Through relentless hard work, Phehlukwayo is making the most of his natural talent, featured in the latest edition of SA Cricket magazine.
Kurt Donaldson, the former Glenwood Boys High Director of Sport, remembers the first day he saw Proteas all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo as if it was yesterday.
Durban High School U14 A coach at the time, he led his troops to a regulation game against Phehlukwayo’s alma mater, Glenwood: ‘All the boys in my side were going on about this Andile boy but I’d never seen him before. Boy did he make an impression – he bowled 1 000km/h faster than anybody else and hit the ball so sweetly.
‘He wasn’t the biggest guy around there but athletically he was the best developed. Already at that age he looked like an athlete while the rest of the boys still had puppy fat and were going through growth spurts. The way he ran and threw told you this was an athlete.’
If there are two things Phehlukwayo has made a habit of since that day, they are that his reputation precedes him and he almost always makes the right first impression.
A case in point was his introduction to ODI cricket. After a satisfactory start against Ireland, the Australians – normally adept at sussing out a man’s character, or lack thereof – were next.
Phehlukwayo promptly went for 16 runs in his first over. While he says he was kind of expecting it, it can’t have been part of his visualisation the night before.
‘I had an idea they’d come after me, I’d been told that they come hard at newcomers,’ he tells SA Cricket magazine. ‘After that first over I was thinking of how to come back. I got a lot of support from the senior guys, especially Dale Steyn, who told me to try and slow things down and hit my lengths as hard as I can.’
Said lengths were found and Phehlukwayo not only helped peg back the Aussies, who had started like a runaway train, he emerged with his best ODI figures of 4-44. In that game Phehlukwayo looked to the manor born in spite of being all of 20.
He was involved in the first three wickets to fall, taking two and a catch at mid-on and forcing a run out with a particularly economic spell. Throughout, he gave the impression he was one of those players with a happy knack attracting the ball and being involved in the game all the time.
By the sounds of it, it’s his intention every time he goes into a game: ‘I want to always be the hard worker for the team. Whatever the situation, I want to be the guy that performs. If the wicket is flat I want to be that guy bowling, if the wicket is green and we’ve lost three or four wickets, I want to come in and bat.’
If it sounds like another youngster giving lip service to the whole attitude thing, Donaldson says he witnessed it first hand after he crossed the floor from DHS to Glenwood.
‘As a player and captain in his final year with us, he always took the responsibility for everything,’ says Donaldson. ‘If we needed a quick wicket or runs, he would bowl himself or put himself in. But it wasn’t in a selfish way because it was for the team. He wouldn’t ask a teammate to do what he wasn’t willing to do himself – he was the ultimate team man.’
In the Proteas’ third ODI en route to a 5-0 whitewash against the Aussies, Phehlukwayo gave South Africans who were just beginning to take to him something of a deja vous moment. Playing in Durban, the Dolphins youngster joined former teammate David Miller for a 107-run partnership that took the Proteas over the line in a pulsating run chase of well over 300.
During that game, Phehlukwayo, batting at No 8, produced some lusty counter-attacking hitting in a vital knock of 42 not out as Miller made a century at the other end of the pitch. The knock drew comparisons with Lance Klusener, the original patron saint of lost causes for South Africa.
And it didn’t help that the man doing it bowled right-handed and batted left-handed, not to mention wore the number 69 (Klusener’s old Proteas number) on his domestic limited-overs cricket jersey.
‘It’s very difficult to compare me to Lance because he was world class,’ says Phehlukwayo, who was coached by Klusener until last season. ‘But he is a role model and someone I want to play like, someone who makes an impact in a game. Someone who people know when he’s at the crease the game is never over.”
Klusener’s comments make for a mutual admiration society with his young protégé, whom he gave permission to wear his iconic shirt: ‘I think he’s going to be way better than I was. He’s a lot calmer and he knows what he wants.
‘I started my career batting at No 11 and he started at No 7. He’ll pick up a yard of pace [in his bowling] as well like [Kagiso] Rabada has.’
Donaldson is with Klusener on this one: ‘I played a bit with Lance at DHS and he was an all-out grunt cricketer who worked very hard at his game. Andile is more of a natural because of his incredible hand-eye co-ordination. It’s not fair on either of them because they’re such different cricketers.”
The ease with which Phehlukwayo took to international cricket is deceptive as it hides an incredible work ethic, which Klusener says is half the battle won when it comes to the demands on an all-rounder. Donaldson says he’s never met a schoolboy who worked harder at his game.
‘One of the coaching clichés is that what you put in is what you get out,’ says Donaldson. ‘When we finished practice at 5pm I’d go into my office and the other kids would go home but Andile would do extra bowling at targets and extra hitting.
‘I played a little bit of first-class cricket and you always tell kids what they need to do to make it but they don’t understand it. The one guy who did in my group was Andile. He was always working, always asking questions which were pertinent to the game, and it made him a good captain.’
Asked what it is that drives him, Phehlukwayo says ‘I think it’s the hunger to make to make life better for my mom (who is a domestic worker in the South Coast in KwaZulu-Natal) and improving myself’.
Joining the Proteas for his six ODI matches has also given him a taste for self improvement. ‘International cricket is a step up, the intensity is higher, your preparation and skill needs to be spot on.’
To that end, he had worked hard at his fitness until he needed an operation to his groin area after being hit by a would-be return catch during a domestic T20 match. He also wants to work on his consistency with bat and ball, his shot selection and ‘not getting bored at the crease’.
Due to his injury, which was supposed to take him out of commission for at least six weeks, Phehlukwayo is loath to talk about the forthcoming ODI series against Sri Lanka as he is not sure if he will have recovered sufficiently enough to play in it.
But he is willing to discuss his thawing to the idea of playing Test cricket: ‘I didn’t always enjoy red-ball cricket but I’m slowly starting to enjoy it now. For us youngsters we look at it and think it’s boring and it takes long.
‘But the more I play it the more I understand it and the application it takes to play it. It’s definitely a step up I would like to take.’