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The Next Big Thing - Monde Zondeki

By Justin Lichterman

Monde Zondeki recently made an impact with his first ball as a Protea in the South African team. Zondeki bowled wide of off stump, and the delivery nipped away a fraction as Sri Lankan opener Marvan Atapattu attempted a flat-footed steer through the slips. South African wicket-keeper Mark Boucher fumbled a regulation caught behind chance, but Andrew Hall was alert enough to grasp the rebound one-handed.  In a spectacular moment, Zondeki captured his first International wicket with his first delivery in International cricket.

The twenty-year old paceman plays domestic cricket for Border, together with fellow Xhosa Makhaya Ntini, and was included in the national squad facing off against Sri Lanka to learn more about the National set up and to work extensively with the National coach Eric Simons and assistant Corrie van Zyl. Zondeki made his limited overs International debut in Bloemfontein after South Africa wrapped up the five match series 3-1 in Kimberley.

Considered a novelty to his new teammates and a virtual unknown. South African captain Shaun Pollock and bowling coach Corrie van Zyl, both admitted when Zondeki joined the national squad recently, it was the first time they had seen him “in real life.”

Zondeki’s selection for National honors contains a special significance; Monde is the nephew of former South African anti-Apartheid leader and Minister of Sport, Steve Tshwete.  Zondeki’s mother and Tshwete’s wife were sisters. Zondeki lived with the Tshwete family from the age of seven, an experience that included spending a year in exile in Zambia. Sadly, Tshwete passed away earlier this year, before Zondeki emerged as an International player.

On being selected for the National team, Zondeki dedicated his selection to his Uncle Steve, stating “I know he [Steve Tshwete] will be with me when I bowl that first ball.”  The rest, as they say, is history, as the ball dedicated to Zondeki’s mentor moved just a touch and dismissed Atapattu, who was batting Sri Lanka into a strong position with 53 runs from 63 deliveries.

Cricket began for Zondeki at age 10, when he arrived at Dale College junior school, the same school attended earlier by a young Makhaya Ntini.  At that stage, the schoolboy was more interested in fun than fast bowling, beginning his career as a leg-spinner and a bit of a batsman.  The same man responsible for Ntini’s emergence , Greg Hayes, first spoke to Zondeki about bowling quickly after spotting him at Border. When he was still an under-15 player, Zondeki torched an England schools side on a bouncy, concrete pitch in the Masingata Township, outside King Williams Town. He terrorised the opposition, causing four batsmen to retire hurt after they had been hit on the elbow.

Zondeki is quick to credit Ntini as a role model. “He started playing for South Africa while I was at school. At that stage, there were no other black cricketers coming through. He also went to the same school as me, so I got to know him quite well before he made it big. That was a help to me.”

Vasbert Drakes was another influence and another of Zondeki’s role models now sits beside him as a teammate.  “Allan Donald has always been a hero of mine. On the way back from Benoni he had a chat with me about bowling and told me how big a chance I now have to make it. I was honoured to get a bit of advice from someone so great and now I will be playing in the same team as him. It's unbelievable really,” said the exciting speedster.

Eric Simons was also positive: “He's done very well thus far and I am impressed with his attitude. He has the ability to put into practice the advice we've given him and he looks a good prospect. I'm aware there has been concern that he's a little wayward,” added Simons. “But in the nets he has been quite good. Of course it's a completely different matter when it comes to a match situation.”

After being told he would debut at Bloemfontein, Zondeki was nervous at the nets. After an injury-plagued season last year and deciding not to attend the National Academy, he worked on strength conditioning with Border fitness trainer Greg King, to increase his pace and prevent further injuries. This season, his pace has improved, with his deliveries consistently around the 140km/h mark. He bowled extremely quickly and maintained an impeccably tight line against the Sri Lankans for South Africa A, capturing 1/8 from 7 overs and then captured 2 more wickets against Pakistan in their tour opener. The result is a leap up to international cricket less than two seasons after his provincial debut.

Zondeki has worked hard to develop the ability to swing the ball and has concentrated on bowling a fuller length to get the ball to swing in domestic cricket, something that some international bowlers, like Javagal Srinath, Nantie Hayward, and Brett Lee, are at pains to discover. It is this desire to adapt and grow that perfectly complements his speed.

Although he has demonstrated raw pace and flashes of outstanding control, Zondeki has shown a propensity to spray the ball, as most young fast bowlers do. At times against Sri Lanka he looked a little wayward, but Pollock and Simons’ efforts to protect him by keeping him away from the new ball contributed to a successful debut and demonstrated good planning and implementation in blooding a young prospect.

Zondeki is also no bunny with the bat, recently cracking a beautiful straight six off the bowling of Nixon McLean at Kingsmead. At school he batted at 8 or 9 and his batting has improved with age. “I don't think I am the worst number 11 the game will ever see,” Zondeki states wryly.

One criticism of the young fast bowler is, he is not particularly aggressive, the traditional hallmark of pacemen; he confesses he has never sledged an opponent on the field. He displays sound maturity about the game, admitting the coaches will probably work on his on-field aggression and refusing to rule out the possibility of confrontations.

“Everybody loses patience now and then, I guess,” he states. “But I am not very aggressive. I just don’t have that sort of attitude.”

If there was any downside to Zondeki’s debut, it was he didn't have the opportunity to bowl with his Border teammate Makhaya Ntini, who sat out the game so that Zondeki and Allan Donald, on his home ground, could play.  No doubt, the day when Ntini and Zondeki bowl in tandem for South Africa is not far off, perhaps as early as next week against Pakistan.

And what thoughts of a South African Test bowling attack including Ntini, Ngam and Zondeki?  The young debutante answers: “It would be a big thing just to play for South Africa, but to play with Makhaya and Gummy would make it just that little bit more special.”  Indeed!

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