Born July 6, 1977, Makhaya Ntini is perhaps one of the most popular South African cricketers to ever play the game. Shiamak Unwalla looks at 13 interesting facts about the first ethnically black cricketer South Africa produced.
1. Humble beginnings
Born in the cricketing backwater of Mdingi near King William’s Town, Ntini was discovered as a barefoot cattle-herder by a Boland Cricket Board development officer. Raymond Bool was impressed with the then-15 year old Ntini, and lent him a pair of shoes to bowl in. Ntini was a bit too old for the camp that had been organised, but Bool was sufficiently impressed and got Ntini to travel to King William’s Town for a net session. Bool then contacted Greg Hayes, the head of programme. Ntini was soon playing in Queenstown, for which Hayes gifted him a pair of boots. Hayes had to make the young Ntini promise not to wear them while herding cattle, and only to use them while playing cricket.
2. A pioneer
Among his many achievements, the one Ntini is most proud of is being the first ethnically-black South African to play for his country. In many ways it was Ntini who paved the way for non-white cricketers to play for South Africa.
Ntini’s career almost ended before it began when he was accused of raping a 21-year-old student at a cricket ground in 1998. He was charged and convicted, but later acquitted. Ali Bacher and the South African cricket board stood by Ntini, backing him publically.
4. Lord’s hero
Ntini further etched his name in history when he became the first South African to take 10 wickets in a match at Lord’s. Ntini’s match haul of 10 for 220 in 2003 resulted in an innings victory for South Africa. He shared the Man of the Match award with Graeme Smith, who scored 259.
5. The best figures
With his match haul of 13 for 132 against West Indies at Port of Spain in 2005, Ntini added yet another laurel to his name. He surpassed the great Hugh Tayfield’s 13 for 165 to achieve the best bowling figures in a match by a South African in Tests.
6. Dangerous for the batsmen
Though he was never as quick as Brett Lee or Shoaib Akhtar, Ntini had the ability to hurry the batsmen on the backfoot on occasions. Justin Langer, playing his 100th Test, was struck on the helmet by Ntini off the first ball he faced in that game, and had to go off with a concussion.
This was not a one-off affair; Ntini would come in from wide of the crease, and then swerve left at the last moment before delivery. This provided the batsmen with disconcertingl bowling angles to face, and as a result they would often get hit on the body.
7. A unique hat-trick
Playing for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in IPL 2008, Ntini became the third man to take a hat-trick in the event. What stood out though, was the manner in which he got his wickets.
Each of the batsmen were out bowled, but while the first ball (incidentally the last ball of his over) took out the middle stump, the second one knocked over the leg stump, and the final delivery removed off stump. Thus, Ntini took a hat-trick by hitting each stump individually!
8. Beacon of longevity
In a Test career lasting 101 matches spread across 11 years, Ntini rarely missed a match due to injury. He always remained remarkably fit, and though the pace dipped a bit in later years, he never had any persistent injury issues. Ntini once told The Telegraph, “I want to go on until I’m 40. My physique is my life, and the way I’ve conditioned my body, I don’t see myself stopping now.”
9. A questionable exit
It is perhaps this fitness and longevity of Ntini’s that made his retirement seem a bit strange. In an interview with sport24.co.za, Ntini responded to the question of why he retired by saying, “That’s a difficult question to answer; what if I said I didn’t want to retire?” This statement led some to believe that Ntini might not have wanted to retire, but was forced into it. However, he went on to say in the same interview, “We always say rather get out now than wait before you’re pushed out. There was no need for me to stick around… I had to make sure that I left the game with a good name.”
10. Giving back
Ntini has said time and again that he is indebted to the game and how much it gave him. Ntini set up the Makhaya Ntini Academy, whose aim was to produce more Black cricketers.
11. Rugby connection
Though he was predominantly a cricketer during his days at the almost exclusively white Dale College, Ntini also played rugby and was close friends with a number of players who would go on to play for South Africa. Ntini also briefly managed a rugby club, Kaizer Chiefs Sevens rugby team, after retiring from cricket.
12. Cricket at Mt Kilimanjaro
On September 26, 2014, Ntini was a part of the “highest game of cricket ever played.” The two teams included the likes of England Women vice-captain Heather Knight, former England spinner Ashley Giles, former England women’s captain Clare Connor, and Ntini. Ntini said of the experience, “This was one of the biggest challenges of my career. I’ve played cricket all over the world, but never in such a strange place!”
13. Coaching stint
Ntini was interim head coach of Zimbabwe since Dav Whatmore’s departure in June 2016. He oversaw Zimbabwe’s limited-overs series against India and the two Tests against New Zealand. Later, when Heath Streak was named the head coach of the side in October that year, Ntini stayed on as the bowling coach.
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