Lopsy: Proteas' flawed factor

Lonwabo Tsotsobe (Gallo)
Lonwabo Tsotsobe (Gallo)
Cape Town – Everyone is entitled to a genuine shocker from time to time, particularly in the unpredictable climate of Twenty20 cricket.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the 29-year-old relative stalwart now of South Africa’s limited-overs plans, certainly had one on Tuesday, when the Proteas lost the final T20 international to Sri Lanka in Hambantota, denying them a memorable clean sweep of the mini-series.

The lanky left-arm seamer started decently enough with a “half-over maiden” at the outset of the Lankans’ pursuit of their seemingly stiff target of 164 to win ... only his next three balls changed all that in a hurry.

Tsotsobe, who has well-documented strengths but also never commanded the gift of genuine pace, was contemptuously targeted, as if in a flash, by ace home-team strokeplayer Tillakaratne Dilshan, who promptly belted the next three deliveries for a towering six and successive fours – the latter two shots involving audacious use of his signature “Dilscoop”.

It was the start of a demoralising onslaught on all of South Africa’s intended premier seamers on the night, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell hardly being spared the butchery, it must be said.

But for Tsotsobe, it was a particularly humiliating match, as he conceded easily his highest tally of runs yet from a completed four-over T20 international stint – 49 at a damaging 12.25 to the over – after once leaking a previous personal worst of 32 to Zimbabwe at Kimberley.

His misery was only underlined, you see, by a revisit of an old bogey: his known and increasingly worrying liability aspect as a fielder.

He let one ball go through his legs on the boundary for four when a reasonably routine stop really should have been achieved, and then capped his rank incompetence with the sort of spill from a skied catch offering that you are more likely to see from some lovably rotund, desperate pursuer in a Sunday pub game.

Luckily that particular blemish – Dinesh Chandimal the beneficiary -- did not prove terribly expensive and probably played no part in influencing the outcome of the match; Sri Lanka later cruised home by six wickets with 11 balls to spare anyway.

But there is also a well-developed pattern of cumbersomeness and high error-rate by Tsotsobe in the field, and increasingly the question will have to be confronted in Proteas circles: “Can we afford to carry a passenger of this nature in tight limited-overs games where individual gremlins may well prove the swaying factor?”

The other vexing matter to contemplate is that, as much as Tsotsobe’s first spells (T20 and ODI) with the importantly harder ball can be wonderfully impressive – on bouncier tracks he often bowls that awkward length where batsmen find themselves fending high off the edge of the blade, often into the hungry hands of ‘keeper or slip – his follow-up ones tend not be nearly so incisive and he is prone to punishment as he loses some of his “lungs”.

Stamina issues are not irrelevant, I would argue, given certain common-thread flashpoints surrounding Tsotsobe in recent times.

In May 2011 he was released early by English county outfit Essex after a notably unsuccessful stint; he had taken to Twitter to lament “the worst two months of my life”.

But coach Paul Grayson publicly countered: “His work rate and attitude hasn’t been up to the standard I would expect of someone with his experience as an international cricketer.”

Much more recently, Dolphins head coach and former Proteas all-rounder legend Lance Klusener was quoted along not dissimilar lines.

After the now reasonably nomadic Tsotsobe had had a one-season domestic spell under his tutelage at Kingsmead, Klusener reportedly said: “He is unfit ... bottom line. Plain and simple.

“I am a massive fan of Lopsy; a very good bowler when fit (but) I was generally disappointed with his attitude and work-rate with us.” 

A personal suspicion is that someone suitably high up in the Proteas hierarchy needs to have the courage to say to Tsotsobe in no uncertain terms: “We get a fair bit out of you ... but just not enough. Are you willing and able to do something about it?”

There is a certain irony, too, to the fact that a particularly illustrious predecessor as baton-carrier for the cause of once disempowered cricketers in South Africa, Makhaya Ntini, was among the most “motorbeat” fast bowlers you could ever imagine, earning much of the respect he generated worldwide for an unflinching, coming-at-you spirit that kept batsmen constantly on their toes against him.

The Ambrose-Walsh combo for West Indies, Glenn McGrath for Australia, and current international campaigners like our own Dale Steyn and the Baggy Greens’ Peter Siddle, are other examples of bowlers who just never ease off the pedal.

Might a bit of the “Makkie method” be officially engaged as a device to rub off positively on Tsotsobe?  

Lonwabo Tsotsobe mustn’t summarily be thrown out with the bathwater; on his good days he’s repeatedly shown he is too much of an asset for that.

He also remains an important poster figure, if you like, for the still rather marginalised cause of black African cricket given CSA’s much-debated struggle to bring through players from that background to the highest levels at an even remotely satisfying rate – many critics and stakeholders are getting more and more restless on that score.

But a wee bit of constructive introspection at this stage of his career might go a long way.

Throw in the fact that he is no more than the standard tail-ender with the bat, and right now Tsotsobe is a glaringly too partial contributor to the SA one-day cause.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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