Even when he was confirmed as a member of the Jozi Stars squad for the Mzansi Super League, Nono Pongolo wasn’t sure he’d be able to play. He’d picked up a side strain and missed training the day before the opening match at home to the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants.
It looked like he really would be taking up his position in the commentary box. But on the Saturday he felt better, did a few stretches and was in the starting team. It wasn’t a memorable one; he scored four batting at No 8 and didn’t bowl. The Stars got hammered and Pongolo looked like he’d be just a squad member by the time Proteas returned.
Then the Stars’ brains trust had a rethink. Two frontline spinners were unnecessary on the Highveld, and Pongolo was restored to the starting side for the home match against the Durban Heat at the end of November. He picked up David Miller’s wicket with his first ball and his life, the Stars’ fortunes and the tournament as whole changed.
Pongolo has picked up nine wickets since, he hit a pair of sixes in the final over of the Stars’ away game against the Heat to earn them a one-wicket victory, and recorded the best figures in the MSL – 6/20 against the Tshwane Spartans. That commentary gig could wait.
“It’s nice for guys like me who don’t normally play at this level to get an opportunity like this. It’s nice that it’s going well, but you also want to keep the feet on the ground. There’s still a lot to play for,” he said.
Pongolo, 29, has been on the fringes at the Highveld Lions, not quick enough as a bowler nor a major threat as a batsman. But he can do a job, fill in when others are absent. However, this sequence of matches is the longest he’s enjoyed at this level and he and the Stars are more than happy.
“We knew the character we were bringing in and for us his performances are not really a surprise,” said Stars coach Enoch Nkwe. "He’s a superb human being, he showed in the Africa T20 where he led the Central Gauteng Lions over the line. He’s been brilliant and we’re fortunate to have him."
The Stars got lucky themselves, only pulling him in initially to cover while the Proteas were in Australia and then needing him to fill the space left by Alfred Mothoa’s injury.
Following Tuesday’s performance, Rassie van der Dussen, who’d scored an unbeaten 96, handed his Man of the Match trophy and cheque to Pongolo, saying later: “You don’t see six wickets in a T20 game that often.”
Indeed, Pongolo’s were the second best figures by a South African in the shortest format.
And he wanted to enjoy the moment, brushing off thoughts about looking ahead to tomorrow’s play-off game at the Wanderers.
“I have to enjoy this now; there’s still Wednesday, then Thursday and then only Friday, and then who knows, it could be someone else’s turn,” said Pongolo.
“The most important thing is that the team succeeds; it’s nice to have the personal stuff on the side but the most important part is how this team keeps going forward."