CAPE TOWN - “He called me to ask if he should take it and I told him it is a no-brainer.” That was Proteas outgoing bowling coach Charl Langeveldt’s advice to new Proteas fielding coach Justin Ontong.
The two Bolanders have been teammates and close friends for a long time, going as far back as during their time together when they helped the Winelands team win the now-defunct Standard Bank Cup in the 1999-2000 season.
They then moved to the Highveld Lions together when franchise cricket was born, before returning to the Western Cape after both enjoying a taste of international cricket with the Proteas. In the blue and gold colours they cemented their status as Cape Cobras legends.
Unfortunately they will not get the chance to work together with the national team, but Langeveldt and Cobras coach Ashwell Prince believe Ontong will be a great asset to the Proteas and coach Ottis Gibson’s management team.
“At 37-years-old Justin is still possibly the best fielder in our team," said Prince. "That says a lot not only about his great fielding ability, but also his high work ethic and standards he sets for himself. He will expect the same of the players he works with.
“He will add great value to the Proteas. Not only as a fielding coach, but having been a captain for so long, he also understands the game, especially limited-overs cricket and the dynamics related to what difference fielding can make to when games are decided by the smallest of margins.”
The assignment with the Proteas will be Ontong’s first coaching role as he was still part of the Cobras’ contracted playing squad. In fact, only a couple of months back he struck his 26th first-class century and followed it up with scores of 59, 0, 64, 69 and 49 in the Sunfoil Series.
Prince is glum about losing Ontong’s services, but is undeniably excited about the new journey that his former charge is about to undertake.
“Justin was still making a massive contribution to the Cobras. He scores 100s and in first-class cricket that is worth its weight in gold," Prince said. “We were planning for the new year and he formed a big part of that, and if it was up to me, he would still be coming back in the 2018-19 season because I believed there were still lots of runs he would make for us.
“Fortunately, the middle order is an area we have lots of depth in at the Cobras and there is now an opportunity for a younger player to make his mark and create his own legacy. In regards to Justin, it is a wonderful opportunity and could even be the stepping stone to returning and becoming a head coach of a franchise team in the future.”
Ontong, of course, now drops out of the Cobras squad for the T20 Challenge matches against the Highveld Lions (tonight, 6pm, Wanderers) and the Titans (Sunday, 2.30pm, SuperSport Park).