India in SA

Lopsy seizes Ntini’s baton

2011-01-13 07:40
Lonwabo Tsotsobe (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Just a few days after South African cricket bade a loud and lavish farewell to the iconic but clearly spent Makhaya Ntini in the very same Durban, the significance of unassuming Lonwabo Tsotsobe grabbing centre stage for his country only days later simply cannot be overlooked.

It is an indisputable fact that a strong lobby in various spheres of influence desperately wants the Proteas to retain at least one regular black African presence in the line-up, in the distinguished slipstream of the Mdingi Express -- something that was sadly looking a bit of a tall order until Tsotsobe embarked on a plucky crusade to command a place on merit this summer.

This gentle giant from the Warriors, the same franchise Ntini always represented with animated enthusiasm when rarely available, is on a personal improvement curve of note, emphasised on Wednesday when he earned the man-of-the-match mantle from South Africa’s crushing, pumped-up victory over India in the first one-day international at Kingsmead.

Tsotsobe grabbed four for 31 in the near-rout, thus securing his second four-wicket haul in the space of five ODIs: the previous one had come on a contrastingly benign track against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, which only shows how his skills levels are blossoming in a variety of conditions.

Men of lesser mental substance might have started the five-match series on a relative “downer” after the sort of ill luck the lanky left-arm seamer had endured in the Tests against the same Indian foes.

Tsotsobe, after all, ended that keenly-contested, shared series with an unflattering seven wickets at an average of 48 – not wonderful on the proverbial paper.

But discerning cricket enthusiasts all know that the 26-year-old from Port Elizabeth might, with the pendulum of fortune tilted the other way, have come rather closer to sporting, say, 14 wickets at 24.

And he appears to possess the kind of temperament and self-belief to realise that if you keep plugging away, the breaks will come – they did for him on Wednesday night, even if some allowance must be made for an under-lights environment that catered handily for traditional South African strengths.

He is not an expressive, chatterbox sort of character like old-stager Ntini but he goes about his business quietly and with due diligence – Tsotsobe appears to have earned noticeable popularity in the Proteas camp at least partly as a result.

Certainly he is fast subduing my own initial fears that, given his advantageous height, his strange lack of genuine shock-value pace could count against him on some especially batsman-friendly decks around the planet.

He seemed to crank it up a welcome yard at Kingsmead anyway, sending down a greater proportion of deliveries in the mid-130s, in kilometres-per-hour terms, than he usually does.

Graeme Smith got a lot right strategically in this pleasing triumph -- even if his own form of batting demise on the day is not something he will want to re-run too often -- and one aspect was giving Tsotsobe an extended first spell with the harder new ball, something he relishes.

“Lopsy” has a precious ability, among other emerging strings to his bow, to get right-handers fending on the back foot just outside off-stump, because of the bounce he can generate off a surprisingly good length.

It is a good way to choke run-scoring in all forms of cricket, and it may well explain why he snared the prize scalp of Sachin Tendulkar, seeking “release” as he shuffled across to attempt to flick him to the leg-side – he managed only to top-edge the ball to gleeful fielder Dale Steyn at shortish fine leg.

Mind you, it was a good night’s work for the entire Proteas pace quartet, with Morne Morkel fast and focused and bowling one especially lightning over where he got Yuvraj Singh to nick to the slips after showing no special relish to get in line and potentially absorb a blue mark or two for the cause.

South Africa showed real intensity throughout the match, in well nigh all departments, and led veteran commentator Robin Jackman to rightly brand them afterwards as “almost faultless”.

Mind you, sometimes there can be a deceptively fine line between a landslide win and a period of play where the eventual conquerors actually flirt with real peril – I thought that was looming as early as the 14th over of the Proteas’ innings.

It was then, with the hitherto scorching Hashim Amla’s dismissal for 50 and the total on 82 for three, that inexperienced No 6 David Miller would already have been forced to buckle up his pads in the pavilion – remember that the KwaZulu-Natalian is much more renowned as a finisher than a rebuilder, and also that this particular SA combo sported a longish tail.

Fortunately, though, Miller was eventually only required to take to the middle in the 36th over, seasoned campaigners AB de Villiers and JP Duminy having turned the innings right around with a crucial fourth-wicket alliance of 131 in 22 overs ... including a productive, earlier-than-usual batting powerplay.

It demonstrated a refreshing willingness by the Proteas to depart from their perceived penchant for the “formulaic”, and should be encouraged further both for the remainder of this series and then into the greater business of the World Cup ...

Read more on:    india in sa  |  lonwabo tsotsobe  |  proteas

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