'People's champ' of SA cricket retires

Brad Morgan

3 November 2010

Makhaya Ntini, the first black African to play cricket for South Africa, has announced his retirement from international cricket. Ntini bows out as the 11th highest wicket-taker in test history and the holder of numerous records – none of which, however, fully attest to his importance to the game in South Africa.

Ntini's contribution to South African cricket will be recognised when he plays his final game for the Proteas in a Standard Bank Pro20 international against India at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium on 9 January.

According to Cricket South Africa, Ntini will be honoured "both for his contribution to cricket and for his inspiration to current and future generations that has made him the people's champion."

'It's about what you can do'

Announcing his decision at a media conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Ntini said he aimed to continue playing domestic cricket for as long as possible.

Looking back on his career, Ntini said the captains he had played under – Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock and Graeme Smith – had taught him that "it's not about your colour. It's about what you can do. It's about how you can make a difference in the rest of the world."

Ntini certainly did make a difference, and it was because of two things: firstly, he was an excellent player, and his success gave him credibility. Secondly, he played the game with a smile on his face and with tremendous energy.

It was a combination that made him the most popular sportsman in South Africa on a number of occasions, according to annual surveys carried out by BMI.

He will retire as the 11th highest wicket-taker in test history, with 390 victims to his name. Only Shaun Pollock, with 421 wickets, removed more batsmen for South Africa than Ntini.

Great

And consider the names that follow immediately below Ntini on the all-time list of wicket-takers: Ian Botham, Malcolm Marshall, Waqar Younis, Harbhajan Singh, Imran Khan, Dennis Lillee, Chaminda Vaas and Allan Donald. Judge a man by the company he keeps, and it is clear that Ntini belongs on a list that one can term great.

One of the most important features of Ntini's career was that he managed to sustain such a high level of play over such a long period of time. He made his debut in 1998, after all, and played in 101 tests. It is a testament to the fitness and enthusiasm that "The Mdingi Express" showed throughout his international career.

It was those two qualities that stood out in his breakthrough performance against New Zealand in Bloemfontein in November 2000. With the crowd waiting for home favourite Allan Donald to take his 300th test wicket, Ntini grabbed the spotlight by bowling South Africa to victory with a haul of 6 for 66 in 31.4 overs on a pitch that offered the pacemen next to no assistance.

South African records

He will leave the game with a number of important South African records to his name. Included among them are the best bowling performances by a South African in both test and one-day international cricket.

His South African record test best was achieved against the West Indies in Trinidad in April 2005 when he captured 6 for 95 and then his single innings best of 7 for 37 to end with match figures of 13 for 132.

Ntini's South African best ODI haul was achieved in March 2006 against Australia in Cape Town. He knocked over 6 for 22 to steer the Proteas to an unbelievable 196-run victory as the Aussies stumbled to only 93 all out.

He shares the record of four 10-wicket hauls in a test match with Dale Steyn, and is the only South African bowler to have taken a 10-wicket haul in a test match at London's Lord's Cricket Ground, widely referred to as the "home of cricket".

Rape charge

Incredibly, Ntini's was a career that was almost over just after it began and, recalling that time in 2000, when he was aged 22, he thanked Cricket South Africa for sticking by him when he faced a charge of rape. He was initially found guilty, but acquitted on appeal.

"It was a year in which I thought I would never play cricket again, but people had faith, they believed that this guy could make a difference in his country. Just because of that, their support, I pulled through the hardest time of my life," he said.

Now, a decade later, with his international playing days done, Ntini wants put back into cricket and make an even greater difference.

Academy

He began planning for this time back in 2008, when he announced that he would establish an academy at the Willows Cricket Club in Mdantsane, East London, with the support of Old Mutual, which jump-started the project with a donation of R500 000.

Now, Ntini is hoping to draw more greats of the game to the academy, from all around the world, to help him unearth more talent, and maybe, if he is lucky, a true successor to himself.

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South African cricket great Makhaya Ntini (Photo: Cricket South Africa)


Makhaya Ntini celebrates taking another wicket (Photo: Cricket South Africa)

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