by Rizel Delano

A lasting legacy

South African cricket icon open doors for youth

Makhaya Ntini, the first black player for the national team, the Proteas.
Corbis-42-18155336.jpeg
On 19 March 1998, Makhaya Ntini, widely regarded as one of the country’s most important and successful players in the history of South African cricket, walked on the pitch as the very first black player for the national team, the Proteas. Today he is an avid driver for youth cricket development in unprivileged areas and a symbol for hope to many aspiring cricketers.

The former fast bowler awed spectators for more than a decade with his distinctive, wide-of-the-crease, brisk pace bowling style that earned him 390 wickets. Second only to Shaun Pollock’s 421 wickets, Ntini’s wicket haul was 11th on the list of all-time Test wicket takers of the world. He was the fifth South African to have appeared in 100 cricket Tests when he retired on 9 January 2011 at the age of 33. 

From being an ordinary village kid Ntini has evolved into one of the world’s top cricketers, chronicling a number of record feats.The journey taking him from his roots to becoming a national sport hero was not always easy.

 He grew up in a very poor family with seven in the household and only his father working. And when his father passed away, the family constantly struggled to keep head above water.

But just as in a fairy tale, Ntini was discovered at the age of 15 by Boland Cricket Board development officer Raymond Bool, who was setting up a programme in the area to introduce cricket to the villagers and to look for new talent. Ntini was herding cattle and horses with his friends, watching Bool from a distance and playing with the other village kids when Bool called Ntini closer, shouting: “Come, let’s bowl!”

The barefooted Ntini picked up the ball, ran in and bowled. At once Bool was intrigued by his fast bowling.Bool and Greg Hayes, the head of the United Cricket Board’s development programme, enrolled Ntini in a junior cricket festival in Queenstown and afterward offered him a place at Dale College from whereon he flourished.

Growing up, Ntini and the village boys did not take much interest in cricket – their sport was either football or marathon-running. So when at first he was groomed for the game, he played cricket just for fun and hardly thought he would become a superstar. Besides, he thought cricket was one of the white-dominated sports. Moreover, he had no shoes or proper kit while other players were fitted out with the best.

Even more daunting later in his career, was when he was wrongly accused of raping a woman at the Buffalo Park Cricket Ground in December 1998, which almost shattered his career.

Ntini overcame all challenges, and the many lessons learnt are exactly the reason he is currently the ambassador of cricket development for Cricket South Africa.

He is an avid crusader for the game and very passionate about teaching cricket. He still plays the game for the Chevrolet Warriors and launched the Makhaya Ntini Cricket Academy at Willows Cricket Club in Mdantsane, just outside East London. Fittingly, it is not far from Ntini’s home village and also the birthplace of some of the most influential figures in South African history: Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela.

Ntini envisions cricketers coming to the academy from as far as Umtata, Aliwal North, Free State and Port Elizabeth. He feels it is part of his duties to identify new black players – and if his vision is fully realised, the academy could change the landscape of South African cricket.

The state-of-the-art facility will incorporate a myriad of activities to develop proper skill sets by some of the best cricket coaches in the country. The facility consists of an indoor grass wicket with three artificial turf nets for indoor cricket, soccer and netball, with a fully equipped gym, computer centre, conferencing facilities and accommodation for visitors.

Teams will be filtered in from local schools, and social problems such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and crime will be attended to by the academy, in an attempt to improve the overall conditions inside communities.Having been part of the Proteas team, Ntini has established friendships with big-name cricketers around the globe who understand the passion of the game. He hopes their involvement will help the academy gain worldwide recognition and serve as a student exchange facility.

The academy was initially launched in 2008 with the assistance of Old Mutual SA and contributions from Mutual & Federal and Basil Read. Old Mutual jump-started the project by donating R500 000, with company employees raising a further R70 000.Thereafter, a lack of funding and busy schedules caused a delay, but Ntini is now working full steam to raise the millions needed. Seeing the poor facilities currently being used in communities depresses him and he’s eager to get the project completed as quickly as possible.

He has proved that, given the right opportunity together with talent, dedicated effort and support, anyone from any background can excel at the highest level of international sport. His academy will give other children the same opportunities, and he fully believes there are other Makhaya Ntini’s out there.He is an inspiration to the Rainbow Nation and a superstar. It was not Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis or Dale Steyn who were asked to go on stage with Charlize Theron, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and David Beckham for the FIFA World Cup™ draw – it was Makhaya Ntini.

To quote Simon Briggs, who reported on 5 December 2009, “A good sportsman will shape the games he appears in, at the very best change the way a sport is played. But few can claim to have transformed a whole country to the extent that Makhaya Ntini has done.”

In a sports-mad country, Ntini’s success has given hope to millions of youngsters who are trying to redefine themselves – and that, more than any of the highlights of his career, will be his greatest legacy.

Rizel Delano
 
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