Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, ex-Proteas paceman LONWABO TSOTSOBE talks about his heart-breaking ban, why he had a tough time in county cricket and picks his 15-man South African World Cup squad.
Sport24 asked: How have you coped since being banned from the game?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: Cricket was my life and (when imposed with an eight-year ban in 2017 for several breaches of Cricket South Africa’s Anti-Corruption Code for Personnel) I knew that it wouldn't be the same. When a person is banned, it’s human nature to want to hide and not let people see you. The way I coped was by having a good support structure at home. I thought about staying at my house and not being seen, but my mom did a great job with me. She said, “You did what you did, let it be and move on with life.” As far as playing cricket again is concerned, I reckon I am too old to get a second chance. However, with the experience I gained playing for South Africa for six years, it would be a dream to mentor the young kids and give back to the game in the future. I would be happy to work with small teams because that is where your great players begin. I could easily say that I can deal with life after cricket - as a businessman and DJ - but cricket is what I believe in and, at some stage, I would want to share all the expertise I accumulated over the years. Though I can survive without cricket, my wish is to see more upcoming black African talent emerge.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of the rapid rise of Rabada and Ngidi?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: Before I exited the scene, I played with Kagiso Rabada for the Lions and you could see that the boy was something special. He has got the dedication and he puts in the hard work. What I always say to people, who want to play cricket and make it big, is that talent is something that can only take you so far and without dedication and hard work you won’t get to the next level. Lungi Ngidi also boasts very good potential and the Proteas management will definitely look after him well in an effort to get him ready for the World Cup. If fit and firing, I foresee him doing some damage in the UK... Managing young players’ workload is the difficult part because as a coach you are under pressure and need results. As much as Ottis Gibson might want to rest someone like Rabada, cricket is a results-driven business and he knows that KG has big match temperament. At certain times, it’s a fine line between resting a player and playing him. However, Cricket South Africa has a good management system in place and you are not dealing with amateurs.
Sport24 asked: How would you appraise your career for the men in green?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: My time with the Proteas had its ups and downs, but overall I would assess it as a good career, with the stats speaking for themselves. (Tsotsobe played five Tests, 61 ODIs and 23 T20Is for South Africa). I just feel that it was short-lived... Some people criticised my attitude and work-ethic. When you talk about attitude, what type of attitude should you have when you want to succeed? And what is it that you need to do in order to perform at your best level? Maybe my work-ethic wasn’t always as high as I wanted it to be, but when it came to attitude, I don’t understand what people meant about me. I think people outside the team set-up misunderstood me when most of my teammates at the time understood the type of person that I was. When we practiced or played a game, I was so focused and didn’t have time to make jokes and would always put on my game face. For argument’s sake, when Dale Steyn is bowling some may say his attitude is messed up. He can swear at batsmen and intimidate them on the field, but off the field it’s a totally different story. That is how sport is - people fight on the field, but when the game is done we are all friends.
Sport24 asked: Why did you not enjoy your stint playing county cricket?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: When I joined Essex in 2011, it was only my second time in England. I felt out of place and wasn’t welcomed like I was in other teams. I might be wrong, but the impression I got was that the local players felt I was taking up another player’s spot and had something against me. I didn’t have friends during my two-month spell in the UK and was actually feeling quite lonely. I was only there for eight weeks, but it felt like eight months... Duane Olivier has decided to play county cricket and has become the 43rd South African Kolpak player. The decision is a very personal one and I don’t blame players for taking up Kolpak contracts. However, I would hear Olivier’s argument more clearly if he hadn’t been offered a two-year national contract before he left. The CSA contract would have been able to sustain him and he could have still played in the UK during the off-season. However, Olivier is a grown man and probably sat down with his family and management team and got advice in terms of what to do. If a player feels as though he has a future with South Africa, he would stay, but if he doesn’t then he won’t. When I played for the Proteas, the motto was always about putting the badge first, but each player will go with their gut feeling and who are we to judge?
Sport24 asked: How do you rate South Africa’s World Cup chances?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: I think anything is possible for the Proteas, but it comes down to what attitude they will have going towards the World Cup. If they have a cloud of self-doubt hanging over them and an inner-voice which says, “We are probably going to choke again,” then they have already lost. However, if they hold a positive mindset and envisage themselves reaching the final, they can make history and break our World Cup duck. We all know that South Africa aren’t underdogs and are surely one of the favourites. For me, you don’t want to let players go in as underdogs because they then run the risk of not playing to their full capacity. The coaches need to tell the players, “Listen guys, you are good enough to do this, so go out and do what you do best.” If I was tasked with selecting the Proteas first XI, I would select Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla as my openers. They are a trusted opening pair and one of the best in the world. Reeza Hendricks would be my pick at number three, as he works his innings and has a calmness about him. Faf du Plessis would bat at four and captain the side owing to his assurance and Rassie van der Dussen would be my choice at five. He is a finisher and plays well under pressure. At six, JP Duminy would offer quick-fire from the word go and Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo would be my all-rounders at seven and eight. Morris can bowl at over 140 km p/h, but needs consistency, while Phehlukwayo has a proven record. Positions nine, ten and eleven would be occupied by Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir. Rabada is an obvious choice, Steyn brings a wealth of experience and Tahir is strike bowler, wicket-taker and partnership breaker. David Miller, Lungi Ngidi,Tabraiz Shamsi and Anrich Nortje would complete my 15-man squad. In my opinion, Miller is a hit-and-miss player and he hasn’t grabbed the opportunity for a man of his calibre. Meanwhile, Ngidi would crack my starting XI depending on his injury recovery and the pitch conditions in the UK because, in the side I have selected, South Africa already have three pace bowlers who can bowl at more than 140 km p/h and take the game away.
Sport24 asked: Who was the toughest batsman you ever bowled to?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: Sachin Tendulkar. It was stressful bowling to the world’s best batsman and I felt like doing to him in Durban what Ravichandran Ashwin did to Joss Butler in the IPL. Everyone has their reasons as to why they do something. If I had done the ‘Mankad' (a rarely used dismissal which is within the laws of the game, but is seen as unsportsmanlike) I would have said it was because Sachin was smacking us all over and he didn’t look like he was going to get out. The easiest way to remove him would have been to do that, but it’s not a great look and it isn’t in the spirit of the game.
Sport24 asked: Are the Proteas over reliant on their bowling attack?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: We can’t blame Ottis and say that because he was a bowler he’s not focusing on the batting front. However, the history of South African cricket points to the fact that we have always had good bowlers who can bowl teams out. When it comes to the batting, decisions on certain deliveries could be better. It’s something the team has spotted and is definitely an area they will work on heading into the World Cup. If you get selected to be in the Proteas set-up, the only thing needed to be done to a batsman is to polish his skills. You crack the national set-up because there is something special about you and you don’t need to be taught how to hold the bat or play a cover drive. I think it’s just a matter of the batters clicking and you need to give them enough chances to see what works for them. But, by the time the World Cup arrives, they have to be ready.
Sport24 asked: If Ottis Gibson heads away who would be prime candidates?
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: I believe Proteas assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa and ex-Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana would both be strong candidates. When it comes to appointing a head coach for the senior national team, it depends on your past experience. When I was a player under Geoff, he was a very good coach. I haven’t been coached by Malibongwe, but when he was at Warriors they were doing great, which means he has got something. CSA should give someone like Malibongwe (who has gained a level-four coaching certificate) or Geoff a chance in the hot-seat. If at some stage the coach is not doing what you want, you have the power to remove him. However, I believe both men have the ability to assume the role of Proteas head coach. Your mindset changes when you step into the national set-up because you have plenty of people watching you, including CSA board members monitoring your performance and, as such, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to mess up.