BATS­MEN BE­WARE: IT’S LUTHO!

Faf and Markram cer­tainly rate this hot-shot 20-year-old bowler – the pair among his vic­tims in the MSL

The Independent on Saturday - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART HESS stu­[email protected]

LOOK­ING at Lutho Si­pamla you wouldn’t think, “here’s a tough guy”. He’s still car­ry­ing his baby fat. He’s con­fi­dent but re­served and he speaks with a clar­ity that be­lies his 20 years.

“Per­son­ally, I think you have to learn very quickly. You can’t be on the back foot. You can’t al­ways be ask­ing for help from other peo­ple,” says Si­pamla.

Be­fore the Mzansi Su­per League, Si­pamla was one of those names peo­ple in cricket cir­cles whis­pered about. “Him, sure, he’s got some­thing,” they would say.

Now, ev­ery­one knows, in­clud­ing Proteas cap­tain Faf du Plessis and fu­ture Proteas cap­tain Ai­den Markram. Si­pamla dis­missed both of them in Wed­nes­day’s MSL match at Su­perS­port Park.

Du Plessis was in­tro­duced to Si­pamla after­wards and told him he was bowl­ing nicely. That’s a hel­luva recognition for a player who last sea­son was still be­ing in­tro­duced to the East­ern Prov­ince semipro­fes­sional side.

A se­vere knee in­jury meant Lungi Ngidi played no part in the MSL and el­e­vated Si­pamla to a reg­u­lar start­ing berth. He’s played all seven of the Tsh­wane Spar­tans’ matches and head­ing into this week­end’s round of fix­tures was the sec­ond high­est wicket-taker with 12.

“In­stead of moan­ing that Lungi’s not here, I took the re­spon­si­bil­ity. I might not have ex­pected to play this many games,” Si­pamla said. “I’ve prac­tised harder, talked to the cap­tain and coach and that has helped me.”

Play­ing tough and hard cricket is some­thing Si­pamla as­pires to. It’s some­thing he takes pride in as well as learn­ing from he­roes like Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Brett Lee, Michael Hold­ing and lately, Mfu­neko Ngam, who’s been coach­ing him at the War­riors. “Those he­roes, I’ve built a lot of them into my cricket; the ag­gres­sion, the rhythm, al­ways play­ing the cricket hard and try­ing to be as clin­i­cal as pos­si­ble.

“Be­ing from East­ern Prov­ince, we feel un­der­mined as a cricket union. From a young age when you go to junior cricket weeks, you come across Gaut­eng, West­ern Prov­ince, KZN In­land, KZN Coastal side... and EP was al­ways frowned upon. I think you had to be hard, you had to be tough, take it all on board, and say, ‘lis­ten, we are here to play’. That’s how I grew up play­ing my cricket, I didn’t want to be looked down upon be­cause I’m from EP. We had to throw the first punch, show that we are around; we had to show we are here to play cricket.”

Si­pamla’s fa­ther Mahlubi placed his then seven-year-old son in an acad­emy in Port Elizabeth in 2005.

“He was try­ing to keep me busy, he was a work­ing man (an in­sur­ance bro­ker) at the time; af­ter school that 2pm-5pm pe­riod, you want to keep a child as oc­cu­pied as pos­si­ble. I just think he thought, ‘here’s an acad­emy, go play some sport, be ac­tive’. “He gave me the op­por­tu­nity to play what­ever sport I wanted. I took cricket on board and then at junior school played a bit of rugby – flank and eighth man. I was very ac­tive, I played as many sports as pos­si­ble, and took on cricket as I went into high school.”

That high school was Grey High, which counts Graeme and Peter Pol­lock, Dave Cal­laghan, Jan Ser­fontein, and most fa­mously of late, Siya Kolisi among its al­lumni. “He (Kolisi) was a big thing when I was go­ing into high school. He was out (of school) three or four years al­ready when I reached high school but he was still a big thing at Grey; you knew what he’d done,” said Si­pamla of the Spring­boks’ new­est cap­tain.

He is a while away from achiev­ing the level of star­dom Kolisi now en­joys, but Si­pamla’s clear what his goals are.

“The long term goal, like it is for any crick­eter in South Africa, is to play for the Proteas. But I wouldn’t say I want to get there quickly. It’s not about want­ing to play for a higher team very fast. I just think my drive is to try and learn about the game, ear­lier than other peo­ple.

“So I try and learn from my mis­takes as quickly as pos­si­ble – even mis­takes that oth­ers make that I haven’t, I’m try­ing to rec­tify those be­fore I make them.

“I’m not try­ing to make teams faster than any­one else, but I am try­ing to learn quicker. I think it will help me play bet­ter cricket and be a bet­ter crick­eter, rather than me just try­ing to make teams.”

His ex­po­sure in the MSL has cer­tainly ac­cel­er­ated that process as Wed­nes­day’s match showed, when the 20-year-old right-arm fast bowler claimed 3/19 in four overs, adding Dwayne Bravo’s wicket to those of Markram and Du Plessis.

“It’s been an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, play­ing against in­ter­na­tional play­ers, bet­ter play­ers, it raises your stan­dards a lot, you’ve got to come out there, raise your A game, show what you’ve got, it’s helped me... play proper cricket, harder cricket.

“I’ve learnt a lot play­ing with the more ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers like AB, Rob­bie (Frylinck) and Rory (Klein­veldt); they have calm heads and they’ve got a lot of in­for­ma­tion to give. I’ve learned a lot.”

And he will con­tinue to do so even as he leads the Spar­tans’ at­tack, a quite stun­ning de­vel­op­ment given his sta­tus as a rookie player.

Si­pamla’s jour­ney is only just start­ing. It’s to his credit that he knows what he wants from his fu­ture. He is out here learn­ing – quickly. And that will make him tougher and South African cricket will be all the bet­ter for that.

| GAVIN BARKER Back­pagePix

LUTHO Si­pamla of the Spar­tans bowls dur­ing the MSL match against the Jozi Stars at Cen­tu­rion re­cently

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