Australia in SA
Rudolph: It's great to be back
Jacques Rudolph (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Jacques Rudolph has rediscovered a schoolboy's love for cricket - at the age of 30 and five years after packing his bags, leaving home and swapping an international career with South Africa for a county contract in Yorkshire.
His joy for the sport has returned and he's back in South Africa's Test team after what he calls "a very long sabbatical", having not played for his country since 2006.
The batsman was recalled for next week's first Test against Australia after an eye-catching recent run of form in domestic cricket proved too good for selectors to ignore.
"I'm very overwhelmed at the moment. I've just got to grab my opportunity now," he said on Thursday.
It's like his debut all over again.
It wasn't quite a love-hate relationship with cricket during his first spell with South Africa, but there were plenty of ups and downs in Rudolph's early rollercoaster ride.
He marked his 2003 Test debut at the age of 21 by making 222 not out in Bangladesh - still the second-highest score by any player on debut and the highest for 100 years since Tip Foster made 287 for England against Australia in 1903.
But Rudolph's stunning start had been delayed twice under South Africa's former system of racial quotas for sports teams, where non-white players were pushed into the team ahead of him after he was initially picked to play.
Once he did get his chance, the elegant left-hander added four more centuries to that remarkable double hundred. But by the end of 2006 - at just 25 - many thought Rudolph had played his last game for his country.
He had struggled with his form through the year, with just one half-century in 12 Test innings. And more than that, he was struggling with his entire attitude toward cricket. He'd lost the love.
So he moved to Yorkshire in northern England, one of cricket's traditional heartlands, to rediscover the passion for the game he had when he was younger.
"I just wanted to get back to a point in my career where I really passionately loved the game of cricket again," Rudolph said. "Like when we were youngsters and playing at school.
"I made it clear that I was at a stage in my career where I needed to get my joy back for the game and just progress in my own game, and I think playing for Yorkshire for the last five years has certainly done that."
His international recall at the age of 30 was "not really" a surprise to him, Rudolph said. Not so for many South Africans who thought the talented batter's international career had slipped away.
But he returned home in late 2010 and since then, he said, he's "badly wanted to play for the Proteas again".
Rejuvenated, he re-emerged this year in domestic cricket with an awesome run of four half-centuries, a century and another double hundred in nine innings since September.
As a result, South Africa not only recalled him to their Test squad late last month, but said he would go straight into the team against fierce rivals Australia as an opening batsman for next week's series-opener in Cape Town.
"It's been a very long sabbatical for me. Five years in total," Rudolph said. "It's very nice to be back and get some sort of recognition.
"I think as you get older you learn a lot about your game, and I am in a very good space at the moment. I'm 30 years old now and I'm really enjoying my game."