Aaron Phangiso comes of age
A decade ago, a team consisting of the likes of AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Neil Wagner established a reputation as the Australia of the schoolboy age. They were the hegemons.
Most of that group went on to become fairly well-known professional cricketers soon after. Some slipped under the radar and re-emerged only later. Aaron Phangiso was one of the latter lot. His time appears to be now.
Of all the players in the ongoing Champions League, Phangiso has been the biggest revelation. Like Kieron Pollard and Davy Jacobs before him, it seems predestined that he will be offered an IPL contract. Unlike the two of them, it will not be because of his feats with the bat. Phangiso's left-arm spin is a not rare in India but his big-match temperament and wily use of what his former coach, Grant Morgan, calls the "natural pause ball" could make him a clever buy.
"If you look at his action, there's a slight delay before he delivers the ball," Morgan told ESPNcricinfo. "That makes him very hard to pick because it's difficult for batsmen to line him up." Morgan compared the pause to the likes of Saeed Ajmal or R Ashwin, and said it was particularly unusual for a left-armer.
As proof of how effective it has been, Phangiso has had the better of Shane Watson, Sachin Tendulkar, M Vijay and Gary Ballance. Those four significant wickets are part of Phangiso's tournament haul of eight, which puts him third on the wicket-takers' list. He is three wickets behind the leader Mitchell Starc and could overtake second-placed Azhar Mahmood, who took 10 wickets.
But those are not the most impressive of Phangiso's statistics. Of all the bowlers left in the competition, he has the second-lowest economy rate which stands at 4.43 per over. Ajit Agarkar has been more miserly, giving away only 4.37 runs per over. He also has the second-lowest average, 8.87, of the remaining contenders. Only Morne Morkel's is better at 8.80.
Perhaps the one that will stand out most, especially from the national selectors' point of view, is that Phangiso has the best strike rate among bowlers in the two South African franchises. His sits at 12.0, which means on average he takes a wicket every two overs and two in every match. That may be why his captain, Alviro Petersen calls him the "banker" of the team who "never gets the credit he deserves but always performs".
In some ways that has been how Phangiso's career has gone. He started off at Northerns, where he blossomed despite his humble background. "He was never a big turner of the ball but he had a lot of confidence," Morgan, who coached him there, said. "He was part of that bunch of boys who were not scared to lose and who had a natural competitive instinct."
Roelof van der Merwe was his major competitor at the union and eventually Phangiso decided to seek a clearer path. He moved to the North West Cricket Union where he became one of coach Monty Jacobs' favourite players. "He has a very dry sense of humour and always has something to say and is one of the best assets in our team," Jacobs said.
Phangiso also brought a wealth of knowledge to the side, which Jacobs could build on. "He is a very clever bowler and always thinking about the game. One of the things I've noticed is that he uses flight very well."
From there, Phangiso was picked for the Lions' limited-overs sides and would return to the North West (one of the Lions two feeder amateur unions) to play first-class cricket. Even though he seems to be boxed in as white-ball player only, Jacobs said that is not the case.
"I think it was even in his mind a little that he could only play one-day cricket, but he has more to offer. He is definitely smart enough to play the longer format. I will only see him again in January, because he will be playing in the one-day cup until then but when he gets back, we will keep working on his first-class game. Lions have a lot of spinners like Imran Tahir and Eddie Leie but hopefully he will get a look in."
Phangiso took a hat-trick for North West against Free State last season, which Jacobs said has become the stuff of legend at the union. After this Champions League, it seems they will have many more stories to tell about him.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent