Cobras veteran Justin Ontong is preparing for his 20th year as a professional player with the T20 Global League on his mind.
Ontong is a bit undecided about the way the game is heading. As he approaches the back-end of his career, his passion for the sport is far from dwindling, but he’s had to wait until the age of 37 to see South Africa stage a global T20 tournament.
It’s been almost 20 years since Ontong made his first-class debut for Boland, and he’s gone on to enjoy prolific stints with the Highveld Lions and the Cape Cobras since. He didn’t quite hit the heights he would have liked at international level, but he can still lay claim to having played in all three formats for the Proteas.
Another aspect missing from his cricketing CV is experience in an overseas T20 tournament. The T20 Global League finally gives him the chance to express himself on the global stage. That ‘hunger’ is still there, but he admits, like many cricketers in his age bracket, that he wishes he could enter the fray as a professional cricketer today, in an environment that is dominated by lucrative contracts across privately-owned T20 franchises.
‘I still have a hunger, but I’m listening to my body; I’m starting to get a few more niggles,’ Ontong tells SACricketmag.com. ‘But sometimes I wish I was starting off my career now with all of the global T20 tournaments happening.
‘As a young cricketer how can you not be excited? It’s going to be a bumper season. We’re playing in three T20 competitions on top of the Sunfoil Series. I’ll see how my body holds up, but I’m ready to go.’
Ontong was at the KFC Mini Cricket national seminar in the Drakensberg last week to pay tribute to all of the coaches that put the effort into teaching the cricket basics to over 120,000 kids nationwide. It was revealed that he was one of 124 players who learned their trade in Mini Cricket, to go on and represent their national team. He admits the game has changed somewhat since he first took part.
‘There’s no loyalty in cricket anymore; the game is changing so quickly. I used to enjoy spending the whole weekend at cricket clubs, but now kids are happy to just play for a couple of hours,’ he says.
He doesn’t regard it as a negative, though, revealing that all of the contracted Cobras players have put their names in the hat for the T20 Global League auction which will take place in August. With the tournament set to get underway in November/December, he believes it’s going to be a massive opportunity for the youngsters in the squads to make a name for themselves.
‘Everyone’s waiting,’ Ontong says. ‘We’ll have to wait and see if we’ll be part of that. But it’s exciting, especially for our local players. We hear too many stories of players wanting to leave to go and play in England. We have to make sure we keep our talent here.
‘We all know the biggest benefits for the players are financial, but I don’t see it that way,’ he continues. ‘I see it as a great opportunity for South African cricket to get on the map. We get to express ourselves and the world now gets to see that. The financial aspect will take care of itself.’
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