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PROTEAS CALL-UP

Tony de Zorzi putting in the hard yards for the big runs

Tony de Zorzi putting in the hard yards for the big runs
Tony de Zorzi of the Cape Cobras during the Betway T20 Challenge match against Imperial Lions at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium on 26 February, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)

Western Province opening batter Tony de Zorzi has come a long way since captaining South Africa Under-19 to an 11th-placed finish at the 2016 World Cup.

Tony de Zorzi is currently having the best domestic four-day season of his career highlighted by his record-breaking unbeaten 304 at Newlands at the end of November last year as well as his maiden call-up to the senior Proteas Test squad to play against West Indies.

“I never really made notice or said ‘I’m going to get a triple [hundred]’ or ‘today I’m going to get a double hundred’ I just tried to stick to my process for as long as possible,” De Zorzi said to Daily Maverick about hitting the highest ever individual first-class score at Newlands.

“It was a cool experience, at a historic ground like Newlands. To be up there with some really really big names and legendary cricketers then you see De Zorzi there, it’s funny but it’s cool.”

The phenomenal innings came against the Knights who had young speedster Gerald Coetzee in their lineup, who is also in line to make his debut against West Indies.

“Kudos to [Gerald] Coetzee, he ran in all day. He came around the wicket, tried to bounce me. I can’t fault his energy.”

Despite averaging over 100 this season and being the leading run-scorer in the domestic competition, things have not been perfect on the batting front for the 25-year-old.

His last three innings, in Western Province’s previous two matches, in the domestic four-day series have been: nine, 13 and 18.

“Opening the batting in South Africa is not so easy so when you do get in, you’ve got to make it count when you are in.

“Everyone always tells you, ‘once you get to 100 make it count, make it a big one, try to get to 150’. Luckily enough I scored a little bit quicker towards the end and was able to keep going,” he said about his record innings.

Tony de Zorzi

Tony de Zorzi of Cobras during day 2 of the CSA 4-Day Franchise Series match against VKB Knights at Newlands on 17 March, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

Starting slowly

De Zorzi is bearing the fruit of his labour at the moment but early in his career, the rewards were barren.

The left-handed batter faced immense scrutiny when he captained South Africa Under-19 at the junior World Cup in Bangladesh, in 2016, to a lowly 11th placed finish, as they lost to Zimbabwe in their final match in the subcontinent.

“I had a horrible World Cup, obviously I was captain of that so it was a very disappointing experience, but I suppose it made me come back and work harder,” De Zorzi said.

“It was a difficult experience. We were in a foreign country, in Bangladesh. I was captain of the side so most of the questions were with me but if I had to go back I wouldn’t change anything.

“A lot of the guys from that team are successful cricketers in some way or another, either international or franchise.”

However, the humbling experience provided De Zorzi with the reality check he needed and ensured he didn’t rest on his laurels.

“As a team, we learnt a lot from that tour and I did too,” he said.

“That could have happened later on in my career or early and it just gave me perspective that I need to train harder and maybe I’m not as good as I think I am and I can always get better.

“In hindsight, it impacted my career in a positive way and all the abuse in the media I got to deal with at a younger age and find out how I deal with certain things.

“I suppose the question of ‘do I really want to pursue this?’ came early on rather than later.”

The King Edward VII — school of former Proteas captains Graeme Smith and Quinton de Kock — alum used the disappointment of Bangladesh to work even harder on his game.

 “[Former Northerns cricket coach] Mark Charlton gave me a chance after scoring a club 100 for Tuks and playing in the Varsity Cup. I was young but I had done my due time playing club cricket, playing Varsity cricket,” said De Zorzi.


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“[I got a] chance at Tuks (University of Pretoria) and my season went really well. I made my debut for Northerns first and had a really good first-class season with them.

“I was asked to come to the training with the Titans guys and [Mark] Boucher and from there I started lower down the order fighting for my spot.”

Moving down south

After a promising but stuttering short career at the Titans, De Zorzi made his way to Cape Town to continue growing his game.

“When I signed at Titans, I spoke to Ashwell [Prince] who was coaching the Cobras at the time and I thought it would be a nice opportunity to work with a batting type of coach — being a left-hander as well — we had really nice conversations and I thought it be a nice opportunity to work with someone like that,” he said.

“I’d seen the younger guys that had come through at Province such as Zubayr [Hamza], [Kyle] Verreynne and Janneman [Malan]. I thought it would be cool to be in the mix and learn from the coach and those guys as well.”

Salieg Nackerdien has since taken over the coaching from Prince at Western Province.

“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a different approach under Salieg [Nackerdien] but I’ve really appreciated it.

“He really takes the time to try to get to know the players on and off the field. I’m very grateful for the way he’s coached the team and dealt with me specifically. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve learnt a lot while I’m here.”

Tony de Zorzi

Tony de Zorzi of the Cape Cobras during day 1 of the CSA 4-Day Franchise Series match against Dafabet Warriors at Newlands on 7 March, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Red ball vs white ball

Unlike most of his peers, De Zorzi has struggled to find his feet in the shortest format of the game — T20 cricket. He currently averages just over 20 with a strike rate of 115.5 in the format.

Instead, the 25-year-old has excelled in the two longer formats of the game — 50-overs and four-day cricket — averaging just under 4o in both.

“I’d say I’m in between eras. The new kids all know T20s well. I grew up playing 50-over cricket which is easier to assimilate to four-day cricket,” De Zorzi said.

“But I think the wheel does turn eventually. The guys with good batsmanship find a way to do well in T20s but it might take a little bit longer and maybe that’s the case with me.

“We’ve seen that with the likes of Devon Conway, Kane Williamson, Hashim Amla, even Virat Kholi — and I’m by no means comparing myself to them — but they’re not sloggers, they’re Test batters, but they’ve been able to take their game to T20s.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to do that one day but it hasn’t happened for me yet.”

There’s no doubt De Zorzi has the talent to excel in 20-over cricket as well. He has already shown this season the effects hard work can have on his game despite having the worst possible start to the red-ball season.

‘The first game of the red-ball competition I had a shocking run-out off the second ball of the game so it wasn’t looking like it was going to go that well. But things turned so I’m happy that it did,” he said.

“We had a hard, different kind of preseason. It was very taxing. When you train hard it allows you to perform for a bit longer, concentrate a bit longer and ultimately it helps you bat a bit longer.”

And that hard work has paid off as De Zorzi faced a mammoth 381-balls in his record-breaking knock and forced new Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad to take notice. The young batter now sits on the cusp of a well-deserved Test match debut. DM

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