Johannesburg – Russell Domingo’s public outing of Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s poor attitude and fitness levels caught many by surprise when South Africa returned from Sri Lanka last month.
Normally problems with players tend to be kept in-house, but Domingo, following his first tour as head coach, chose a press conference to reveal that Tsotsobe wasn’t included in the original squad for the trip. “I had massive concerns about his fitness, his form and his work ethic,” Domingo said at the time.
So, is Tsotsobe angry that he got picked upon, especially on such a public platform? “At the end of the day, everyone has their own opinions ... he said what he needed to say. I can’t fault him,” Tsotsobe remarked. “It’s just that I have to prove a lot of people wrong. I have to prove myself to people that I’m fit and that I can be in the South African set up for a long time.”
That’s not the most emphatic admission of wrongdoing. Tsotsobe admits, that he is fitter now, and more conscious of the demands and responsibility that an international cricketer carries. There been constant whispers about Tsotsobe’s attitude, whether from other players, coaches or even officials at Cricket South Africa.
There was a sense that Tsotsobe had become too big for his boots since making his international debut in Australia four years ago. Being ranked in the top 10 One-Day bowlers seemed to mean he no longer needed to put in the hard yards while he was enjoying the social scene in his home-town Port Elizabeth a bit too much.
There were certainly a few raised eye-brows when the Highveld Lions signed him in the off-season – the Lions are Tsotsobe’s third franchise in the last three seasons, and there are certainly large sections of the Warriors and Dolphins franchises that won’t miss him.
“When people always talk negative about you it somehow puts something in your mind that you have to push harder and try and prove them wrong. But you mustn’t slip away from the fact that not everyone will say everything good about you. You need to focus on what you need to do, what you do best. Some negative things that are said to me, I try and take it as a positive. They’re probably seeing something I don’t see.
“I think I’m good, but if there is something wrong and someone sees it, and tells me, it’s a positive to me. I’ll try to work on that and try and improve.”
Tsotsobe’s stated aim is to use the Lions to get back into the Test side, which he last represented in 2011. His returns in that three match series against India were modest – seven wickets at an average of 48.85 – and by the time South Africa next played a Test match, against Australia, in November of that year, Vernon Philander was called up. The rest is history.
“I don’t like putting pressure on myself, I’m bound to have one bad game, it’s about getting up the following morning, working harder and trying to improve your skills and do the best you can in the next game,” said Tsotsobe.
“Playing in the SA side is not the worry right now. My main concern is being with the (Lions) guys, mingling with them and having a good time in the set-up here. When I go back to the South African side I’ll have a different mindset. I have had to adapt to these guys, that’s how I manage my attitude.”
Upon announcing him as the Lions’ new acquisition, coach Geoffrey Toyana indicated that Tsotsobe would be thrust into a leadership position at the franchise, a surprising call given Tsotsobe’s reputation. However, it is one the lanky 29-year-old is looking forward to embracing. “It depends on the type of person you are. I’ve always wanted that role, to be a leader in any franchise, and even in the South African set-up. It’s a great privilege and I’m looking forward to leading this attack.”
The first look at the leadership role will be the Champions League T20, which starts on Saturday, where the Lions are in a difficult group featuring two Indian Premier League sides. Playing in India and learning how bowlers from the sub-continent go about their work is an area of particular interest to Tsotsobe. “Most of the guys playing in India are not quick. The amount of skill they have is world class.”
Because his pace is not in the category of a Dale Steyn or Morné Morkel, utilising greater variety; slower balls and cutters, is his main weapon. “I’m a guy who’s very flexible. I’m a guy who wakes up, goes to practice and tries different things and then tries to implement that in games,” he explained.
“It’s tough, if it doesn’t come out right and you get hit … people don’t know or don’t understand that it’s something you’ve been practicing, now you try it in a game and the intensity in games is not the same as when you’re practicing. Practice is more relaxed, it’s easy to do it, but when it’s game time, when a team needs 40 runs to win that’s when you need to showcase your skills.”
This is a vital season for Tsotsobe. At 29, he’s entering the peak years as a fast bowler and given the difficulties he’s had not just at his two previous franchises, but also in a brief stint with county side Essex in 2011, and recently with the national team, he must prove he’s made the necessary attitude adjustments.
“When I go on the field to play I always try to do my best. If it doesn’t work out that day, it doesn’t come out right, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m definitely looking forward to being on the park with the boys and having a good time.”