Thami Tsolekile’s call-up to replace Mark Boucher in the South African team has led to many furrowed brows, but Ray Jennings believes the wicketkeeper has what it takes to make his mark on the South African side. By ANT SIMS.
Thami Tsolekile has been confirmed as Mark Boucher’s replacement for South Africa’s tour of England, although his mixed credentials have raised some eyebrows amongst cricket fans. He’s previously played for South Africa in three Tests, but struggled to find form with the bat – in three matches, he managed a high score of 22. He had a good domestic season with the Lions in 2011-12, though: he scored four 50s in the domestic four-day competition with 476 runs in total, including seven not outs in 15 innings.
His call-up may be slightly controversial, but doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. When it comes to quality of glovework, Tsolekile is unrivalled. He was handed a central contract earlier in the year, and was tipped to be the next man for the job. His batting is of slight concern, but Ray Jennings, former South African coach and a wicketkeeper himself – who was coach at the time when Tsolekile was last selected – has backed the 31-year old.
"I'm really happy to see Thami called up. I think he had a very tough introduction to international cricket in 2004, and when you look at the state of his cricket Western Province and at the Cobras, it wasn't up to scratch at the time,” Jennings told The Daily Maverick.
“But the way he has grown from there and the way he has played at the Lions – I think he has progressed and I think he's ready to play the next three or four years on an international level, where he'll be able to compete.”
Tsolekile’s age has sparked controversy, as many people feel he is far too old to be drafted into the side. Jennings, however, believes age is irrelevant, and insists that the motivation of playing for his country will serve Tsolekile well in the years to come.
"There is no such thing as the right or wrong age. He's a fit guy, he's not overweight, he trains hard and I'm sure as long as he stays motivated, he’ll be able to keep it up,” Jennings said.
“His age isn't a concern for me at all, and I think if he plays for five years or whatever the case may be, he could end up doing a lot more than some other players have in the past.”
The South African brains trust now faces a slight conundrum in choosing who should keep wicket in the first Test. Tsolekile is fresh from a short stint with the South African A side, where he struggled with the bat, scoring four and 23 in each of the matches. His glovework, however, was exceptional, and will be a tricky act to follow.
That said, AB de Villiers is more than capable of taking the gloves – despite the risk that it could impact his batting, and the fact the England is often called one the toughest places to keep wicket. De Villiers has been prone to back problems, and already keeps wicket in the shorter format of the game.
Meanwhile, Tsolekile will not only need to adjust to the harsh conditions in England, but he will also need to fit back into a side he has been absent from for almost eight years.
"The difficulty for the selectors in the first Test will be to introduce Thami into the team as quickly as possible,” Jennings said. “It would have been beneficial for him to go on one or two tours as Boucher's understudy, so the system has probably put itself under pressure and put Thami under pressure a bit, because he now needs to be groomed into the side again.”
Jennings has backed Tsolekile’s commitment, however, and insists that this will play a big part in his adjustment to the demands of international cricket. "He is a very committed guy and a very respectful guy. He's a hell of a nice guy to coach and he's not one of those players who walk around with an attitude. I really enjoyed coaching him,” he told Daily Maverick.
“Teams can be a bit funny in their dynamics and how they accept people, but Thami will fit in pretty quickly. He's the type of guy who will show a lot of respect for the system and a lot of respect for the players around him.”
While he has had a good 2011-12 first class series, averaging 59.50 (the highest of any of the domestic wicketkeepers) with an unbeaten high score of 86, Tsolekile’s batting is a concern and there is no doubt that, should he be handed the gloves, the English bowlers will target him.
Jennings, however, seems unperturbed at this possibility. "The most important thing for him is to make sure that he does well with his keeping and plays a backup role as far as batting partnerships are concerned,” he told Daily Maverick.
“I think he's at an age where if he is targeted by opposition, he's mature enough to be able to handle it. He's been around and he's played long enough with top players, so I don't think England players trying to target him will affect him in any way.” DM
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