Ntini assumes mantle of history
Makhaya Ntini stands on the verge of a piece of cricketing history and his 100th Test cap will be a source of great national, as well as personal pride.
Against England at Centurion on Wednesday, Ntini is set to become the fifth South African to make 100 appearances and just the sixth fast bowler in world cricket to reach the landmark.
Yet a decade ago, the 32-year-old admits it was all so different for the man who broke the mould as the first black South African to play for his country.
“When I started it was a very hard stage, it was still white-dominated,” he said. “But after I really broke through, they realised that I belong in this country and in this sport.”
More than 11 years on, Ntini feels rightly at home.
“We have become so comfortable as a rainbow nation that we can share things among ourselves in this cricket team,” he said.
“No-one is going to be left to feel as an outsider in the group. We have become one family.”
Black South African Test cricketers remain a relatively rare breed despite the quota system designed to increase their numbers.
But Ntini senses his years as a role model will bear fruit and is confident the will is there - despite the lure of football - for many others to follow in his footsteps.
“We need players of colour to be picked regularly, not because of their colour but because they deserve to be part of the national team,” he added.
“If I could take you to where I come from, there is one thing you’ll see in every single street, every child carrying a cricket bat, even if it isn’t a proper one.
“Cricket has been born in that particular area. It just needs polishing to go forward.”
Ntini’s achievements on the pitch can only inspire, even though he admits he never dared to dream he could do what he has.
“At the beginning of my career I never thought I would even play for South Africa,” he said.
“To be one of the only black cricketers coming from the rural areas and to reach the stage I am at now, it’s a piece of history.
“When I look at what people of colour have achieved since, I feel that I’ve done something for my country.
“It makes me so proud. I am one of those guys that was lucky to be found in the rural areas.”
Ntini needs just 12 more wickets to reach 400 and asked whether he can manage that in four Tests against England, he is happy to shove the bar up a few notches.
“Never mind 12, I could take 12 in one game,” he added. “I’m only looking for 34 wickets to pass (former South Africa all-rounder) Shaun Pollock.”
Ambition of that order has helped drive Ntini throughout a career which has had its ups and downs, but has endured remarkably.
“When people told me ‘cricket could be your job’, I took it seriously as someone who wanted to succeed,” he said. “So I made sure from the outset that I put a lot into it.
“You don’t see Makhaya sitting at home having an ice cream, he’s out there trying to make sure he is as fit as he can be.”
Pressed to nominate his most memorable moments, it is a record of near unbroken fitness which is Ntini’s highlight.
“The one thing that stands out for me is to play right through the 12 years without any injury,” he said. “That shows that I’ve taken time to take care of myself.
“I want to play until my body says ‘That’s it’. We need to get our status back and become number one again.”
South Africa today released Ryan McLaren, Alviro Petersen and Wayne Parnell from their original 15-man squad for the first Test.
Jacques Kallis is expected to play, although probably only as a batsman, having had to miss the one-day international series with a broken rib. Fast bowler Dale Steyn has recovered from his hamstring injury.
Coach Mickey Arthur said: “We are happy with the state of readiness of all squad members to play in the first Test.
“Both Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn should be fit to take their places.
“Nevertheless, we are keeping Friedel de Wet on standby as a like-for-like replacement for Dale.
“There is always the chance with bowlers that Dale could wake up on the morning of the match with a recurrence - and we don’t want to have to scramble around for a last-minute replacement.”