Lutho Sipamla of the Spartans bowls during the MSL match against the Jozi Stars at Centurion recently. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Looking at Lutho Sipamla you wouldn’t think, “here’s a tough guy”. He’s still carrying his baby fat. He’s confident but reserved and he speaks with a clarity that belies his 20 years.

“Personally, I think you have to learn very quickly. You can’t be on the back foot. You can’t always be asking for help from other people,” says Sipamla.

Before the Mzansi Super League, Sipamla was one of those names people in cricket circles whispered about. “Him, sure, he’s got something,” they would say.

Now, everyone knows, including Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and future Proteas captain Aiden Markram. Sipamla dismissed both of them in Wednesday’s MSL match at SuperSport Park.

Du Plessis was introduced to Sipamla afterwards and told him he was bowling nicely. That’s a helluva recognition for a player who last season was still being introduced to the Eastern Province semi-professional side.

A severe knee injury meant Lungi Ngidi played no part in the MSL and elevated Sipamla to a regular starting berth. He’s played all seven of the Tshwane Spartans’ matches and heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures was the second highest wicket-taker with 12.

“Instead of moaning that Lungi’s not here, I took the responsibility. I might not have expected to play this many games," Sipamla said. "I’ve practised harder, talked to the captain and coach and that has helped me.”

Playing tough and hard cricket is something Sipamla aspires to. It’s something he takes pride in as well as learning from heroes like Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Brett Lee, Michael Holding and lately, Mfuneko Ngam, who’s been coaching him at the Warriors. “Those heroes, I’ve built a lot of them into my cricket; the aggression, the rhythm, always playing the cricket hard and trying to be as clinical as possible.

“Being from Eastern Province, we feel undermined as a cricket union. From a young age when you go to junior cricket weeks, you come across Gauteng, Western Province, KZN Inland, KZN Coastal side... and EP was always frowned upon. I think you had to be hard, you had to be tough, take it all on board, and say, ‘listen, we are here to play’. That’s how I grew up playing my cricket, I didn’t want to be looked down upon because I’m from EP. We had to throw the first punch, show that we are around; we had to show we are here to play cricket.”

Sipamla’s father Mahlubi placed his then seven-year-old son in an academy in Port Elizabeth in 2005.

“He was trying to keep me busy, he was a working man (an insurance broker) at the time; after school that 2pm-5pm period, you want to keep a child as occupied as possible. I just think he thought, ‘here’s an academy, go play some sport, be active’. “He gave me the opportunity to play whatever sport I wanted. I took cricket on board and then at junior school played a bit of rugby  flank and eighth man. I was very active, I played as many sports as possible, and took on cricket as I went into high school.”

That high school was Grey High, which counts Graeme and Peter Pollock, Dave Callaghan, Jan Serfontein, and most famously of late, Siya Kolisi among its allumni. “He (Kolisi) was a big thing when I was going into high school. He was out (of school) three or four years already when I reached high school but he was still a big thing at Grey; you knew what he’d done,” said Sipamla of the Springboks’ newest captain.

He is a while away from achieving the level of stardom Kolisi now enjoys, but Sipamla’s clear what his goals are.

“The long term goal, like it is for any cricketer in South Africa, is to play for the Proteas. But I wouldn’t say I want to get there quickly. It’s not about wanting to play for a higher team very fast. I just think my drive is to try and learn about the game, earlier than other people.

“So I try and learn from my mistakes as quickly as possible  even mistakes that others make that I haven’t, I’m trying to rectify those before I make them.

“I’m not trying to make teams faster than anyone else, but I am trying to learn quicker. I think it will help me play better cricket and be a better cricketer, rather than me just trying to make teams.”

His exposure in the MSL has certainly accelerated that process as Wednesday’s match showed, when the 20-year-old right-arm fast bowler claimed 3/19 in four overs, adding Dwayne Bravo’s wicket to those of Markram and Du Plessis.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience, playing against international players, better players, it raises your standards a lot, you’ve got to come out there, raise your A game, show what you’ve got, it’s helped me... play proper cricket, harder cricket.

“I’ve learnt a lot playing with the more experienced campaigners like AB, Robbie (Frylinck) and Rory (Kleinveldt); they have calm heads and they’ve got a lot of information to give. I’ve learned a lot.”

And he will continue to do so even as he leads the Spartans’ attack, a quite stunning development given his status as a rookie player.

Sipamla’s journey is only just starting. It’s to his credit that he knows what he wants from his future. He is out here learning  quickly. And that will make him tougher and South African cricket will be all the better for that.


Independent on Saturday

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