The recent T20 match between South Africa and India played in the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban heralded the final international appearance of a true cricketing trailblazer. On a ground that represents the success of South Africa’s development through its hosting of the football world cup, the farewell match for Makhaya Ntini reflected this progress by celebrating a player who stood for so much more than cricketing greatness.
Taking a look through Ntini’s career figures only tells half the story, but they are certainly impressive nonetheless. 390 wickets at 28 in tests and 266 at 24 in ODI’s represent the figures of a true champion. Throw in with that 22 five wicket hauls over both formats and four 10 wicket hauls in tests and you can see why he was the main stay of South Africa’s bowling line-up for over 100 tests.
Of course, Ntini’s career means so much more than just his outstanding figures. Entering the South African team in 1998, Ntini was the first and is certainly the most famous black South African cricketer. After overcoming a rape allegation in 1999, Ntini forced his way back into the team and stayed there for over a decade. Through this period, South Africa’s controversial policy of picking a minimum number of black players was discussed at length, but there was never a doubt that Ntini was in the team purely for his outstanding skill and consistent performances.
The final element of Ntini’s legacy has little to do with the colour of his skin or the skill with which he bowled. I think there’s probably two ways to really sum up this most important element of Ntini’s fantastic career; his wide smile and the celebration of his 100th test. Makhaya’s 100th test, fittingly played on home soil, was a celebration. A South African beer company sponsoring the team offered free beer to a jubilant crowd and the raucous patrons reciprocated by singing and dancing in honour of their great bowling hero.
This adulation has, of course, a lot to do with that winning smile. Ntini was a fierce opponent, who ran in and bowled tirelessly and always with aggression and verve. But, never far from his face was a fantastic smile. Makhaya was always willing to see the funny side, but this never got in the way of his competitiveness and his professionalism. This is what endeared him to fans and players alike, as was evidenced in the warm embraces Ntini received from the Indians walking off the pitch in Durban the other night.
In this era of endless matches in too many formats with a thousand forgettable faces, cricket is lucky that it can celebrate someone so dynamic. And celebrate we do, as we remember back and say one more time…All Hail Makhaya!
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