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Cricket | South Africa

Thami Tsolekile © Reuters

Patient Thami bides his time

Thami Tsolekile found himself the inadvertent centre of attention two weeks ago when Makhaya Ntini was quoted as saying that he “would be playing for the Proteas if he was white.”

If Ntini’s intention was to shock, then he succeeded. If it was to suggest that Tsolekile was being hard-done by and was touring the world as a frustrated back-up player, then he was -- according to the man himself -- incorrect.

“It’s not frustrating at all. I played my first (and last) test eight years ago so it is fantastic to be back in the set-up again and be recognised by the selectors for all the hard work I have done at Franchise level, it is quite awesome,” said the 32-year-old in Brisbane on Saturday.

”It’s not just a ‘learning experience’ for me here in Australia, I was in the original squad of 15 names to go to England and I was called up there after Bouchie’s injury. It was very special to be around the Proteas family, it was awesome -- it felt like my first tour with them.”

The Lions gloveman picks and chooses his words with care when asked about Ntini’s comments, but there is no doubt that he wants to answer the questions. He is not interested in ducking the issue. In fact, there may well be an element of frustration that he has not had the chance to speak earlier.

“I played most of my early cricket in the township and obviously, growing up, Makhaya was my icon. He has done very, very well for South African cricket and played for 12 or 13 years. He is a hero.

“But what he said was quite disturbing, for me personally. I wouldn’t know why he said that. I haven’t been involved for eight years, I’ve come back from the ‘wilderness’ so to speak, but this set-up at the moment is amazing, it is a great group. It is the kind of set-up you really want to be involved in,” Tsolekile says.

Suggestions of racial bias may have caused tension elsewhere, but nothing could be further from the truth within the squad:

“For me personally, no, there was no tension. Makhaya was speaking on behalf of himself, not me. I haven’t experienced anything like that. Maybe he has his own reasons for saying that, but I haven’t seen or experienced anything ‘different’ in this set-up. The atmosphere has been great and I am very comfortable after all the hard work has been recognised.

“Perhaps he was talking from the point of view that he would like to see more African cricketers playing for the Proteas, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he meant. All I can say is that, from my side, I am very happy because I know exactly where I stand in the squad and I know exactly what my position is after speaking for a long time with Gary Kirsten, both in England and here in Australia.

“AB de Villiers is keeping very well – he kept well in England in difficult conditions and I can’t see a reason to change the team. He is batting well, too. He has made starts all the time but just hasn’t gone on to make the big scores yet, but he will. If he wasn’t getting ‘in’ then maybe it would be different, but he’s playing well.

“It might take three weeks, three months or a year before I play another test match, but it will probably feel like my debut. When I played the first time I was very young and probably didn’t have the inner self-belief that I could do well at that level, especially batting. I am better equipped this time – I have put together consistent performances for three years for the Lions and that makes me believe I can perform at the highest level.

“We won a lot of trophies while I was at the Cobras and maybe I took my batting a bit for granted, but I’ve never worked so hard as I have done in the last few years. I lost my (Franchise) contract in 2007-08 and I was employed in the office at Newlands. I never thought I would be able to come back and play Franchise cricket again, never mind for South Africa.

“When I got the call from the Lions it was an opportunity I never thought would come, but I have tried to take it with both hands and I have never worked as hard before on everything, batting ‘keeping and fitness.

“I have been enjoying everything at the Lions, including the responsibility that I have been given. I have captained the Lions while Alviro Petersen was away with the Proteas and we reached the Champions League. It’s better to enjoy your cricket than to be bitter!” Tsolekile says, smiling genuinely.

At the age of 32 there are, inevitably in South Africa’s ageist cricket community, those who say he is not a ‘long-term’ solution. He shrugs his shoulders. There is very little he can do to change certain perceptions, and he knows that.

“My body is feeling good, no problems at all. I have been in top three in national fitness tests for the last couple of years so, what can I say? I’ll leave it up to other people to judge. But we have seen the benefits of having experience in the national side with guys like Alviro and Jacques (Rudolph) all doing well because they know their games so well. We tend to think careers are over when a player reaches 30. In Australia they can start at that age!”


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