Stiaan van Zyl and Mondli Cele prove it’s never too late to make it

2014-12-20 00:00

IF there has been a lesson in the sporting world this week, it is perhaps that you are never too old to make it.

Stiaan van Zyl and Mondli Cele have probably never heard of each other, but they have both just lived the best week of their careers.

Van Zyl, at 27, has just been handed a Test match debut, which he cashed in on in a big way. You had to feel a little sorry for him when he sat padded up through a 308-run partnership between Amla and De Villiers when he was next in. We used to call that pad rash at school, but Google tells me that means something else entirely. Who knew?

Van Zyl, long regarded as one of the brightest prospects in South African cricket, took his chance in the best possible fashion. With JP Duminy side-lined, his opportunities could be limited. It sounds ridiculous to say, but Van Zyl was under pressure before he had even faced a ball in Test cricket. That is the competitive nature of the Proteas Test setup at the moment. There are six specialist batting positions up for grabs and a host of players who possess the ability to score runs against a depleted West Indies attack.

Van Zyl needs to kick on now, because it will be difficult to justify leaving him out as long as Alviro Petersen continues puzzling at the top of the order. Some reshuffling may have to be done, but Van Zyl will maintain his place when Duminy returns as long as he keeps making runs.

He had to wait a long time for this and there must have been times when he wondered if he would ever get his chance. But that time has come now, and in becoming the fifth ever South African to score a century on Test debut he has gotten off to a flyer.

The story of Mondli Cele is quite different. Where Van Zyl was looked after at the Cape Cobras and long considered a future international star, Cele was miles away from any kind of success. Just a little over six months ago nobody knew who he was and he was earning between R500 to R2 000 per month playing football for Gamalakhe United on the South Coast — one of 144 teams in South Africa’s third tier of football.

Maritzburg United saw him play a game against Santos in last season’s Nedbank Cup and offered him a trial. The rest, as they say, is history and today Cele is one of 34 men vying for a place at next year’s Afcon. It is a remarkable story, whatever happens from here. And it is encouraging knowing that sometimes hard work and never throwing in the towel pays off. There are probably many others like Cele who have the ability to play at the top level but are let down by our country’s poor footballing structures. That is another story altogether, but this particular story is one that should be celebrated.

“I never thought I was going to make it.” Those words from Cele this week still give goosebumps. Well take a bow, sir, because you have made it to the very top. Here’s hoping that your star continues to rise all the way to Equatorial Guinea.

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