Who’d have thunk it? The man who was, once upon a time, the most frustrating one-day bowler in South Africa’s team, currently seems to be at the wrong end of a frustrating decision himself. Out of all the peculiar World Cup squad selections, the exclusion of Lonwabo Tsotsobe remains the most baffling. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
“He’s young, he’ll learn.”
That’s what Chris Gayle had to say on Friday night after he bullied a young Kagiso Rabada with an extraordinary display of hitting. The 19-year-old was part of the Under-19 World Cup winning squad last year and his part in the semi-final, where he took six for 25, played a key role in eventually leading the Baby Proteas to victory. But much has changed since then, and Rabada has now been introduced to the big leagues.
Gayle punished the youngster, taking 30 runs off the 12 balls Rabada bowled to him. But the lanky paceman is not the kind to get bogged down, certainly not if his captain is to be believed.
“You can’t doubt yourself as a bowler. He (Gayle) has done that to the best bowling attacks in the world. KG is a very good bowler and he was at the wrong side of a pakslae. I never felt he bowled badly and he came back really well after those two overs,” Faf du Plessis said on Friday night.
Indeed he did. After his first spell was whacked for 2-0-29-0, Rabada’s second went for 2-0-9-0. He did not get an opportunity to play in the second T20, but his “bounce-back-ability” (the term so often used by former coach Gary Kirsten) is something the rest of the South Africans could learn from, especially with a World Cup looming.
Gayle, Du Plessis says, is very good at picking a specific bowler on a night and on Sunday night, in the record run-chase at the Wanderers, he picked on Kyle Abbott. Abbott’s figures read 4-0-68-1, an economy rate of 17.00, the worst-ever figures in a T20i. Ahead of the World Cup, this is a concern. Convenor of selectors, Andrew Hudson, made it known that South Africa are searching for five front line bowlers for the World Cup. Three of those places are a certainty: Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir will make up the heart of the South African bowling attack, but that leaves one place up in the air.
It’s a tussle, then, between Abbott and Wayne Parnell, with Parnell’s left-arm variation and ability with the bat probably putting him just a whisker ahead in the pecking order. However, Abbott has often been hailed as the go-to man for South Africa’s death bowling woes. One bad game does not make a bowler, but overall, Abbott has done very little to prove that he is the man for the job.
In his eight ODIs for South Africa, Abbott has the third worst average (54.20) of all time for players who have represented the Proteas in five or more matches. His strike-rate of 74.8 is also the third worst ever. Abbott’s only saving grace is that his economy rate is 4.34, but if South Africa is after bowlers, then the exclusion of Lonwabo Tsotsobe is baffling.
Tsotsobe, who was the number-one ranked ODI bowler once upon a time, has an ODI average of just 24.96, an economy rate of 4.74 and a strike-rate of 31.5. He also has experience under his belt with 61 caps in the format. Tsotsobe underwent surgery last year and was kept out of international competition for most of 2014, largely because selectors weren’t sure whether he had returned to match-fitness. In the One-Day Cup, he topped the wicket taking table and in the T20 competition, he was second on the list with 14 wickets.
In 2013, Tsotsobe had a number of issues with his work ethic. He struggled with his fitness and even failed a fitness test, but was included in the Champions Trophy squad and the squad which toured Sri Lanka regardless.
Tsotsobe’s apathetic approach to his cricket showed during the Champions Trophy. In the four matches he played, he averaged 42.52 with an economy rate of 5.63 and a strike-rate of 45.00. On the tour to Sri Lanka he played just three games, but showed improvement with an average of 20.33, an economy rate of 5.08 and a strike-rate of 24.00.
Those were hardly figures of a man who was not on the original squad list due to fitness concerns. After the tour, Coach Russell Domingo admitted that he was concerned over Tsotsobe’s form. The left-armer was kept out of the first two matches until the backroom staff members were satisfied that he was in the right shape.
“I would like to state categorically and very honestly that Tsotsobe wasn’t included in the fifteen to go to Sri Lanka. I had massive concerns about his fitness, his form and possibly his work ethic at that stage. Tsotsobe was very comfortable staying behind, working at the high performance centre, and getting himself back into condition because I firmly believe Tsotsobe is a massive asset in our one-day side,” Domingo had said.
“Maybe it was a good thing that he wasn’t included to make him realise he also needs to pull up his socks to a certain degree. And we also need to give him as much opportunity to develop for us, because he is a gun bowler in this format.”
Since that incident and being knocked down by injury last year, the left-armer has undergone something of a reinvention. He is fitter, works harder and, as a fast bowler, is in the prime of his career. He has learned his lesson, but his lesson has not come with any rewards, yet. It is still feasible that he could play a part in South Africa’s World Cup campaign, but only an injury to another player will warrant this.
South Africa, then, will be hoping that Abbott learns as quickly as the young World Cup winner Rabada, because on flat Australian pitches, there’ll be little time for textbook lessons. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Lonwabo Tsotsobe (C) celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, who was caught out by Alviro Petersen, with teammates during their third one-day international cricket match in Bloemfontein January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko