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Andile Phehlukwayo gets his shot at change

Andile Phehlukwayo has earned an ODI call-up on the back of strong performances in South Africa's domestic T20 competition BCCI

Perhaps the most striking thing about Andile Phehlukwayo, the fast bowler who has been picked in South Africa's ODI squad for the series against Ireland and Australia, is where he has come from. Not the place, the position.

Phehlukwayo's mother is a domestic worker on the Kwa-Zulu Natal south coast. Her employers provided for Phelukwayo's early education by sending him to a primary school in Margate, where he played mini-cricket and hockey. His talent shone so brightly that he was awarded a scholarship to Glenwood High School in Durban, 130 kilometres and a whole world away.

"It was hard to leave home but I knew it would be better for my future. My mom explained to me that it was a good opportunity and it was not something she would ever be able to afford financially," Phehlukwayo told ESPNcricinfo.

At high school, Phehlukwayo excelled in both sports and enjoyed them equally. It was only when he began to think of playing sport professionally did he have to make a decision. "I liked the environment in cricket and in hockey, so it was tough to pick one," he said. "I knew hockey would maybe not be as financially supportive as cricket but that wasn't really the main reason I went for cricket. I just thought cricket would have more opportunities in every way."

Almost immediately, he was proved right. At 17, Phehlukwayo was selected in South Africa's Under-19 squad to play in a quadrangular series in India in October 2013. It was his first foreign trip, and he loved it. "Without cricket I don't think I would have been seen different countries and different people."

On the field, Phehlukwayo had an average outing. He took five wickets in five matches and scored 44 runs in four innings with the likes of Yaseen Valli and Kagiso Rabada stealing the spotlight. Then there was also the personal disappointment of the Under-19 World Cup in 2014.

Rabada's rise and South Africa's win overshadowed the one game Phehlukwayo played, against Canada. But he gained in other ways. "I made a lot of friends and learnt a lot off field, about team dynamics and contributing to the team even when you are not playing," he said.

Phehlukwayo may have gone largely unnoticed, but his potential hadn't. He was included in the Dolphins squad the following summer on a high-profile assignment. He travelled with them to the Champions League T20 in India, but failed to impress. In total, Phehlukwayo bowled just four overs in the tournament and managed 74 runs in four innings. He admits to have felt out of depth because he was playing with a "high-school mentality of see-ball, hit-ball".

Two years later, Phehlukwayo seemed to have realised his early promise. He was Dolphins' leading wicket-taker in last season's twenty-over competition with 12 wickets in as many matches at 21.75. There, he earned the reputation of being able to control the end overs. His death bowling earned the Dolphins a place in the final, even as call-ups to South Africa's A team to play England, Zimbabwe and Australia followed.

"I took to death bowling with the backing of the coach and my team-mates. I worked on things like slower balls and yorkers. It's a challenge not everyone can do," Phehlukwayo said. "It's a lot about preparation and execution and it doesn't always go your way - well it doesn't always go my way but I like to be in that situation where its win or lose and I am the guy in there."

The responsibility of seeing a game through is not just confined to the shortest format. In an unofficial Test in Zimbabwe, Phehlukwayo's career-best five for 62 bowled South Africa A to victory and he finished South Africa A's leading wicket-taker in the quadrangular fifty-over series in Australia.

Phehlukwayo also regards himself as a genuine allrounder and wants to add to his solitary first-class fifty when the opportunity presents itself.

For now, he has another chance he has to take. Phehlukwayo is as nervous as he is eager to see how he will fare on the biggest stage, with the South Africa senior team, come the Ireland and Australia ODIs. "I'd like to test myself at that level and see what I need to do in those situations. I have a lot to learn."

What he already knows is that as a black African player, at a time when transformation is high on the South African sporting agenda, he will come under the microscope for different reasons. Already questions have been asked about why he has been picked so early but for him, it is a chance to become a role model.

"As young black players, we will have to understand that we are examples, and that our performances and our consistency will be looked at," he said. "At the same time, we can't put too much pressure on ourselves because that can also affect you as a player. We want to do well for our country."

His responsibility extends beyond the needs of the nation though. Ultimately, for Phehlukwayo, performing well is personal, perhaps as personal as it gets. "It doesn't make my heart very happy that my mom is still a domestic worker. Hopefully if I do well, I will play more games and then she can get out of that situation."