Tsotsobe ready to step up
Lonwabo Tsotsobe is under no illusions. He knows he will not play in the third Test against England at Lord's unless there is an injury. But it did not stop him from running in faster than he has done in recent memory, bowling at a better pace or conducting himself as though he was on trial.
"We've got 15 good players in our squad and you just wait for your chance and take it with both hands. I am always ready to take the chance," Tsotsobe said after the drawn tour match against Derbyshire.
They are not words locals would associate with the Tsotsobe they knew. He was given a chance, by Essex last season, and quite clearly did not want it. It was against Derby that Tsotsobe threw the chance away when he bowled so forgettably that people still remember it: off a few paces with a distinct sense of lethargy. He fielded as though he'd rather not be there and a few days later, he got his wish when Essex booted him out.
Back home, he was highly regarded as a limited-overs bowler and had taken baby steps in the Test side and his conduct on the county circuit barely registered. He did not say much in the local press about his unhappy time at Essex, apart from his outburst on Twitter that caused all the trouble in the first place, and continued to turn in good performances for South Africa.
Before Vernon Philander was picked, Tsotosbe was the third seamer in the Test side and he had not disgraced himself in that role. He took the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni in the Test match in Durban and was building a reputation as a giant slayer of sorts.
Tsotsobe was not spoken about in the same way as someone like Marchant de Lange, who made an impact months later against the touring Australians, because he was not nearly as quick. Qualities such as subtlety are often underappreciated but it was what Tsotsobe used to his advantage.
Philander, who also relies on skilful rather than spectacular bowling, was chosen ahead of Tsotsobe and his extraordinary success saw him take the third seamer's role. When Philander was injured, for the Boxing Day Test of 2011, de Lange was picked ahead of Tsotsobe and became the year's most successful debutant with a return of 7 for 84 in the first innings. De Lange was then picked in the squads for New Zealand and England - from where he had to return home with a lower back injury - and Tsotsobe slipped down the pecking order.
He has forced himself back up with strong showings in the tour matches, starting with his 3 for 46 against Somerset at Taunton, his economical 1 for 38 against Kent and his four-for at Derby. Although those hauls won't see him perform a coup over one of the first-choice seamers, they can ensure he keeps the pressure on them. "It's always a good thing to have competition because it pushes guys to the limits," he said. "It pushes the guys who are playing to perform in the matches and guys on the outside to keep doing well when they get a chance."
Tsotsobe also appears to have picked up some speed but says he done nothing different in terms of action or approach. What he has worked on is his "fitness", evident in his leaner physique and zippy work in the field.
He has also taken on additional chores, such as sharing drinks duties with the rest of the fringe players, and although he has not been called on as a substitute fielder yet he has been made as much a part of things as anyone else. Faf du Plessis spoke of the sense of inclusion in the South Africa squad and how every member feels wanted and worthwhile.
Tsotsobe is no different. On match day, he can be spotted chatting to Philander, gesturing and perhaps even advising the seamer. In spare moments he is bowling with Allan Donald either in the nets or on the practice pitches, something Tsotsobe did not usually do before.
If South Africa rise to No. 1 in the world, he will not be among the players recognised for it but a small part of the victory will also belong to him. He has played a part in the preparation and the build-up and, although few will know it, it may have been one of the more important parts in keeping the rest of the attack on its toes.
Tsotsobe said although the squad knows that something big awaits, they are trying to remain as calm as possible in the lead up. "We've got good ways of switching off and taking our minds off cricket," he said. "The boys seem very calm. It's what got us going in our first Test. We were calm and cool so we're going to stay in that zone of not being too excited."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent