|Out of Africa: Makhaya Ntini feels he was forced in to retirement|
Makhaya Ntini has finally revealed the pain behind a 101-Test career which saw him take 390 wickets, claiming he was unceremoniously DUMPED by South Africa.
Amid obvious suggestions of racism, Ntini insists he was forced in to retirement against England at the end of 2009. The “Mdingi Express” says South African cricket officials rushed him out of the Proteas set up and gave him R200,000 to “keep me happy”.
Speaking like never before, Ntini told Robert Marawa he never understood why he was axed after playing for the Proteas against England in Durban in the 2009 Boxing Day Test. He explained how, at 32, he went to play country cricket in England and despite success in difficult conditions, he was never given another chance to add to his Test haul and will forever regret not matching Shaun Pollock's record 421 Test victims.
And he was never offered an explanation – or another contract - by Cricket South Africa. He laments: “I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be the highest wicket taker in the history of South African cricket. But they never told me why I couldn’t carry on.”
Born in Mdingi near King Williams Town, Ntini laboured for a post-Apartheid decade under the pressure of being the Proteas ONLY African player, his tireless efforts making him a vital part of the South African set-up for 11 years after his debut in 1998. Since his retirement, no African player has gained a regular place in the South African side.
Ntini, the only South African to take 10 wickets at Lord’s in 2003, said: “The most important thing that everybody should know is: I had my own goals. I always competed with the best: Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara. Those are the guys who had to be in my bank.
“I knew I had to get them out early, not after they’ve got to their hundred.
“There’s only one guy, Malcolm Marshall, who inspired me. The West Indian style. I said to myself: If I can bowl the way he bowled, I knew I would get to the top. My first coach Malcolm Pybus made me watch his Marshall’s chest-on style, he never ran straight, always came in from an angle.
“I looked at that and said: “I can compare myself to that guy. From my early days at school where they had the concrete and I didn’t have cricket shoes. I used to bowl on the side of the concrete nets. I trained myself to hit the wicket no matter what. That’s why Marshall became my hero.
“I was one of the guys who believed bowling must talk for me. The ball must say everything. I just deliver it. The rest is up to the ball. I didn’t chirp or say anything.
“I’m not really one for statistics. Everyone looks at what they’ve achieved but I played the game because I loved it. I only realised about stats at the later stage, when you get the 100 wickets and everybody claps for you.
“They tell you all the heroes that you’ve passed. You start chasing the other guys. The minute you get there, you chase the next one.”
“101 Tests. 390 wickets. When we started playing cricket in the rural areas, we were told we were playing for fun. Forget about the people saying you could play for your country.
“Just to play for my province, Border. That was the first step. When I received the call from Dr Ali Bacher and Stephen Jones came running saying he’s got good news. I’ve been selected to play for South Africa. I said: “Ag, you’re not serious.”
Then Dr Bacher said I’d been selected. Jones said to me: “The game is starting at the weekend.” That was the green light, the opportunity I’d been waiting for. What every cricketer wishes for.
“I went home and broke the news. Against Sri Lanka in Cape Town. I only got one wicket, but it was a major wicket (Aravinda Da Silva).
“That phone call from Dr Bacher didn’t change my life as much as I thought. The big change was when Hansie Cronje gave me the cap on the morning of the game, at the ground as we were about to go on the field.
“Then it was a reality. A real cap. I was representing my country. The cap that you will never, ever forget in your dreams. That first cap.”
Dr Bacher also appared on Marawa's Friday night show, saying: “Makhaya proves you can come from humble beginnings, where life is very tough, very few resources. But you can get to the top with a good work ethic.
“He went to his first ever Baker’s mini-cricket in a rural area. He was identified, there was something special about his rhythm, the way he moved. He was barefoot. Greg Hayes, provincial development director spoke Xhosa fluently. He phoned me and said there’s something special here. He went off to Dale College.
“Makhaya is an inspiration. The call that meant most to me was when he took 10 wickets at Lord’s, he called Khaya Majola to tell him. That call meant so much to me when Majola called me and said thank you.
“The sad part about our cricket is that Makhaya is the ONLY BLACK AFRICAN to become a star in our cricket team. We need to ask HIM how we can change this.”
Ntini, in the process of setting up his own cricket academy, added: “We’re talking about the father figures. Without trying to give you a backhand, they come and tell you face to face. The Doc, I’m not just saying this because he found me, he became the father figure, the first person I would call.
“We became almost like family between the two of us. One of the people I could not make any decision without calling him. Doc would say: Get on to a plane and come to my house. And he would put all angles on the table and make the decision with me.
“He was the first one to know everything I was doing.”
But Ntini, who ended his career as 12th best wicket-taker in the long history of Test cricket, then dropped the bombshell: “I wanted to be No 1 in this country. I didn’t just retire. I took a wicket against England in Centurion. We lost in Durban. We got to Cape Town and (Proteas coach) Mickey Arthur and his crew took me aside and said I was dropped."
I covered that series as an English cricket writer for the Evening Standard. I spoke to Ntini on Christmas Day in Durban. He was, as always, overly polite, as we discussed hotel accommodation and football allegiances. South Africa lost the Boxing Day Test by an innings and 98 runs.
Makhaya failed to take a wicket after taking two in the drawn opening Test in Centurion. Friedel de Wet, from the Lions, took five at SuperSport Park but was dropped for the second Test. When we arrived at Newlands to find Ntini had been axed and replaced by De Wet, there was general disbelief among the English media contingent.
Ntini recalls: “We only bowled once in Durban, we didn’t have a second innings. I became the one he dropped. But it was our batting that failed. What did I do wrong? I asked Mickey: “What must I do?” Mike Procter (head of selectors) says: “We have found somebody to replace you.” I didn’t know what to say.
“I turned round and asked: What must I do? Must I pack my bags and go?” I went home. I explained all this to my family. I told them I had to go and play in England. I needed 30 wickets for 421, the best set by Pollock.
“I did very well in England. I got the call, they said I wasn’t going to make the team. I didn’t argue. That was the end of me playing for South Africa.
“Mike Procter never explained what he meant by having somebody to replace me (De Wet never played another Test match after his two appearances in that drawn series against England). When I asked if I should pack my bags in Cape Town… when I asked about Johannesburg and the fourth Test against England. They had De Wet from the Lions.
“I can put so many things on the table. Every single card. But I couldn’t find any reason why, all of a sudden, I made South Africa not to win in Durban. We were bowled out twice in one game. How come I was the only one dropped and never to return? There were 11 of us.
“I was on the A-plus contract. They said we could never be dropped all the way to B. We should have gone straight to an A contract. But I actually lost my contract. I was never offered another deal. I’m telling you the honest truth.
“I went to the officials. I asked how does this work, from A-plus to no contract? They said: “We decided to give you R200,000 just to keep you going." It’s a sad thing. It’s one of the reasons I was running away from it.
“I’m not a person who likes to expose people. I was never raised that way.
“I called Doc (Ali Bacher). He asked me to come and sit down with him. People ask why I don’t write a book. I cannot because I want to keep these things to myself.
“I had to forgive myself first. For me to move on and face these people who blocked me.
“If we go in to the wicket taking side, I’m the only South African on the honours board at Lord's. The 10th since cricket has been played at that ground to take 10 wickets at headquarters.
“They guy I’m behind is Malcolm Marshall.”
When Marawa suggested Ntini was “becoming a threat” with his wicket taking, Makhaya refused to comment. Pushed further, as Marawa suggested race as the issue behind his premature axing, Ntini - typically - just laughed.
And then on to why no African cricketers feature in the current crop:“Yes, it’s one of the things I’m looking to do in the Eastern Cape with my academy at Mdatsane near East London. Teaching the kids not just about cricket but life skills. Teach them how to behave, how to control their goods. I was so lucky to have people so positive around me.
“They always ask me why I’m smiling. I say it’s a sad thing if you’re not. You’d better smile now, forget everything that’s bad inside your head. That’s the only thing that keeps me going."
Thanks to the excellent Robert Marawa for this interview on MetroFM last Friday.
Thanks to the excellent Robert Marawa for this interview on MetroFM last Friday.
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