Times have cer­tainly changed – Mpit­sang

To­day, in Part 3 of the 20-year re­view since the end of iso­la­tion, Stu­art Hess high­lights what it was like for a young black crick­eter mak­ing his mark in the game

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - Vic­tor Mpit­sang fact­file

SO what was it like for a young black crick­eter, mak­ing his in­ter­na­tional de­but for the Proteas eight years af­ter unity had been achieved?

For Vic­tor Mpit­sang, not hard at all, for he was clear about what he wanted to achieve.

Mpit­sang was not the first black crick­eter to rep­re­sent his coun­try post-iso­la­tion. Omar Henry had played Tests, as had Paul Adams and of course Makhaya Ntini, was still try­ing to es­tab­lish him­self when Mpit­sang made his de­but in a one-day in­ter­na­tional against the West Indies at his home ground in Bloem­fontein.

“I had a word with Cor­rie ( van Zyl his then coach at Free State) and he said it was an op­por­tu­nity, and one I should try and learn as much from as pos­si­ble,” said Mpit­sang.

He was just 19 at the time – the youngest to play an ODI for South Africa – and the call-up came like a bolt from the blue.

“I was meant to be with the un­der19s, and then things hap­pened so fast, one minute you’re watch­ing these guys on TV, and the next you’re part of the set-up.”

As de­buts go, Mpit­sang’s wasn’t a bad one. He got to open the bowl­ing with Shaun Pol­lock and picked up the wick­ets of Nixon Mclean and Daren Ganga with con­sec­u­tive de­liv­er­ies, even­tu­ally fin­ish­ing with 2/49 from seven overs.

He was the only black player in the start­ing XI on that Fe­bru­ary day 12 years ago.

“I wasn’t too over­whelmed ac­tu­ally. I learnt so much. Things were go­ing well and I knew what was ex­pected of me. I cer­tainly never thought of my­self in terms of be­ing a black player in the side, I just wanted to be treated like any other player.”

That was the opinion of many black play­ers at the time. The quota sys­tem was as con­tro­ver­sial a topic for black play­ers as it was for white crick­eters, who thought they were be­ing de­nied a chance to play.

“There are two sides to the ar­gu­ment ob­vi­ously, and there were times I won­dered about the ne­ces­sity (of the quota sys­tem).

“But there is no doubt it was very im­por­tant in cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for black crick­eters. With­out it, there wouldn’t have been as many black crick­eters as there are now.

“I don’t think many peo­ple even tried to un­der­stand why there was a need for a quota sys­tem.

“Of course when Kevin Pi­etersen spoke out about the quota sys­tem deny­ing him chances to play there was a lot of con­tro­versy. I don’t think he was right.

“The quota sys­tem can’t cover up for a bad crick­eter, the qual­ity will al­ways come through. What ev­ery­one has to re­alise though is that it’s just a case of pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Mpit­sang, now 31, is reach­ing the end of his ca­reer – in fact this sea­son will be his last – but he says the environment now com­pared to when he be­gan his ca­reer is much dif­fer­ent for black crick­eters.

“(The num­ber of black play­ers) was a hel­luva is­sue when I started, it’s not like that any­more.

“There was all this talk about play­ers only be­ing in the provin­cial side or even the national side be­cause of the colour of their skin. But it would be very wrong to say that now,” Mpit­sang re­marked.

He cites the suc­cess of Ntini and Lon­wabo Tsot­sobe as hav­ing changed the per­cep­tion of many.

“At the end of the day black play­ers are just crick­eters too and if you look at the South African team now you can see how vi­tal guys like Tsot­sobe are.

“Makhaya had a great ca­reer, Hashim (Amla) is a world class No 3. Black play­ers are nowa­days cru­cial to the national set-up. They work as hard at their game as any player.

“The ques­tion those crit­ics of the quota sys­tem need to ask them­selves is ‘would (those black play­ers) have been picked by their prov­inces, if there wasn’t a quota sys­tem?

“Think about it in the fran­chise sys­tem, as it stands now, where we have a quota of a min­i­mum of four black play­ers per side, we are still talk­ing about a min­i­mum of 24 play­ers.”

As a se­nior pro, who is look­ing to­ward a fu­ture in coach­ing, Mpit­sang is in­trigued by the num­ber of young play­ers com­ing through and play­ing fran­chise cricket.

“I know when I started there were al­ways a few older hands in the dress­in­groom to of­fer guid­ance. At Free State we had guys like Gerry Lieben­berg and Kosie Ven­ter who were happy to pass on tips and chat about the game.

“You don’t find that so much now. But if you look at our team ( the Knights) you get young guys like Dean El­gar and Rilee Ros­souw, who are just 24 and 21 years old, but they’ve al­ready got a lot of first class ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Be­cause there are so many black play­ers in the sys­tem now it is much eas­ier for guys to be com­fort­able when Full name: Phenyo Vic­tor Mpit­sang Born: March 28, 1980 in Kim­ber­ley Ma­jor teams: South Africa, Ea­gles, Free State ODI De­but: Feb 1999, South Africa v West Indies HS: 1* - Wick­ets: 2- Ave: 31.50 - Best: 2-49 First Class – De­but: 1997/98 HS: 23 - Ave: 5.87 - Wick­ets: Best: 6-30 Twenty20 – De­but: Jan 2006, War­riors v Ea­gles Wick­ets: 14 - Ave: 30.35 - Best: 3-19

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Ave: 29.71 - they come into the dress­ing- room. Mpit­sang is very op­ti­mistic about what the next 20 years hold.

“Play­ing-wise South Africa is in a very good space. You look at the do­mes­tic one-day com­pe­ti­tion and on the bat­ting side in par­tic­u­lar it is dom­i­nated by younger play­ers. There are young play­ers out there, who are very ma­ture, they be­lieve in them­selves and they are not afraid to take re­spon­si­bil­ity in a tough sit­u­a­tion.”

That said, Mpit­sang be­lieves there is still room for im­prove­ment, and while he recog­nises there are dif­fer­ing needs for teams, he feels that some times coaches don’t give play­ers a proper chance in po­si­tions where they feel com­fort­able.

“You’ll get an opener from the am­a­teur side com­ing into the fran­chise side, and he’ll bat at No 8. He im­me­di­ately starts to doubt his abil­ity, he plays dif­fer­ently and it af­fects his con­fi­dence,” said. “If he doesn’t play well he is dis­carded, coaches need to be aware of that kind of thing.”

Mpit­sang will turn his at­ten­tion to coach­ing at the end of this sea­son and wants to re­main in the Free State.

Where he will fit in with the Free State coach­ing struc­ture re­mains to be seen. But with over 100 first- class matches to his name, and fol­low­ing 14 years of play, there is no doubt plenty that he can of­fer.

Gallo Im­ages

LIFT OFF: Vic­tor Mpit­sang is air­borne as he sends one down dur­ing a four-na­tions tour­na­ment be­tween SA, Zim­babwe, Kenya and In­dia in 1999.

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