph said. "And he wrote to me and said he had followed my career and wanted to let me know that he thought I had done well for myself. And I wrote back to thank him."
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Cricketers get fan mail all the time, and though this one was a little more unusual than most, I wasn't convinced it had the makings of much of a story until the next bit.
"About four months later, I got another letter from him. It was two typed pages, and on the first page he had written that he admired me and I was very resilient. On the second page he asked for permission to include me in his will. He also said he would come and meet me in South Africa."
The tale now had all the makings of a scam. A stranger had written to a sportsman and offered him a share of his estate. And was now going to travel halfway across the world to seal the deal.
But Rudolph didn't see it that way. He had some information about the mystery man and his work, and was convinced he was not a fraud. Rudolph and his wife had got to know him a bit better by then too.
"By then we had had some correspondence, so I thought why not? The meeting only happened because we got to know him well and he had business in Johannesburg," Rudolph said.
The businessman flew from London to Johannesburg, then drove to Bloemfontein and took Rudolph and his family out for dinner. They discovered they had a fair amount in common, most of all their shared spirituality. Rudolph took the visitor to see Hansie Cronje's brother Frans' movie, Faith like Potatoes. When Rudolph signed a Kolpak deal in the months that followed and relocated to Leeds, his new friend travelled from London to watch him play at Headingley.
"That's when it dawned on me: this guy is the same age as my mom, who had been through a divorce in 2004," Rudolph said. His mother's split had been difficult for her and he thought she could use some company. "I thought they would be a great couple. I phoned my mom and told her to just trust me, that a guy was going to fly to South Africa and take her out for dinner and she should just see how it goes.
"And today, they have been married for 12 years and he is my stepfather. That's my story."
It was definitely better than hearing about the 28 runs he scored in what would have been his last Test until his comeback five years later, but I wondered why he hadn't told anyone this before. "Well, I've been thinking about it and I realised that none of this would have happened if it wasn't for the incident in 2001. If I had been picked instead of Justin and played, who knows what would have happened to my career from there.
"But that didn't happen, and when I returned to Australia and did well, they had that story to write, and that's what my stepfather read. So even though some people might say politics denied me something, it also gave me something and I just thought that was a nice thing to share at this time. All the hardships I might have gone through in cricket actually gave me what I have now."
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Rudolph's cricket journey didn't end with his mother's happily ever after. At that point he was still playing for Yorkshire, immersing himself in the northern traditions and in awe of a club that occasionally had greats like Geoffrey Boycott come to visit the change room. He was performing well, but he always knew his time there could not last forever. His wife wanted to return home and start a medical practice, and there was an opportunity for Rudolph to return to his home franchise, the Titans, so that's what they did.
At first he was picked to open the batting, but he struggled, and after four Tests, he was pushed down the order to No. 7. Two half-centuries and a hundred came in three innings but that was as good as it got. A year and 13 Tests into his second coming, Rudolph was dropped again, this time for good. "I didn't take my opportunities," he admitted.
Instead he signed an overseas deal for Glamorgan, which is where he ended his career in 2017. And then he came home with a new wife, an 18-month-old son and another on the way. His mother and his stepfather remained in the UK, but Rudolph, who is passionate about Africa and conservation, immersed himself in the industry by opening a safari-based travel company and becoming involved in the movement to save the rhino.
Does he have any regrets? "No, not really. I miss batting, and the football warm-ups," he said. "But mostly, I forged some really good friendships in the dressing room so cricket gave me that, and some family."
"So that's where the story actually ends?" I said to him.