Cape Town – Everyone is entitled to a genuine shocker from
time to time, particularly in the unpredictable climate of Twenty20 cricket.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the 29-year-old relative stalwart now of
South Africa’s limited-overs plans, certainly had one on Tuesday, when the
Proteas lost the final T20 international to Sri Lanka in Hambantota, denying
them a memorable clean sweep of the mini-series.
The lanky left-arm seamer started decently enough with a
“half-over maiden” at the outset of the Lankans’ pursuit of their seemingly
stiff target of 164 to win ... only his next three balls changed all that in a
Tsotsobe, who has well-documented strengths but also never
commanded the gift of genuine pace, was contemptuously targeted, as if in a
flash, by ace home-team strokeplayer Tillakaratne Dilshan, who promptly belted
the next three deliveries for a towering six and successive fours – the latter
two shots involving audacious use of his signature “Dilscoop”.
It was the start of a demoralising onslaught on all of South
Africa’s intended premier seamers on the night, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell
hardly being spared the butchery, it must be said.
But for Tsotsobe, it was a particularly humiliating match,
as he conceded easily his highest tally of runs yet from a completed four-over
T20 international stint – 49 at a damaging 12.25 to the over – after once
leaking a previous personal worst of 32 to Zimbabwe at Kimberley.
His misery was only underlined, you see, by a revisit of an
old bogey: his known and increasingly worrying liability aspect as a fielder.
He let one ball go through his legs on the boundary for four
when a reasonably routine stop really should have been achieved, and then
capped his rank incompetence with the sort of spill from a skied catch offering
that you are more likely to see from some lovably rotund, desperate pursuer in
a Sunday pub game.
Luckily that particular blemish – Dinesh Chandimal the
beneficiary -- did not prove terribly expensive and probably played no part in
influencing the outcome of the match; Sri Lanka later cruised home by six
wickets with 11 balls to spare anyway.
But there is also a well-developed pattern of cumbersomeness
and high error-rate by Tsotsobe in the field, and increasingly the question
will have to be confronted in Proteas circles: “Can we afford to carry a passenger
of this nature in tight limited-overs games where individual gremlins may well
prove the swaying factor?”
The other vexing matter to contemplate is that, as much as
Tsotsobe’s first spells (T20 and ODI) with the importantly harder ball can be
wonderfully impressive – on bouncier tracks he often bowls that awkward length
where batsmen find themselves fending high off the edge of the blade, often
into the hungry hands of ‘keeper or slip – his follow-up ones tend not be
nearly so incisive and he is prone to punishment as he loses some of his
Stamina issues are not irrelevant, I would argue, given
certain common-thread flashpoints surrounding Tsotsobe in recent times.
In May 2011 he was released early by English county outfit
Essex after a notably unsuccessful stint; he had taken to Twitter to lament
“the worst two months of my life”.
But coach Paul Grayson publicly countered: “His work rate
and attitude hasn’t been up to the standard I would expect of someone with his
experience as an international cricketer.”
Much more recently, Dolphins
head coach and former Proteas all-rounder legend Lance Klusener was quoted
along not dissimilar lines.
After the now reasonably nomadic Tsotsobe had had a
one-season domestic spell under his tutelage at Kingsmead, Klusener reportedly
said: “He is unfit ... bottom line. Plain and simple.
“I am a massive fan of Lopsy; a very good bowler when fit
(but) I was generally disappointed with his attitude and work-rate with
A personal suspicion is that someone suitably high up in the
Proteas hierarchy needs to have the courage to say to Tsotsobe in no uncertain
terms: “We get a fair bit out of you ... but just not enough. Are you willing
and able to do something about it?”
There is a certain irony, too, to the fact that a
particularly illustrious predecessor as baton-carrier for the cause of once
disempowered cricketers in South Africa, Makhaya Ntini, was among the most
“motorbeat” fast bowlers you could ever imagine, earning much of the respect he
generated worldwide for an unflinching, coming-at-you spirit that kept batsmen
constantly on their toes against him.
The Ambrose-Walsh combo for West Indies, Glenn McGrath for
Australia, and current international campaigners like our own Dale Steyn and
the Baggy Greens’ Peter Siddle, are other examples of bowlers who just never
ease off the pedal.
Might a bit of the “Makkie method” be officially engaged as
a device to rub off positively on Tsotsobe?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe mustn’t summarily be thrown out with the
bathwater; on his good days he’s repeatedly shown he is too much of an asset for
He also remains an important poster figure, if you like, for
the still rather marginalised cause of black African cricket given CSA’s
much-debated struggle to bring through players from that background to the
highest levels at an even remotely satisfying rate – many critics and
stakeholders are getting more and more restless on that score.
But a wee bit of constructive introspection at this stage of
his career might go a long way.
Throw in the fact that he is no more than the standard tail-ender
with the bat, and right now Tsotsobe is a glaringly too partial contributor to
the SA one-day cause.
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