ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
South Africa fringe players high on team spirit
Firdose Moonda in Mirpur
March 17, 2011
Two months ago, Lonwabo Tsotsobe had a one-way ticket to the top. He had spent the summer terrorising India's batting line-up, claiming the wickets of everyone from Sachin Tendulkar to Rahul Dravid to VVS Laxman - and that was only in the Test matches. In the one-day set up, he ended the five-match series as South Africa's leading wicket-taker.
He had climbed all the steps on the ladder to the World Cup and may have considered the tournament to be the crescendo of his season. It would be his opportunity to see that the groundwork he had laid during the series against the West Indies and Pakistan in May and November last year paid off. An opportunity to complete a certain phase of growth as an international cricketer - not being particularly fast, the left-armer has made variation and accuracy central to his game, using bounce, slower balls and even a hint of swing to outthink batsmen.
Instead, five matches into South Africa's campaign, which can consist of a maximum of nine games, Tsotsobe has not played one. On pitches assisting spin, he has been the seamer that's missed out, every time. A lesser man may have been at the least, disheartened by the exclusion, but Tsotsobe shows no signs of frustration at all. "It's not all about me, it's about what's best for the team," he told ESPNCricinfo in Dhaka. "Sometimes there is just something bigger that's happening and in a tournament like this it's important that the team comes first."
Tsostobe is still relatively new to the international scene, having played just 19 ODIs, but the maturity he has shown in understanding the well-being of the community over the individual is remarkable. It may stem from his franchise, the Warriors, where a string of fast bowlers were constantly competing for positions - he grew up within a fast bowling culture, with the likes of Mfuneko Ngam, Garnett Kruger and Monde Zondeki.
Tsotsobe understands that the make-up of the South African attack has changed. "The seamers had their time in South Africa and now the conditions are different, so we have to bear that in mind." South Africa have relied more on spin than pace in taking wickets. Though Steyn and Morkel's contributions have not gone unnoticed,it's Imran Tahir, Robin Peterson and Johan Botha who have stolen the spotlight, and the quicks are only too happy to let them have it. It's all part of the unified team culture of support that they are trying to breed.
"Sometimes you get almost too many hugs in a day," Colin Ingram, another player who has been on the fringes said. Ingram made his World Cup debut on Tuesday against Ireland, because of an injury to AB de Villiers. Ingram sat out the first four games and watched as Morne van Wyk took the position at No. 7 that was talked up as the place Ingram would occupy. "No player is ever content with sitting out a game," he said. "But the support from the team has been great, which makes it easier."
Ingram did his reputation no harm with a knock of 46 under trying circumstances. He arrived at the crease with South Africa on 117 for 5 against Ireland, and with much to prove about the middle order. He hit a sweet cover drive after facing just three balls and looked in good enough nick for at least a half-century. "Gee, it felt good, hey," he said with a grin plastered to his face. "When you've come back in and you can hit one, it's a great feeling."
That shot, and the six other boundaries he scored, were not just based on luck, but on intense training which has involved every member of South Africa's squad. "I've never hit so many balls in my life," said Ingram. "The training has been high quality."
It's not just the preparation that is different about South Africa this time, it's the mood in the camp. Since bringing in psychologist Henning Gericke, the team have come up with innovative ideas to bond, like sessions with their social committee (consisting of Morne Morkel, JP Duminy and fitness trainer Rob Walter), which organises movie nights and excursions. "We've learnt a few songs as well, but I don't know all the words properly and I can't sing it now or AB will be on my back," Ingram said. It's that sort of thing that has made sure no one feels left out, and having a sense of belonging means that when the opportunity arises to perform, the fringe players are ready - just as Ingram was and Tsotsobe will be.