Tsolekile keeps faith

AFTER GROWING up in the shadows of the Langa Cricket Stadium in Cape Town it was probably natural that Thami Tsolekile would go on to be a professional cricketer.

AFTER GROWING up in the shadows of the Langa Cricket Stadium in Cape Town it was probably natural that Thami Tsolekile would go on to be a professional cricketer.

But those familiar with the dusty, impoverished streets of Langa, will know it's not all about playing the "gentlemen's game" and enjoying drinks and sandwiches at lunch time.

"Langa is not an easy place to grow up in. There's a lot of poverty, gangsterism, crime. Cricket gave me a focus away from those things," the diminutive dreadlocked Tsolekile tells Sowetan minutes before boarding a flight for Dubai at OR Tambo Airport.

But cricket was not the only option this talented sportsman was faced with. He also represented South Africa at hockey, earning seven caps, and had to choose between the two.

"Hockey is not a professional sport in this country, so I was never going to make a living from it," he says.

Selected as captain for the SA A cricket side that is currently in Bangladesh playing two five-day matches and a number of one-dayers against the hosts and West Indies A, Tsolekile has had 10 years as a cricket professional.

"Ten years is a long time but this has been the best season that I've had," he says.

Moving to a troubled Gauteng Cricket Union six months ago from the Cape Cobras was a gamble. Infighting, court cases and the axing of executives spelt trouble, but it was a risk Tsolekile was willing to take.

"I had some good seasons at the Cobras. I also had some mediocre ones. The last two years I got very little game time and was doing more admin work, so it was time for a move," he says.

The move has reignited his career.

Tsolekile took over the reigns at the "Bull Ring" - as the Lions home ground of the Wanderers is known - when Neil McKenzie was dumped as captain in the middle of the current season. His appointment raised eyebrows but Tsolekile took the promotion in his stride.

"I've always been captain in teams I've played for... at Under-13, Under-15 and SA Schools. It's something I enjoy and see as a challenge.

"Since moving to the Lions, coach Dave Noseworthy has managed to get the best out of me," he says.

"In the early days I learnt a lot from guys like Alan Dawson, Craig MacMillan and Ashwell Prince."

Tsolekile's brief stint in the Proteas side in 1994 - he played in three Tests - was not an altogether pleasant experience. Incumbent wicketkeeper Mark Boucher was dumped under controversial circumstances ahead of the tour to India and Tsolekile got the nod.

"When I was picked it came as a surprise. I wouldn't say I wasn't ready - my keeping was good but I didn't have that confidence in my batting. Now I have equal confidence. I've worked very hard to be a genuine all-rounder like (Adam) Gilchrist and Boucher."

He certainly has. In a first-class career of 107 matches he has amassed 3397 runs at a healthy average of 26.53.

What about ambitions of donning the gloves again at the highest level?

"I'm 29 years old now, but still feel like a 22-year-old. I just want to concentrate on my game and the rest will take care of itself."

On the issue of transformation in the national side he is forthright.

"You can't blame people like (Proteas coaches) Mickey Arthur or Corrie van Zyl for the lack of Africans in the side. The players aren't coming through.

"You get a lot of Africans playing in the age groups but not at the franchises.

"The blame must rest on the shoulders of those doing development. They must ask themselves why those players are disappearing. Where are they?"