thami

Born October 9, 1980, Thami Lungisa Tsolekile is a South African sportsperson who has represented his country in both cricket and hockey at the international level. Known to be a better keeper than batsman, Tsolekile left the game abruptly before retuning back after a gap of around five years. On his 35th birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 12 things to know about the man whose cricket career couldn’t go beyond three Test matches.

1. Early life: Tsolekile took his education in Cape Town at Pinelands High School, where he got admitted on a scholarship. It is here that he learnt the basics of both cricket and hockey and attained stardom.

2. Hockey: Tsolekile represented South Africa in hockey at the international level, scoring a goal on his debut. However, he soon realised that cricket was a better career option.

3. Cricket: He made his First-Class debut as a 19-year-old in 2000 and soon went on the lead the under-19 side at the 2000 U-19 World Cup. After a series of notable performances at the domestic front and a good stint with the South Africa A side in 2003, he was being picked for South Africa’s tour to England as regular keeper Mark Boucher’s understudy. His selection, however, was heavily criticised as he was labelled as a ‘quota player’.

4. Debut: When the South African team for the 2004 tour to India was announced, Boucher was dropped for reasons beyond form and fitness. Tsolekile travelled to India as a specialist keeper and made his debut at Kanpur. He got the chance to bat only once in the game, scoring 9 before Anil Kumble got the better of him.

5. Abrupt end: He scored 15 and 1 in the second Test at Kolkata, ending his Indian tour on a bad note. He played his third and last Test the following month, when England toured South Africa. He scored 22 and nought in the game and was promptly dropped and discarded. With no hopes of a revival, Tsolekile lost his motivation and moved away from the game almost immediately.

6. Wicket keeper to Clerk: Tsolekile moved away from playing cricket completely, taking the job of a clerk with Western Province Cricket Association.

7. The second chance: In 2009, Tsolekile was convinced to return back to cricket by the Highveld Lions franchise, which was then in a desperate need of a wicketkeeper, after its regular keeper Matthew Harris retired. The franchise lured Tsolekile back onto the cricket field again, and his career took a new positive direction. He re-emerged as a good keeper that he always was and a much better batsman, ending the season with an average of 58.10.

8. Record partnership: In the same season, where he staged a successful comeback, Tsolekile was involved in a South African record partnership of 365 for the sixth wicket with opener Stephen Cook, who went on to score a record 390. Tsolekile also registered his then highest First-Class score of 151 in that match.

9. Back into the thick of things: His good-run continued and soon he found himself back on selectors’ radar. When Boucher decided to hang his boots post eye-injury, Tsolekile was back into the Test team. Though he remained with the team on England and Australia tours, he didn’t get a chance to play as AB de Villiers was asked to fill in the keeper’s role. He was however assured of a place in the starting eleven on the New Zealand tour that was to follow.

10. Selectors’ U-turn: After the Australia tour, de Villiers expressed his willingness to continue keeping wickets. This made the selectors take a U-turn and drop Tsolekile from the squad, leaving the keeper frustrated. The selectors opined that with AB keeping the wickets, they’d rather have an extra batsman or a bowler at no. 7.

11. Makhaya Ntini’s support: Tsolekile got some support from former South African speedster Makhaya Ntini, who implied race played a role in Tsolekile being consistently overlooked for the wicketkeepers’ role. Tsolekile was long considered to be Boucher’s successor. But even after his retirement, Tsolekile continued to be out of favour. This made Ntini say, “Tsolekile would have been playing if he was white”. Tsolekile, however, disagreed with his icon’s statement.

12. Domestic workhorse: Tsolekile continues to play for Lions in domestic cricket, where he is a mainstay of his side.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is senior content writer with Criclife. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed at @CricfreakTweets)