'Lopsy is unfit, plain and simple'
"He is unfit! Bottom line, plain and simple. Just look at him!" This is the opinion of former Proteas big-hitting allrounder and now head coach of the Dolphins, Lance Klusener, on Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Klusener had the opportunity to work with Tsotsobe for just one season after his move from the Warriors in April 2012.
"Lopsy", as Tsotsobe is affectionately known by his teammates and fans, was born in Port Elizabeth and spent seven successful years at the Chevrolet Warriors which earned him a call-up to the Proteas T20 side for the first T20 international against Australia in January 2009.
Tsotsobe claimed a wicket on debut, having Shaun Marsh caught by Morne Morkel in his second over.
Tsotsobe then made his one-day international debut, also against Australia, in the fifth and final ODI in Perth after South Africa had already clinched the series 3-1 with one game to go.
Tsotsobe had a great debut, claiming 4-50 in nine overs.
Just three years later, Tsotsobe found himself at the top of the ICC Reliance ODI rankings, but within the last 18 months, Tsotsobe has been found wanting, while dropping to No 8 in the world.
"I think Lopsy is a very good bowler when he is fit. I am a massive fan of his and that is why I was so excited to get him to Durban, but all in all I was generally disappointed with his attitude and his workload with us," said Klusener.
Tsotsobe packed his bags and departed for the bright lights of Johannesburg after just one season on the East Coast, which raised questions about his commitment.
"I don't think that his commitment was there in practice as he said it would be. But I do sympathise with him a little because it was a big move away from his comfort zone, but at the same time, he was looking for a new challenge to kick-start his career a little bit," said Klusener.
"When he did play for us, there was no question about him, but there were a few first-class games that he could have played for us and did not," stated Klusener.
Tsotsobe played in only nine List A games for his new franchise before making his move to the bizhub Highveld Lions.
LEFT OUT OF THE LOOP
Klusener and the Dolphins administration were left out of the loop when it came to Tsotsobe's move.
"He never communicated anything with me, but that is his prerogative, his own decision. Nationally contracted players can move as they wish and I do not hold that against him. But it would have been nice to get a phone call to say look, I'm moving on because I have not settled or whatever the reason is."
Rob Walter, the former conditioning coach for the Proteas, said "I always felt that with Lopsy, as with many other guys, that their fitness could be better, so let's not beat around the bush.
"As conditioning coach of the Proteas, I never got to spend enough time with the guys on tour, with the amount of games you play on tour, there is not much time to make a huge impact on anyone's conditioning, all you are really doing is maintenance and hoping to make improvements along the way," said Walter.
That then raises the question about the player's attitude and commitment towards his own fitness and ambition for the team. "I think if you had to ask him if he was as well conditioned as he could have been, I don't think he would have been able to answer yes," admitted Walter.
Tsotsobe had a below-par Champions Trophy tournament, claiming just four wickets in 30 overs while completing only 10 overs once, against India.
He returned respectable figures of 9-1-23-2 in the only game the Proteas won, which was against an extremely poor Pakistan side.
In the five-match ODI series against Pakistan just prior to the Champions Trophy, Tsotsobe claimed just six wickets in five matches, with a best of 3-74 in 10 overs in the third ODI.
"Guys do make an impact when they first burst onto the international scene, but when the honeymoon period is over, players do go through a lean patch. That's when teams analyse you and get to understand you more.
"When players go through that lean patch, it is difficult to attribute it to just fitness or just this or just that. I think there are various factors that go with that," said Walter.
STATS TELL THE STORY
"At the end of the day, the stats tell the story, so you will see that he has not done well lately compared to 12 or 18 months ago," stated Walter.
To be precise, Tsotsobe has consistently taken 18 wickets in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to date, but in 2011 his strike rate was 22.33 balls per wicket with an economy rate of 4.40 runs per over. Boths these figures have progressively worsened each year. In 2012, his strike rate was 31.83 with an economy rate of 4.87 and this year sees Tsotsobe claiming a wicket every 34.22 balls and conceding 5.37 runs per over.
"The key for Lopsy going forward is that he will have to develop a skillset that is improved from where he is currently in order for him to jump the opposition and get better," said Walter.
"I just hope that he realises that he really has the world at his feet and with some hard work, challenging himself, that by the end of the Sri Lankan tour he can reclaim all that he had. I suppose we are all watching with bated breath to see what steps he takes and everyone in South Africa will hope it is a step in the right direction and not just a step sideways," concluded Klusener.
The Proteas have always prided themselves in being a top-class fielding unit, sometimes with dips in their on-field performances, but Tsotsobe has struggled in the field of late.
His work-rate, fitness and attitude will need a huge improvement if he is to regain the form that saw him become the best ODI bowler in the world just 18 months ago.
"His move to the Lions may give him a fresh start, but he will need to work hard within the Proteas setup. Often a change in environment brings about a change in attitude, and perhaps that is what Lopsy needs," said Walter.
South Africa have struggled for form in the 50-over format, as well as the T20 game of late, and face a tough task of facing Sri Lanka in their own backyard.
The Islanders certainly are in better form, having competed with India and the West Indies in a tri-series tournament in the Caribbean recently.
Sri Lanka faced the current 50-over world champions and Champions Trophy winners, India, in the final and lost by just one wicket with two balls to spare.
Tsotsobe, who has 77 ODI wickets in 48 matches, will certainly need to up his game if he is to spearhead the South African attack to a successful Sri Lankan tour. The Proteas will face Sri Lanka in five ODIs and three T20 internationals, beginning in Colombo on Saturday, 20 July.