“I was a little bit rusty, to be honest, but I feel the more you play the better you will get.”
“DON’T worry, I got this!”
That was the 2019 version of Andile Phehlukwayo. The guy that told his captain David Miller that everything was under control, despite the opposition requiring just 15 runs off the final six balls. And then delivering on his promise to close out a series win.
It was the type of situation that Phelukwayo is manufactured for. He was never – and actually may never be in fact – a “numbers man”. It has always been more about the moment for Phelukwayo. Whereas others fear the spotlight, Phelukwayo is attracted to it like a moth to a flame.
He wants to be the guy that closes out matches at the end when the pressure makes it almost impossible to breathe. In fact, he has previously even admitted to enjoying the adrenalin rush of knowing the game’s outcome is dependent on him.
So, what has happened over the past 18 months? How has Phehlukwayo been transformed into someone that could not be trusted to deliver more than just two overs across three T20Is, even when the opposition were posting a 197-run opening stand in the third match?
And that his captain Heinrich Klaasen, who led South Africa in Temba Bavuma’s absence in the Pakistan T20I series a few months ago, went as far as to publicly say that Phehlukwayo’s confidence was a bit “low”.
Well, there are a myriad of reasons, primarily related to off-field concerns, with Phehlukwayo being among the first Proteas to contract Covid-19 back in November ahead of the England series. It took a long while for Phehlukwayo to regain full physical fitness. The sight of him straggling behind the rest of his teammates due to sheer exhaustion on a lap around Boland Park after the second T20I against England shortly after returning from isolation is still fresh in the memory.
Equally, the mental drain of consistently having to inhabit bio-secure environments has not been kind to a free-spirit such as Phehlukwayo.
All of this leaves Phehlukwayo at a crossroads in his international career. Still only 25 years old, but having already celebrated playing 100 matches across formats for his country last Sunday against Ireland, Phehlukwayo should be the fulcrum that Proteas coach Mark Boucher builds his white-ball teams around going forward.
But that can only happen if Phehlukwayo pushes out his chest again and delivers the type of performances that everyone knows that he is capable of. It is never going to be about his statistics, but rather him delivering those game-changing moments a little bit more consistently.
And he can only do that if he rediscovers his mojo, which began steadily in Malahide when he made the all-important breakthrough by removing Ireland opener Paul Sterling.
“It has been a while that I have been out on the field in Proteas colours. Every time I get out on the field for the Proteas I want to make the team proud,” Phehlukwayo said on Monday ahead of the second ODI tomorrow.
“I was a little bit rusty, to be honest, but I feel the more you play the better you will get. It is about being out on the field as long as possible. I think I have been shy of a few games.
“But I do think the longer that I am on the park the confidence will grow and return to how I used to play and how things used to be out on the field. It is just a matter of time spent at the crease.”