Tsotsobe strives to maintain third seamer's spot
Lonwabo Tsotsobe, South Africa left-arm seamer, is a man of few words. His interviews are over in a few minutes, his answers are succinct, he doesn't mind awkward silences. It's impossible to tell anything about his personality from the way he speaks. The only way to find out about Tsotsobe is by watching his actions.
When CSA decided to participate in Nelson Mandela Day for the second time, Tsotsobe contacted his employers and volunteered his time to join them. It was a task he took very seriously. He painted the clubhouse at the Alexandra Cricket Club, together with Ashwell Prince, as though it was his own home. The pair covered more than half of the structure with accurate broad brush strokes and were careful and delicate around corners. Tsotsobe was particularly precise, concentrating on the areas around the windows with great accuracy.
Exactness is something Tsotsobe has been praised for, with many saying it is the chief reason that he takes wickets. While not an express paceman and not known for a great deal of swing, it's controlled variation that has made Tsotsobe's first full season in international cricket a success. He played in 12 ODIs and took 24 wickets and emerged as potential third seamer in Tests, where he took seven wickets in three matches against India. Among Tsotsobe's wickets were the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and VVS Laxman.
"Just because I got some big names out doesn't mean that I should get big headed about it," Tsotsobe told ESPNcricinfo. And he hasn't. Very little affects Tsotsobe, and success certainly hasn't. Although he has ticked the season off as an achievement, he acknowledges that there's a lot of work to be done before next summer.
"I was fit last season but I was not where I wanted to be," Tsotosbe said. "I want to push myself even harder." It's something he will have to do to continue being a certainty in the national team. With Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel established as the strike pair and Imran Tahir a near certainty, its unclear what role Tsotsobe will fill going forward. As a third seamer, he operated as a hybrid between a wicket-taker and a holding bowler, but with Tahir's inclusion he may have to do more of the latter, which will require exemplary fitness. "It doesn't really matter what I do, as long as I commit to it 100%," he said.
Tsotsobe, like many of his team-mates, will begin pre-season training soon. He said he will put extra focus on "gymwork", to make sure he is in peak condition by the time the season starts. He has spent the almost four-month long break taking time out from the game, except for a brief stint with English county Essex. It wasn't something he wanted to talk about and when asked about his time there he simply shook his head, gave a wry smile, emphatically crossed his arms and then carried on painting the wall. The actions did the talking again.
In the month he was there, he showed nothing more than glimpses of the form he displayed during the season. He was expensive and largely unprofitable, and was even dropped to the second XI. It may have been a combination of unhappiness, fatigue and temporary loss of form. "I always practise like I play because then I'll know how to execute what the captain wants in match situations," he said. "When you work on death bowling, for example, you have to practice your yorkers, slower ball and cutters."
It's those types of deliveries that Tsotsobe excels at, because they require subtle variations and manipulations. The ability to adapt is going to prove crucial in his game in the coming season because he could be required to perform different roles in the team, depending on the situation. He also knows his spot is precarious, with the talent that's existing in the squad and those who are bubbling under. "There are youngsters coming through and pushing hard, guys like Rusty [Theron]," he said.
Even though that pressure is building and will no doubt continue as the clock to the summer winds down, it's not enough to have Tsotsobe too stressed. He spoke about his competition with the usual few words, a casual one shoulder shrug and a glint of confidence in his eye. Then, he returned to finishing his task at the clubhouse. Gerald Majola, CSA chief executive, looked on proudly. "Lopsy actually called us and asked if he could be part of Nelson Mandela Day and help out," Majola said. Had he not, no one would have known about Tsotsobe's charitable heart.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent