Makhaya Ntini announced his retirement from international cricket this week, just as another Eastern Cape Xhosa earned himself a more regular place in the Proteas team.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been a member the South African squad since the national team toured Australia last year, but only on the side’s last two tours has he been a fixture in the starting XI. On this tour to play Pakistan in the UAE, he hasn’t just come of age – he has easily been the pick of the bowlers.
At the toss before the first ODI last week, Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi asked his South African counterpart Graeme Smith who Tsotsobe was. Considering the bowler was such a handful for the Pakistani batsmen during the T20 series and would deliver a man-of-the-match four for 27 from 10 overs, he should have known better.
A tall, left-arm swing bowler by trade, Tsotsobe (Lopsy to his teammates) is an accurate and cunning wicket-to-wicket bowler who induces false strokes from batsmen who fail to spot his slight variations in line, length and pace. Think of him more as a left-handed Shaun Pollock than an Ntini.
What Tsotsobe lacks in pace (he seldom bowls quicker than 135km/h) he makes up for with his accuracy – as was the case with his idol, Pollock. “You can’t just bowl the same thing over and over because the batsman can also think. You have to use your variation and make sure you use it well,” said Tsotsobe.
In two T20s on this tour he took a combined five for 36, at an average of 7.2 runs a wicket and an economy rate of 4.5 runs an over. His 30 overs in the ODI series have yielded six for 94 overall, an average of 15.6 runs a wicket and an astonishing economy of only 3.1 runs an over.
“He has been the big surprise package on this tour. We have managed him well but you never know how a player will respond. He has been given the new ball and bowled in pressure situations to key batsmen and he’s responded with intensity,” said Smith.
“His bowling has been clever. He’s kept it simple and he seems so well prepared for what he wants to achieve. It’s exciting for us to have him in the side,” he added.
“I put a lot of work into my game this year, especially when I was in the squad but not in the team. I tried to really focus on my bowling rather than on strength training. I’m getting more consistent and it’s starting to pay off now,” says Tsotsobe.
“It’s frustrating when you’re on tour and not getting games so I tried not to let it get to me. Instead, I realised I was spending time with professional and experienced cricketers and I made the most of it by learning from them,” he added.
Ntini may have been a role model to Tsotsobe but the 26-year-old doesn’t relish being compared with the veteran with 390 Test wickets.
“I’m simply Lonwabo Tsotsobe,” he insists. “Makhaya was such a great mentor to me, always laughing and joking and giving me advice.”
Tsotsobe has kept Wayne Parnell, another promising left-arm bowler from Port Elizabeth, out of the side on this tour so far. And even with Dale Steyn back in the side, his chances look good for a place in the first of two Tests starting on Friday in Dubai.
This article appeared in the Sunday Times on November 7, 2010, during South Africa’s series against Pakistan in the UAE.