8-13 20 Things – Jacques Rudolph

Positive discrimination, poor form and unrealistic expectations combined to derail Jacques Rudolph’s first international career as a young gun. A decade later, after five seasons with Yorkshire, he has been quietly re-establishing himself as a contender down the order for South Africa. He told SPIN about his comeback , going hunting and why he doesn’t sledge KP.

Click this link for full article: 8-13 20 Things

Interview with Vernon Philander

In January I caught up with South Africa’s new pace sensation Vernon Philander to talk about his miraculous Test debut, the 1930’s gangster look and sledging KP.

The interview appeared in the February edition of Spin magazine – click the link below to view the PDF.


Dale Steyn on the WC and the future

In an exclusive with Spin’s Nick Sadleir, the world’s best bowler reflects on South Africa’s failed World Cup campaign and looks to the future.

South Africa had looked the best team at the 2011 World Cup but they failed to defend 221 in their quarter-final against New Zealand in Dhaka, despite having seemed in cruise control at 100-odd for two.

The favourites were bowled out for 172 runs – yet another calamitous end to a promising World Cup campaign.

“After we lost that quarter-final we were blown. We certainly didn’t feel like we had just lost another game of cricket,” Steyn told SPIN in India where he is leading Deccan Chargers’ bowling attack at the IPL. “In the changing room I didn’t know whether to cry (some guys were crying their eyes out), break something, scream or shout. I was broken. Since the T20 WC a year before all of our focus had gone into building for this tournament and we knew we were good enough to win it.”

What has transpired is that New Zealand, a team with a justified reputation for fighting above its weight planned to jump at any opportunity to get into the potentially vulnerable minds of South Africa’s less experienced middle order and that was exactly what they did when Faf du Plessis ran out AB de Villiers to reduce the Proteas to 121 for five.

Twelfth man Kyle Mills (who came on with drinks just after the run-out), captain Dan Vettori and sidekicks Scott Styris and Tim Southee could clearly be seen on the broadcast pictures letting du Plessis know that he had just run out his side’s best player. And they didn’t go easy on him. Du Plessis, in the heat of the moment, retaliated with aggravation by pushing Mills away from him.

“That night we were out-competed. We weren’t out-skilled or outplayed, they just came out there looking like they wanted it more than us. We relied on our ability to beat them but their competitiveness took it to us,” reflected Steyn.

“That fight that they had with AB and Faf showed that they had planned to take it to us and speaking to some of them now, they have admitted as much. All the other games we played we relied on our skill to get us through and it did but here was a game where we weren’t up for the fight.”

That fight was the moment that brought about yet another famous South African choke. Vettori and Mills were fined a percentage of their match fees (as was du Plessis) but the professional foul probably won their side the crunch match.

Does it matter so much that the Proteas have failed to fire on the World Cup stage?

Should it plague the side so much that they have failed to win key knockout games?

Is it not enough of an accomplishment that have always been fierce competitors in all forms of cricket?

“After the World Cup I feel like there is maybe too much emphasis on World Cups. It sounds so bad that I say this but why should some games mean so much more than others?” questioned Steyn.

“We have such hectic schedules and surely all games should matter as much as each other but World Cups are what people remember.  The first cricket I remember caring about was 1992 with Jonty’s famous dive etc. I thought this is the pinnacle and I couldn’t wait for another four years so that I could watch some cricket that mattered again.”

“But now you have the T20 World Cup, the ICC Champs Trophy, the IPL, the Champions League and the ICC Test Championship to come. Never mind our important international series. So nowadays it seems more like if you screw up in one big tournament it doesn’t matter so much as there is another one every six months,” mused Steyn in his usual honest and friendly way.

When I asked Steyn why the team let the choker tag get to them so much instead of laughing it off he said, “I think that even if we had won this World Cup, people would still call us chokers when we next fail. Straight away they will throw it up again. It shouldn’t irritate us so much but it does get to me sometimes. There are only so many times you can be called an idiot before it really ticks you off – like a nickname at school that is funny in the beginning and then really upsets you.”

“It depends on the mood that you’re in but you usually aren’t in the mood to be teased when you have lost a game you should have won. I normally don’t let it get to me but sometimes it does. At the Johannesburg airport leaving for IPL recently an 18-year old kid chirped it to me and I went right up and put my face in his face and said to him ‘do you want to say that again’ – he was literally trembling after that.”

And such is the way South Africa have handled this choker bogeyman. A calm and composed guy, Steyn is an aggressive fast bowler and you wouldn’t expect him to take flak from a lippy teenager but it may be the Proteas’ own doing that the word hangs over their heads like Damocles’ sword.

It is a no-no to mention it at press conferences – it sends the players into a tizzy and I can’t help but think that such an issue wouldn’t affect a side like England, where an extensive cricket media is not afraid to challenge players on any issue and players seem better practised at facing the music. In South Africa we tip-toe around the issue in much the same way we skirt around the sensitive issue of race.

Whoever is South Africa’s next ODI captain needs to be able to talk about this ridiculous C-word and not look like he is going to punch every irritating journalist who mentions it.

For fear of acting like the moronic schoolyard name-calling bully (and pissing off the people we rely on for interviews) I have usually avoided using the word. But when I wrote a match report for a leading SA newspaper on a drawn Test in the UAE where South Africa, having been in complete control of the Test, again failed to bowl Pakistan out in five sessions to administer the coup de grace.  The report was given the headline “Proteas Choke Again” and the sub-editor even slipped the C-word into my first paragraph. One can’t really blame him because using words like those sells newspapers and goodness knows how hard it is to sell newspapers these days – it is just the way the media works.

The next day I was told that certain members of the team’s management were looking for me to ask whey I used the “choke” word (even though I didn’t use it, strictly) and it dawned on me then that this national side may be setting themselves up to fail by being so obviously troubled by such nonsense.

Dealing with the media is never easy but the fact that someone like Steyn really believes that people would still call the side chokers at the next tournament  if they had won this one (for they surely wouldn’t) shows that this nickname has affected the Proteas more than it should have.

South African cricket is due a shake-up and has an unusually long six-month break from international competition to reorganise before a bumper home season against Australia (starting on 13 October) and Sri Lanka and then a tour to New Zealand in February next year. In a month or two CSA will likely announce ex-coach Corrie van Zyl’s replacement and a new ODI skipper.

Unless he decides he doesn’t want it, the coaching job will go to Gary Kirsten, whose commitments with World Champions India ended after the recent World Cup. The current assistant and bowling coach, Vincent Barnes, is on record as having said that if he is not offered the post then he will likely consider other options on his table. In his seven years in the Proteas set-up, Barnes, 51, has served as deputy to Eric Simons, Ray Jennings, Mickey Arthur and Corrie van Zyl. Other names on CSA’s short-list are said to be Richard Pybus, an ex-Pakistan coach, and Dave Nosworthy, who has successfully coached the Lions and Titans in SA and incidentally was the man who discovered Dale Steyn when the youngster kept knocking over Nathan Astle’s stumps as a net bowler during the 2003 World Cup.

On the question of who will replace Graeme Smith as ODI skipper, CSA and its players are keeping their cards close to their chest. It makes sense that a new coach would be appointed first and that he would have a say in the matter but Steyn was generous enough to give us some of his views on the subject: “It’s not area 51 – we are actually allowed to talk about it,” he joked.

“I guess it will be one of Johan (Botha), AB (de Villiers) or Hashim (Amla). All three are very capable. Johan has done it well winning in Australia and every other time he has been asked to stand in.  But I suppose there may be a bit of pressure on his place as Robin Petersen and Imran Tahir have been on form. The good thing that comes out of it is that we have options in the spin department and all three did well in the World Cup.”

“In Johan’s favour is that he has been making lots of runs in the IPL, batting at three and keeping the fastest bowler in the world (Shaun Tait) out of the team. So he is standing up and showing that he can be in any side – be it as a batsman, a bowler or a captain. He is a serious contender for the job.”

Whether or not Steyn hinted to us that Botha is the obvious choice was a bit cryptic but my interpretation is that he did just that.  Another matter plaguing CSA revolves around the alleged mismanagement of funds by its board. The recent court-ordered reinstatement of its ousted president Mtutuzeli Nyoka has paved the way for an external audit and it is fair to say that no-one knows what will happen next. Steyn’s approach is simple: stay out of it.

“I don’t try and focus any energy on things that I have no control over – my job is just to play cricket. The saga over CSA finances gives a bad reflection on the side but it’s nothing to do with us. I must say it is quite funny to see that instead of the side being in the headlines for losing games, it is the board making headlines for how they handle the money. It isn’t a good thing but it doesn’t phase me.”

The IPL will be over soon, ending over four months in the subcontinent region for the fast bowler who took only a four-day break at home after the World Cup. Steyn plans to use some of the break to take the kind of holiday that cricket schedules have never allowed him.

“I am going for the holiday of my life in June, a whole month in the United States,” he tells me.

But it is what he plans to do afterwards that might take you by surprise. “My girlfriend (actress Jeanne Kietsmann) has some work in the UK after that so I am getting together with some county sides, just to train with them,” he revealed

“It’ll be sunny and warm in England while it is cold and rainy in Cape Town and I can see my girlfriend and do some good training by bowling in the nets around London.”

Steyn learnt much of his trade while playing at Essex and Warwickshire and it may well ruffle some feathers that he plans to spend time training with counties in England, especially as the Proteas are due to tour the country next summer. But what county in their right mind would turn down an offer from him to give batting practice to their squad? It is no doubt a smart way to train in the off-season without enduring the rigours of competition and all the travel that goes with it.

Steyn will then play for the Cape Cobras in the Champions League, which will likely take place in late September in either India or South Africa before the Proteas do battle with the Baggy Green – “It’ll be nice to then be playing at home for a while – we have some rankings to climb and we haven’t won a Test series in South Africa since 2008 when we beat beat Bangladesh.  We lost to Australia when they came to us after we won that famous away series and then we drew our last two home series (against England and India). We want to make it tough for teams to come to SA so we need to actually win not draw our home series.”

South African cricket may be at a crossroads but having personnel of the calibre of Dale Steyn will ensure that they remain as good as any other side on the circuit.

This interview was conducted for Spin Magazine in May 2011 during the Indian Premier League.

First and last – Shaun Tait

First coach? My first coach was my dad Phil. I was a young kid bowling in the backyard in Adelaideand my dad decided that I was going to be a fast bowler. I was bigger than the other kids and he showed me how to get the ball to come out quickly.

First wicket as a professional? My brother was playing club cricket for Chepstead as a local (he has a British passport) in 2009 and I joined him for a while. I bowled off just five or six paces, made some great friends and went back to what cricket was all about.

First time you bowled 100mph? I first bowled 160km/h at the MCG in the second ODI against NZ. I had known I was capable of it but I didn’t exactly expect it to happen that day – it just did. I’m not sure you can always trust the speed gun but on the whole I think it is accurate, even though there are some days when it does funny things like give higher readings from one end than it does from the other.

First time you hurt someone? In an U16 club grand final I hit a batsman on the back of the head – he wasn’t wearing a helmet and had to be carried off on a stretcher. I knew the guy and it didn’t feel good but it helped us win the game. If you can’t get him out, knock him out! Hurting batsmen can gee the team up a bit but it isn’t a good thing. My job is to try to bowl well and take wickets.

Last thing you cooked? Shrimp on the barbie (wink).

First job? My parents owned a fruit and veg shop and aged 10 or 11 I was paid $5 to sweep the storefront.

Last sports event you paid to see? Last year I went to see the New York Yankees. It was great fun – I can’t say I followed the game so closely but it was enjoyable just watching the people in the stands and the entertainment. It was nice to innocently sit in the crowd with a hot dog.

First Test? My first Test was at Trent Bridge in the best series ever, the 2005 Ashes. It was a huge occasion and I did well in the first innings taking three wickets, but the second dig wasn’t as good – I went for about a run a ball and didn’t bowl much.

Last ODI? My last ODI was the quarter-final of the World Cup versus India in Ahmedabad. It was disappointing to lose the game but we put up a good fight and there was no shame in losing to the side that went on to win the tournament.

Last time you didn’t bat at No 11? In an IPL game against Kolkata the other day, Warnie sent me up the order to number 10 and I was out for a golden duck. I guess I’m a number 11 bat.

First stint in county cricket? I had a four-week County stint for Durham in 2004 and it didn’t go well at all. I bowled loads of wides and no-balls and just couldn’t maintain any rhythm or discipline. I realised then that I needed to go home and work a lot harder on my game and come back as a stronger cricketer.

Last stint in county cricket? I played T20 for Glamorgan last summer and it went OK but I had a few elbow problems. My fitness is much better now though my elbow is never 100%. People will criticise me for retiring from Test cricket and call me a gun-for-hire but T20 cricket suits me as it is a way I can prolong my career.

First match-winning performance? My first big match-winning performance was probably at U16 level when I took thirteen wickets in a match – in the second innings we bowled them out for 20 runs!

Last match-winning performance? My first and last hat-trick was for the Sturt club side in 2004 but I think I still have another one up my sleeve.

This interview appeared in the Surrey programme for the 2011 season. Tait represented the County in the Friends Life t20.

Q & A with Hashim Amla

Nick Sadleir: What is your first cricket memory?
Hashim Amla: Playing with my brother (Ahmed Amla, Dolphins, 106 first-class matches at an average of 35). My earliest memory is of playing with him in our little courtyard at home. He is four years older than me and it helped having two guys to grow up together. Because his friends were older than me and I tagged along and played with them, it helped me to play with the older guys. In the long run you never know but looking back, perhaps that was the stepping stone – having to face different bowlers who were older and more experienced than me.

NS: You were married not too long ago. Is it tricky being away from home for most of the year?
HA: I was married a year ago so I’m still getting used to experiencing the fact that I’m on the road a lot of the time. But I have enjoyed it so far. It is a great privilege to travel the world playing for one’s country. And I still get to take time out and enjoy whatever country I am in and also to spend with my family.

NS: Was not playing in the IPL a good chance to work on your batting by playing first-class cricket?
HA: Absolutely. I had the chance to spend a month with Nottinghamshire. And I had a great time over there playing on some different pitches.

NS: You scored a hundred on debut for them, didn’t you?
HA: Ha ha yes, fortunately I did. While the T20 World Cup was on, I was able to take the place of their overseas pro, David Hussey. So I covered for him and I was very fortunate because it went well (Amla was a run-scoring machine all month at Notts) and gave me the chance to play some good cricket before coming on a big tour.

NS: Last year you had a good stint at Essex – also making a hundred, a big 180-odd, on debut for them?
HA: Well it is always nice to start well. It helps you to settle down, takes the pressure off the rest of your time at the club.

NS: And I seem to remember a century on Pro40 debut for Essex as well. They were calling you W.G. (as in W.G. Grace) in Chelmsford.
HA: (Modest laughter)… When it rains it pours sometimes you know. It’s all part of the experience, I’ve enjoyed my time in England. I guess I have just been fortunate to have two good county stints. It has really helped my game.

NS: What was your most special innings ever?
HA: That’s a tough one. Although it was a losing battle, we couldn’t quite hold on for a draw. But in the second innings this year at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, we almost hung on for a draw. (Amla made 114 in the first innings and stood alone in the second innings with 123 not out. South Africa capitulated with only a couple of overs remaining on the last day).I got a hundred odd and if we had held on it would have been so special if we had survived. Scoring 250 in Nagpur was special, as is any other century or accolade, but because of the intensity of the fight, I hold that second innings at Eden Gardens as one of the most memorable ones.

NS: My favourite innings of yours was when you saved South Africa from an almost certain loss by blocking out a draw at Lord’s for two days.
HA: Certainly that was a special one. You always just want to do what is required for the team. I guess my 250 in Nagpur was important because it set up victory for the team. As you’ve shown, it is hard to isolate a favourite innings.

NS: You were an integral part of the first South African team to ever win a Test series in Australia. What was that like?
HA: It was a lovely experience. It was my first time with the national team in Aus and there have been a few teams who have gone there before and not won. So I got the feeling that players in our team who had been there and done badly really appreciated a lot more than we did. But it was a special experience. Australia is a lovely place to tour and the cricket was very intense so that was great.

NS: Does it feel like the South African team has lost their way a bit since then? Maybe struggled to live up to that performance?
HA: Well that is a tough one. We came back and Australia beat us at home. We have been pretty consistent in Tests though over the past few years. In ODIs we are still trying to build our team. But in the Test arena I think we have been one of the best teams in the world. We basically are just trying to keep on improving.

NS: You have managed to score hundreds at will in Test cricket, but you haven’t yet cemented your place in the ODI team, despite a good average and strike rate.
HA: I wouldn’t say hundreds at will – I wish it was that easy! But yes in ODI cricket I have been in and out of the team, often when Graeme has been injured. I feel I have made an impact in ODi cricket but I would like to score more hundreds.

NS: Can you see a situation where teams start fielding entirely different squads, even coaches, for the various formats of the game?
HA: I think the issue of different teams is evident around the world. It has started already, especially when it comes to T20 specialists. Different coaches – I don’t see it yet in the near future, Players are developing their own skills and trying to adapt quickly between the formats though.

NS: Jacques Kallis has said that it has been disruptive working with Duncan Fletcher and now he’s gone (Fletcher hasn’t worked with the SA team since Mickey Arthur resigned early this year). Did you learn much from him?
HA: Yes, I definitely learnt a few technical things from him. My game I pick up here and there but I didn’t get to spend enough time with him for us to develop a long bond, which Jacques did. But we know how technically sound Kallis is anyway.

NS: Has it felt like the Proteas have been in a transitional phase since Mickey resigned? Does South Africa have the right personnel to get to the top of the rankings and stay there?
HA: We definitely have the right personnel to do that. I played under Mickey for most of my five-year comeback career. Mickey was around for quite a while and adapting and changing isn’t easy but it is part and parcel of the game so I think everyone has handled it well and moved on.

NS: Hash, how do you stay so focused when you are out in the middle for hours and hours at a time? What’s going through your mind out there?
HA: Batting is just about taking it one ball a time and that’s all I’m trying to do. Fortunately you have a partner out there for company. Sometimes it gets humorous out there. But the thing is to just keep guiding each other, especially on a hot day. The thing is to keep reminding each other about the simpler things but the real motivation is that you are playing for your country and you want to do as best you can.

This interview appeared in the July 2010 edition of Spin Magazine.

Lalit Modi: How we made the IPL happen

Lalit Modi, chairman of the IPL, and Andrew Wildblood, Senior Vice President of IMG, the sports management company that helped make the IPL happen, sat down in Johannesburg with SPIN’s Nick Sadleir.

Lalit, you seem to have been at almost every IPL game this year…

Lalit Modi If there are two games on the same day in different cities, I leave the one game 20 minutes before it ends and I get to the other one twenty minutes after it starts.

Andrew Wildblood Lalit doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of commercial travel.

There must have been plenty of unknowns, shifting venue at such short notice…

LM Everyone told me it would be impossible. They said I was wasting time and money. I said, ‘Well, we are going to do this’.

AW Lalit called me at five in the morning one day and asked what the hell I was doing sleeping when there was work to be done. He said that the IPL couldn’t happen in India. I told him if we could do it in India, then we could do it anywhere!

He told me to meet him in Johannesburg the next day. So he came in his plane and I came down on a BA (flight).

LM We landed here, met the agencies, got Etienne de Villiers [until recently the head of the ATP tour] and Francios Pienaar [Saffer rugby legend, still very influential in SA sport and business] on the case. Etienne and Francois have been with me every single day for over two months – they moved out of their houses and into my hotel and have come with me everywhere.

You spent a lot of money advertising in SA…

AW Yes, Lalit uttered the immortal words – “I don’t want share of voice, I want all of voice.”

To pretty much sell out 59 games during the South African rugby season is good going….

LM The advertising agency gave us a budget of $3.5m. They said that was what they thought was appropriate and that it was probably the biggest advertising expenditure by any brand at any one particular time. Of course they expected us to cut it because all clients cut the budget. So I told them to multiply it by five. They told me I was wasting money on trying to fill the stadiums. I told them they should worry about the campaign and I will worry about filling the stadiums.

Andrew, when were you first involved in the business side of cricket? 

AW In 1989, when satellite broadcasters were first finding their feet.  I come from a generation whose only live football match in a year was the FA Cup final. In those days, sports revenues were driven by gate. The concern was that if you put everything on TV then you would diminish the value of the ticket revenues. We at IMG started to realise that the value could actually be in the television and not in the gate.

In 1990 England were touring the West Indies and the West Indies cricket board came to see us and said, “We are the most successful cricket team in the world, yet we are bust. What can we do?” When we told them that they could put this series on television they said they had approached the BBC who had said it was impossible – because the logistics of getting a production crew between the islands was too expensive. We said we could do it, sold the rights to Sky, and every ball was broadcast live.

So the IPL is not the first time you have turned cricket on its head…

AW I then went to India where a similar situation existed because their television infrastructure was not suitable to creating a level of coverage that was consumable internationally. They didn’t have the equipment or the people to do it at that time. So we took a huge quantum leap. But even in 1990 our broadcast in the West Indies was only filmed by seven cameras. Here we have at least 36 cameras in each game.

Throughout the 1990s we covered almost all the international cricket in the West Indies, India and Pakistan. We organised the Sahara Cup in Canada and the World Cup in Pakistan…

Has IPL been hurt by the global recession?

LM I would have said it is pretty recession proof.

AW I think a combination of uncertainty in world economics, Indian elections and the move to South Africa meant that we did not sign two other official partners. We had had some good conversations going on that started to die when the uncertainty came in as to whether this year’s event would happen or not.

What this guy (Modi) does unbelievably well, is to not let anything get in his way. One thing I have had to learn about Lalit is that differences in opinion are nothing personal – they are just for that moment. We get things done, move on and are then friends again. Without that energy, drive and commitment, and without the backup of IMG, then this wouldn’t happen.

LM I have the vision and I know what I want. And when it comes to implementing that, these guys (IMG) are the very best.

So, IMG runs the show?

LM Yes, they run the show.

How has the IPL transformed Indian cricket?


AW We realised that in order for the tournament to be respectable then we had to do something that benefited Indian cricket. So we implemented a minimum number of under-23 players, and a maximum number of foreign players, in each side. There must be at least seven Indian players in each team. That makes at least 56 Indians who otherwise would not be exposed to international cricket.

So it is unlikely that we will see the cap on international players increased from four, as called for by Kolkata’s John Buchanan?

LM No no, it’s not going up, it’s not going up!

AW People bully him about it all the time.

LM It’s not going up, it’s not going up! Not while I’m the commissioner. They can remove me and take it up, if they like.

It seems a lot of money is wasted on international stars that can’t get a game.

LM It is not wasted. Their experience counts for a lot. Look at Glenn McGrath sitting on the bench and giving pointers to Dirk Nannes…

AW The irony of it is that McGrath is coaching the guy who is keeping him out of the team! [Laughs]

What do you say to people who accuse you and T20 of killing off the old game?

LM If you do a survey around the stadium at an IPL match, you will find many people who have never watched a match before. They are getting a taste for the game, and many of them will graduate to Test cricket. They will then watch their stars performing in every version of the game. We are only increasing the base. The base is small and is quickly becoming bigger. Twenty20 is going tohave compounding effect on all parts of cricket.

Lalit, did you know that there was such a large and cricket-crazy Indian population in South Africa before this tournament?

LM No… But we do now!

Is it true that a senior television person in India told you that he had little interest in screening Test matches?

AW Yes, Kunal Dasgupta (then CEO Multi Screen Media, Sony) told me that and it was then that I realised that something had to be done about Test match cricket, to shake it up. But no one has ever done anything about it except the Australians, who took it from a 2,5 runs per over to a 4 runs per over game. That made it a lot more exciting and greatly increased the chance of getting a result.

Would you support night Test matches?

AW Funnily enough no – I think that would fundamentally change the brand. What I would support is: four day Tests with 100 eight ball overs a day, massively punitive fines if you don’t deliver your overs. There is a lot of stuff you can do without messing with the fundamentals of the game.

If you have eight-ball overs the amount of time you save is huge. An over is only six balls long because that is half a dozen. Don Bradman was a huge advocate of eight ball overs and who are we to argue with him?

Ali Bacher told me the other day that twenty five years ago he received a five page document from Bradman on why he supported eight ball overs and Bacher hugely regrets throwing it away.

This interview appeared in the June 2009 edition of Spin magazine.

‘Lopsy’ lets loose

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.

MIXING IT UP: Lonwabo Tsotsobe during the first Twenty20 match against Pakistan at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium last month Picture: GALLO IMAGES

MIXING IT UP: Lonwabo Tsotsobe during the first Twenty20 match against Pakistan at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium last month

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.

Botha ready for reins

When Mickey Arthur chose Johan Botha to fill in for an injured Graeme Smith as one-day international skipper in Australia last year, many believed he would be just that – a stand-in captain.

APPEALING CHOICE: South African T20 captain Johan Botha in action against Pakistan this week Picture: GALLO

APPEALING CHOICE: South African T20 captain Johan Botha in action against Pakistan this week

But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

In his first ODI in front of a 70000 crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Botha could be seen waving his arms, opening his lungs and commanding his troops. Undaunted by filling the boots of a respected skipper, here was a vocal leader who expected the best from his team and wasn’t afraid to let even the most senior players know it. Botha’s Proteas won that series 4-1. Their only loss was by four runs at Hobart.

When Smith stood down from the T20 captaincy in August, Cricket SA CEO Gerald Majola said Botha was the board’s unanimous choice to take up the reins. His tenure has not disappointed, delivering convincing 2-0 wins over Zimbabwe and Pakistan in the past month.

Smith has been the national skipper in all forms of the game for eight of his nine years in the side. If playing international cricket is a tiring job, then captaining a national side is an exhausting one. Smith is by far the longest serving Test captain. If SA needs an energetic leader to take over the ODI captaincy when he stands down after the World Cup next year, Botha is surely the man for the job.

“I don’t mind the off-field duties that go with captaincy and on the field I like the additional responsibility. I enjoy the extra work and can help the younger guys relax, which is what you want,” Botha said this week.

Split captaincy is a new concept for the South African team but the two captains have given each other the space to do their respective jobs and the side hasn’t lost a match since its inception a few months ago.

“I don’t mind telling Graeme to field on the boundary – he has been great about that,” added Botha. “I did worry about how he would deal with not being captain but he has been brilliant. It has been my turn to be in charge and he has stood back and let me do my own thing. And now I’ll do the same for the rest of the series – we know what a good captain he is and we all support him fully.

“I think he is enjoying some pressure off his shoulders, especially in T20 cricket where the game is so quick. An opening batsman has so much to think about upfront but, as a spinner, I know I can sit back and watch during the first six overs, then I’m involved in the action before I watch the death overs without thinking about batting, where hopefully I get to watch the action as I bat lower down.”

If Botha is to skipper SA in the shorter formats of the game he may want to improve his skill at the toss. In more than 30 occasions that he has led the ODI, T20, SA A or SA warm-up game side he doesn’t think he has won more than six tosses. But every time he has lost the toss, the side has still won. There is something special about him – calculated, efficient, fiercely competitive and likeable.

“I hope to be the ODI captain after Graeme stands down after the World Cup. For me it is about form – the captain has to be one of the first picks in team.

“But I have enjoyed it so far and the guys have responded so well. It will be largely up to the team at that stage too, so we’ll have to see if they want me. Hopefully they have enjoyed it as much as me,” he said.

Botha’s place is relatively safe in the ODI team but he is still new to Test cricket, where the incumbent Paul Harris has done a tidy job.

There is every chance, however, that the Proteas will include both spinners in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tests after the ODI series. Botha outperformed Harris in the West Indies earlier this year and he is desperate for a permanent place in the Test side.

“We may play two spinners in the Tests. We’ve never played a Test in Abu Dhabi and it looks like it may spin there from day three. A lot depends on whether Kallis plays as an allrounder or just as a batsman.”

There is little doubt that the Proteas have looked a happy camp under Botha during the two recent T20 series. The newcomers to the side, Botha’s Warriors teammates Colin Ingram and Rusty Theron, have looked right at home in green jerseys. Instead of missing the likes of Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, the side has seemed rejuvenated by youth.

“Winning helps but this side feels closer than ever. We realised we only have a limited amount of time to play for our country and must make the most of every minute – you can see that already,” said Botha.

“That’s the shift we have made. We are the Proteas, not the Springboks or anything else. Ingram is a protea farmer and he hadn’t even played a game yet but he taught us about how a protea grows – how it is the first flower to regenerate after a fire.”

This article appeared in the Sunday Times on October 30, 2010, during South Africa’s series against Pakistan in the UAE.