Khaya Zondo walks off the pitch after a One-Day Cup match. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

DURBAN – Khaya Zondo admits that he had just about quit on the game a year ago, as matters off the field saw him take his eye off the ball in the middle.

Called up to the Proteas one-day squad for the first time, he went to India, but returned with no caps. On the back of Aaron Phangiso being overlooked at the 2015 World Cup, the apparent slight saw Zondo, Phangiso and a few other black players around the national teams launch a public appeal for 'waterboys to fall.

The resulting furore was scathing, and the effects were damaging. Zondo, who had been called up on the back of stirring performances, fell away and the runs dried up.

"I was in a really dark place, and felt like quitting. There were a lot of people saying a lot of things," he recalled.

But, in the midst of his self-pity and downward spiral, he found his truth from a sobering sentiment shared to him by a friend of his father. "The world owes you nothing," the wisdom told.

"That hit home, and I realised that it was up to my reaction," the deeply religious Zondo explained.

"I knew that my future in the game was all down to me, but I have also been encouraged by some very good people around me."

Zondo also realised that everything happens in its own time, for its own reasons. Granted, he was disappointed on 25 October 2015, when Dean Elgar played ahead of him in the final one-dayer against India in Mumbai, but he now understands why.

What's more, he now appreciates that he may well be in a better place as a batsman and a man, should the next opportunity arise.

"Everything happens in its own time, so I know I need to keep improving. I remember being reprimanded by an umpire this season, when I felt I wasn't out.

"I was disappointed because I know that an average of 60 or 70 is not enough. I want to aim for an average of 100 (domestically), because it gets even tougher at the next level."

Zondo's career numbers are best served with a healthy helping of perspective, because he was thrown into the deep end as a youngster, and his first-class average wallowed in the low teens for a while. Subsequently, the last few years have been spent addressing that.

Happily, national teams like the 'A' side are picked on current form, and few are in better nick than the 27 year-old on the home front.

A year down the road from his derailment, Zondo has not only graduated to being a Dolphins captain, but he has also now been elevated to SA 'A' limited-overs team leader.

The boy has become a leader, and the emotional outbursts have been replaced with a calmer demeanour.

"I'm very proud and honoured, and I will do my best. But I also realise that this can be a stepping stone," he said, still eyeing a Proteas call-up.

The senior team will always be the pinnacle, and more so for someone who got that close to making it.

And though the 2015/16 season saw Zondo slip down the pecking order for higher honours, he has made amends in the 2016/17 term, which has led to his latest recognition.

The 'A' side leaves for the UK in a month, and the Proteas will follow suit, heading to the Champions Trophy.

In that team, Zondo has several teammates, including housemate Andile Phehlukwayo, and long-term buddy Keshav Maharaj.

"I'm very pleased for both of them. Ever since I first met Andile, as a 12 year-old, I knew he could really play," he enthused.

"As for Kesh, I'm not surprised at all. We've always known how good he is, and he brings so much to the table."

There was not a shred of envy in his voice, because the game has taught him that everyone has their own path to the top.

His journey has taken him on a few loops, but he now knows that there is light anew at the end of the tunnel.

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