Tsotsobe becoming new Polly

2012-01-16 14:23
Lonwabo Tsotsobe (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – They are very different cricketers in many respects but certain encouraging similarities between Lonwabo Tsotsobe and retired legend Shaun Pollock are also starting to become increasingly obvious at one-day international level for the Proteas.

All-rounder Pollock, a veteran of 303 ODI appearances for South Africa, was always renowned for his excellent run-choking ability at the start of the opposition innings -- it is something that Tsotsobe, the lanky 27-year-old left-armer from the Eastern Cape, is beginning to become consistently and handily adept at as well.

He is not the overall cricketing package Pollock was, of course, especially as he is a little awkward and ungainly in the field, given his unusually tall physique, and does not pretend to match “Polly’s” ability with the blade.

But in terms of the known things he is good at, Tsotsobe’s progress cannot be allowed to go unnoticed.

He has confirmed of late that he is the real deal as both a strike and containing factor for the Proteas, slotting back into a groove in the first two ODIs against Sri Lanka after an injury-enforced spell on the sidelines as though he had never been away from his post.

Certainly there were statistical reminders of Pollock’s heyday in the limited-overs format in the way Tsotsobe performed at Buffalo Park on Saturday, when South Africa moved into a commanding 2-0 lead in the five-match series.

In the last few years before his retirement, the Dolphins favourite used to routinely – some might argue too routinely, at times – bowl six tight overs up front with the harder ball, and then be a little more vulnerable to some “tap” deeper into the innings (everybody is!), especially as he bowled much more within himself pace-wise than in his injury-free, tearaway youth.

Just being a left-arm seamer gives Tsotsobe a crucial area of difference, especially in terms of the variety he offers if he opens the attack in tandem with a right-armer like Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel (he did it with both over the course of the Paarl and East London games recently).

But he is uncannily similar to Pollock in the average pace he generates – usually a fraction under the 130km/h mark – and his first-stint figures of 5-2-9-1 harked back to the prime days of the flame-haired customer.

Interestingly, “Lopsy” then had three further short spells – first a standalone over, the 20th of the Lankan innings, and then successive two-over stints (the 40th and 42nd and finally two death overs, the 47th and 49th).

He was notably less successful in all these spells, and his last four overs, which saw him leak a further 33 runs, slightly spoiled his overall analysis although 10-2-43-2 is still very decent indeed on paper.

Just like Pollock, his lack of real gas makes him more of a risk factor later in the innings to batsmen quite confidently two-stepping down the track for the big drive, and this is something that is unlikely to have escaped the minds of Gary Kirsten, AB de Villiers and company.

Be that as it may, Tsotsobe’s ability up front is becoming more and more valuable; he rolls his wrist for a decent slower ball occasionally, whilst his stock delivery manages to be a “heavy ball” on that awkward, unhittable length that threatens to find the splice of the bat.

And his role at Buffalo Park in restricting the Lankans to 21 for two after the first 10 overs, batting first on the sluggish surface, was pivotal to the outcome as the Proteas did not have to chase down a too-challenging target.

He is developing a real reputation for upfront economy on home soil: in 14 ODIs in South Africa, he has desperately seldom been thrashed about the park and his tightness at the outset gives the likes of Steyn and Morkel more of a licence to be aggressive without having to be too concerned about a rapidly advancing scoreboard.

Even in one of his less illustrious overall showings, when he travelled at a rate of 7.77 in the fifth and final ODI against India at Centurion last summer, it was mainly down to later-innings damage from Yusuf Pathan, who smacked a run-a-ball 105 and took two sixes and two fours from one Tsotsobe over – South Africa later won anyway to seal the series 3-2.

The Warriors player’s ODI stats look rosy after 25 appearances: 46 wickets at an average of 19.52 and economy rate of 4.52. Pollock’s career average was 24.50, although his economy rate was well superior at 3.67.

Tsotsobe has been part of a good commitment to discipline by the South African attack generally after the first two ODIs of the present series, as reflected in the fact that they conceded the first extra as late as the 27th over in East London, when JP Duminy slipped in a leg-side wide.

The search for a definite death specialist goes on, however, with nobody quite looking in the Andrew Hall or Charl Langeveldt league for relish for the job ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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