Thami Tsolekile.

Thami Tsolekile is neither frustrated nor bitter about not playing for the Proteas after his initial international sequence of three Tests in 2004.

And he describes Makhaya Ntini’s recent statement about him – that he would be playing for South Africa if he was white – as “quite disturbing”.

“For me, I wouldn’t know why he said that; perhaps he has his own reasons.”

In an interview at his team hotel in Brisbane on Saturday, Tsolekile paid tribute to Ntini as an “iconic figure” during his 11-year international career in which he played a stellar role as a top fast bowler as well as a symbol of hope for black cricketers throughout the country. But he begs to disagree with Ntini’s view of his own status. Instead, the 32-year-old from Langa township in Cape Town says he is delighted to have made his way back into the Proteas squad after years in the “wilderness”.

Now, he’s a more mature, better equipped all-round cricketer than he ever was when he played two Tests in India and one against England in Port Elizabeth eight years ago.

The key to Tsolekile’s rehabilitation as a top franchise and nationally contracted cricketer was his move from the Cobras to the Lions for the 2009/10 season. In fact, he made the move after having effectively given up first-class cricket, working instead as a cricket administrator for a year.

“My recent improvement is a combination of things,” he said. “When I played for the Cobras we were winning so many trophies that maybe I took my batting for granted. Then I lost my contract and at that stage I never felt that I would come back and play franchise cricket, let alone for South Africa.”

When he received a call from the Lions, Tsolekile decided he would take it as a major opportunity to resurrect his career. He certainly did that. “For the last three years I’ve never worked so hard on all aspects of my game – ’keeping, fitness and batting – and I think that’s showed in my performances (he has averaged 42 with the bat since he joined the Lions and is thought by some to be the country’s best gloveman).”

Another reason for Tsolekile’s positive mindset is that he appreciates being valued and knows where he stands. “I’ve had long talks with (coach) Gary Kirsten in England and Australia and he made it clear to me where I stand, and I’m very comfortable with that.”

Clearly, trust is an important part of his new situation, as well as the emergence of a real sense of self-belief after three years of good performances – as player and captain – for the Lions. “It may take me three weeks, three months or a year to play another Test match, but in a real sense that would feel like my real Test debut,” he said.

Tsolekile’s situation, at present, is determined by a decision made when Mark Boucher was injured in England to change the balance of the side so that, with De Villiers taking the gloves, seven specialist batsmen can be chosen.

Tsolekile understands that and said on Saurday that De Villiers had kept wicket well in difficult conditions in England as well as in the first Test at the Gabba. “I see no reason to change things,” he said.

Those who question whether the Lions cricketer represents the future, because of his mature age, should take note that he’s been in the top three of the MVP fitness ratings in domestic cricket over the last two years. “Perhaps we should follow the Australians and argue that players know their games much better when they get into their 30s. Fitness is not a problem for me, but it’s a decision that others will have to make,” he said. – Sunday Tribune