Jus­tice at last for Justin as he lands Proteas field­ing coach job

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - RACING - ZAAHIER ADAMS

EV­ERY rev­o­lu­tion has its ca­su­al­ties. It is sim­ply the na­ture of things.

For a long time Justin On­tong was South African cricket’s ma­jor vic­tim of its trans­for­ma­tion war – a strug­gle that con­tin­ues un­til this very day.

It was On­tong who had to en­dure the first shots fired. It came from all ar­eas when still two days shy of his 22nd birth­day the young Bolan­der was se­lected to make his Test de­but against the mighty Aus­tralians at the SCG in the 2002 New Year’s Test.

It cer­tainly was a daunt­ing task for the fresh-faced for­mer Paarl Gym prodigy to face up to leg­ends such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Steve Waugh in their own back­yard after the Proteas had al­ready been hu­mil­i­ated in the first two Tests, but even more so after it be­came pub­lic knowl­edge that Board pres­i­dent Percy Sonn had in­sisted on in­clud­ing On­tong ahead of his room­mate Jacques Ru­dolph in the quest to ad­vance trans­for­ma­tion.

Sonn had made the right de­ci­sion morally, but un­for­tu­nately On­tong at that fledg­ling stage of his ca­reer was not men­tally equipped to deal with par­tic­u­larly the me­dia fall-out, and ul­ti­mately his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer stalled.

Fif­teen years have passed since that fate­ful de­ci­sion and un­for­tu­nately for the now 37-year-old he never quite man­aged to forge a suc­cess­ful Proteas ca­reer de­spite con­sis­tently pro­duc­ing stel­lar sea­sons in both first-class and do­mes­tic lim­ited-overs cricket.

“I won’t lie, it was quite hard to deal with as a young player. All you want to do is play for your coun­try and do your best, so the sit­u­a­tion was not ideal. And th­ese things tend to stick with you through­out your ca­reer,” On­tong told In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

“But I def­i­nitely don’t have any re­grets. Ob­vi­ously I would have liked to play 50 Tests for South Africa, but I have this new op­por­tu­nity and all I can do is give my best for my coun­try.” It al­ways seemed that On­tong just wanted some­one to be­lieve in him again. Some­one to place their trust in him with­out any reser­va­tions – that one lucky break, al­most like a sec­ond com­ing, for him to show off his un­doubted abil­ity.

With all the T20 fran­chise leagues pop­ping up around the world, On­tong, who has al­ways been the com­plete lim­ited-overs pack­age due to his pos­i­tive bat­ting style, off-spin bowl­ing and elec­tri­fy­ing field­ing, even hoped that if it was not to be in the green and gold of his coun­try on the in­ter­na­tion­als stage, then the colours of any global fran­chise would do.

But even those lights were never turned on; it was a great dis­ap­point­ment when he was forced to with­draw from the Caribbean Pre­mier League two years ago with a knee in­jury after be­ing picked up by the Bar­ba­dos Tri­dents.

After all th­ese set­backs, there was al­most a sense of jus­tice pre­vail­ing – Mother Cricket’s way of giv­ing back to those who had served her with un­flinch­ing loy­alty – when On­tong was re­cently ap­pointed to Ot­tis Gib­son’s coach­ing staff as the Proteas new field­ing coach.

The now-hus­band and fa­ther, who has a far more rounded un­der­stand­ing of where cricket ac­tu­ally fits into his life, can­not hide his ex­cite­ment though. “This is a chance of a life­time, an early Christ­mas present, and I had to grab it with both hands,” On­tong said. “It is an enor­mous bless­ing to be back in the Proteas fold, al­though it is in a coach­ing ca­pac­ity.”

A much-de­bated topic in SA cricket is that the na­tional team coaches are not in touch in with the do­mes­tic fran­chise game. With Gib­son be­ing only the sec­ond for­eign Proteas coach, it was im­por­tant that his sup­port staff had knowl­edge of what was hap­pen­ing “on the ground”.

There are few that know the cir­cuit bet­ter than On­tong. Twenty years as a pro­fes­sional crick­eter, which only drew to a close this month upon his Proteas ap­point­ment, On­tong cer­tainly fits the mould. He even struck his fi­nal first-class cen­tury just a cou­ple of months ago in the Sun­foil Se­ries.

“I had an­other year or two of cricket left in me, but coach­ing is a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity. I would have been stupid not to take it as I was al­ways look­ing to move into coach­ing.

“I have been work­ing at the Co­bras over the last cou­ple of weeks in a coach­ing ca­pac­ity and it is quite weird giv­ing in­struc­tions in­stead of tak­ing them on board. It is still all new me to but I have been given this op­por­tu­nity now and I want to take full ad­van­tage. Hope­fully I can be part of a man­age­ment group that works all the way through to a suc­cess­ful 2019 World Cup cam­paign.”

LOOK­ING FOR NEW BOUND­ARIES: Un­lucky in his play­ing ca­reer, Justin On­tong now hopes to flour­ish as a coach in the na­tional set-up.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.