Makhaya Ntini - The last of a dying breed
For a 32-year-old fast bowler playing in his 100th Test match things could hardly have turned out any better.
After an early wobble, Jacques Kallis guided the South African middle order with learned aplomb as they gradually made a mockery of Andrew Strauss’ decision to insert the South African’s on the opening day at Centurion.
Makhaya Ntini sat contentedly on the sidelines, a wide grin etched permanently across a face just beginning to show signs of age. Having said that, they could be smile lines; Ntini has done a fair amount of grinning in almost twelve years of international cricket.
It seems odd to describe someone with 388 Test scalps as underestimated but in many ways Ntini has never quite received the plaudits he deserved, especially from beyond his native South Africa. Indeed as often as not his greatest strength, the almost superhuman stamina which enables him to deliver constantly at a hostile pace, has counted against him.
His early years were spent as apprentice to the greats, Pollock and Donald and the young Ntini’s role was to hold up an end whilst his more illustrious teammates took the new ball and the glory. He was raw and sometimes expensive but also the selectors’ dream, a black African good enough to play for the national team after eight years of searching.
That his career was almost ended in 1999 after he was convicted on a rape charge seems a story from another time age and it is the kind of belligerence he showed to return to the international fold after being acquitted of the crime which sets him apart.
Donald might have been more hostile, Pollock more accurate and Steyn a yard quicker but not one of his many contemporaries can match his boundless energy or unquenchable desire to send down ball after ball, over after over. On his day too he can produce spells of brilliance and during his brief stint as the leader of the attack in the middle part of the 00’s reached no.2 in the ICC world rankings.
But his peak coincided with a slump in South Africa’s fortunes and by the time Graeme Smith had led the Proteas to no.1 in the world the rise of Steyn and Morne Morkel once again meant that Ntini was destined to be the holding bowler.
Not that he has, or ever would complain. Ntini may yet add substantially to his caps tally but he is one of a dying breed. With unprecedented strain being placed on international cricketers, particularly those with the ability to bowl fast, and the IPL providing the chance to make a quick buck, the chances of future generations of bowler’s breaching the 100 game barrier is lower than ever.
So when Kallis and co. finally relent and England have their turn in Centurion, take a moment to savour Ntini as he bustles in, chains akimbo, and delivers from wide of the crease, ball after ball, over after over, spell after spell.