Lonwabo Tsotsobe and tweeting sportsmen

2011-05-28 00:00

LONWABO Tsotsobe’s early departure from Essex could have been foretold. Admittedly his remarks about his county on Facebook were foolish — criticising one’s employer is as risky as tickling a lion’s chin (luckily all of mine have been magnificent). Eventually players will realise, too, that everything put on the social media is on the record. It’s the same with Twitter. Journalists get the latest tweets of celebrities the moment they are dispatched. Nowadays cricketers also check the tweets of relevant reporters.

Detesting intrusion, hating prurience, I loathe revelations about people’s private lives and scorn newspapers citing free speech as the pretext for such activities. Alas, the line between public and private, serious and trivial, has been lost. However, players prepared to post their inner most thoughts on the social media must take the consequences. At such times the old adage about sleeping on it has merit. Nature’s sweet nurse has a way of clearing the mind and easing the pain. It’s also unwise to commit anything to paper, and that includes comments on Twitter and Facebook.

The written word has a power far beyond the spoken. Tyrants used to close down newspapers, now they focus on these potent means of communication. To their chagrin people and present doom people can now talk to each other.

But Tsotsobe’s real problem was not indiscretion, but an inability to take wickets. Even in these high scoring days bowlers cannot average 77 and expect to hold their places. Not that he is the first South African speedster to struggle for wickets in county cricket. Numerous pacemen appeared in the 1980 and 90’s and precious few were effective. Names like Hanley, Page and Snell spring to mind, alongside others long forgotten.

Indeed speedsters from this neck of the woods seemed to soar or sink. Mike Proctor was devastating, and counts amongst the finest cricketers of the era. Bowling off the wrong foot, favouring inswinging yorkers and rearing bumpers, and occasionally turning to off breaks, he was a magnificent operator. He was, too, a forthright middle order batsman and a sturdy competitor.

Although more orthodox and more inclined to bat than bowl, Clive Rice was another mighty and neglected all-rounder. He scored a stack of runs and, like Proctor, led his county through many campaigns. By and large batsmen from this neck of the woods travelled better than the bowlers.

But two flingers did cause shudders and the reason is simple. Allan Donald and Vincent van der Bijl were great bowlers. The latter arrived at Middlesex as a finished product and wreaked havoc in the wet summer of 1980. As tall as Joel Garner (who begins his after dinner speeches by confirming that he is built along the same lines all over), Van der Bijl was not quite as fast as the West Indian, but moved the ball more away from the bat.

Donald was another case. Like so many of the great West Indians, he came to county cricket as an apprentice and left as a master. Playing so much cricket, and in such different conditions, can help develop skill and stamina. Bowling cannot be learnt in a gym or even at an academy. Nor does the extra work necessarily shorten careers.

To the contrary Courtney Walsh, Richard Hadlee and Malcolm Marshall bowled constantly all year and hardly ever missed a match. Es Hal reckoned his career had been cut short because he did not play county cricket and was always stopping and starting.

Nowadays time does not permit the leading players to join counties except for brief periods. Even England cricketers rarely turn out domestically. Youngsters, too, are not encouraged to attend this finishing school. One day Tsotsobe will realise that he was lucky to get the chance. He will understand that weaknesses in his game were exposed on those slower wickets and that complaining was not the right response. Rather he needs to improve the quality of his work so that it survives all examinations.

At least the speedster has come back. A cursory glance at the England team confirms that such things cannot be taken for granted. A sporting migration is well underway. And the reason is simple. About 82% of the world’s population lives above the equator. That bestows enormous economic power. English sport is sustained by revenue from television. The implications are alarming. Can anything stop these rich dispensations cherry picking the best South African and Australian rugby, football and cricket players?

At least Tsotsobe is a cricketer. In that regard he goes against the trend. He suffered a minor setback that can be turned into a vital experience. South African cricket faces structural challenges that might prove irresistible.

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