Tsotsobe initally not part of SL tour
Lonwabo Tsotsobe was part of South Africa's recently completed limited-overs side which toured Sri Lanka, despite not being on the original squad list because of fitness concerns. That was head coach Russell Domingo's most interesting declaration as the group arrived in Johannesburg following their 4-1 ODI series loss and 2-1 Twenty20 truimph.
Tsotsobe was South Africa's second-highest wicket-taker in the ODI series with six wickets, at a joint-best average among visiting bowlers of 20.33. His 4 for 22 in the third ODI equalled his career-best. He also took three wickets in the T20s at 25.66, with best figures of 2 for 17 in the second match which sealed the series for South Africa.
But Tsotsobe may not have had the chance to do any of that, after Domingo revealed the left-armer would have stayed home had the coach not been convinced otherwise. "I had massive concerns about his form, fitness and possibly his work ethic," Domingo said. "After canvassing some opinion and chatting to him, we decided to take him with [us] and work on his fitness in the first two or three weeks to try and get him to a position where he could perform to his maximum."
Domingo denied there was any political influence involved in the decision for Tsotsobe to travel, but admitted the administrators are aware of the need to transform the national team. "There was nothing like that, in terms of politics, but we are fully aware of the need to have black African players in our side and there is a lack of them banging on the door." Tsotsobe has been the only black African player in the South African squad in recent years, with left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso now giving him company.
According to Domingo, the plan was for Tsotsobe to sit out of the first few matches until he was in match condition, but this was not made public beforehand. "We wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing because there had been a downward spiral in his performances. If someone's fitness is lagging, the work ethic may not be good. We had to work on all of that," Domingo said. "He is seriously skilful and we wanted to keep him close to the group."
When a local South African newspaper, The Citizen, reported a few days after the team departed that Tsotsobe failed a fitness test before the tour, Cricket South Africa would not confirm whether that was the case. They told ESPNcricinfo that all players were cleared by the medical committee before the squad and that Tsotsobe had suffered a recurrence of the ankle impingement which affected him last season.
Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, who is also a medical doctor, confirmed the chronic condition returned when Tsotsobe started bowling in Colombo. He did not play in the first two ODIs in order to undergo rehabilitation, but was declared fit for the third match. His return of 4 for 22 was not only a repeat of his career-best, but "probably won the game for us," Domingo said. That would be the only ODI that South Africa won.
Tsotsobe continued to bowl well throughout the series, which Domingo took as an indication that the "right decision," was made to include him. "He learnt a lesson and he worked hard."
For Domingo, the challenge between now and South Africa's tour in the UAE to play Pakistan in October, is to ensure Tsotsobe continues to make progress, and extends that to other areas such as his fielding. "He made big improvements and we need to try and make sure he maintains that momentum."
Tsotsobe will join up with the South Africa A squad, who are currently involved in a tri-series with Australia A and India A in Pretoria. He will work with Vincent Barnes, the former national bowling coach and current high performance head, and may even feature in some of the matches.
He will also be involved with his new franchise, the Lions, who have qualified for September's Champions League. Tsotsobe did not play for the Lions during last season's domestic twenty-over competition, but signed for them during the off-season.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent