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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Makhaya Ntini is born - first black man to play for South Africa, an inspiration to millions

South African blower Makhaya Ntini (3rd L) celebrates with his team matesSouth African blower Makhaya Ntini (3rd L) celebrates with his team mates
South African blower Makhaya Ntini (3rd L) celebrates with his team mates
©Reuters

July 6, 1977 - Makhaya Ntini is not an ordinary cricketer. His story is not an ordinary story.

 It would be silly to look at Ntini as just another player with his individual struggles of rising up the ladder and trying to make a name for himself. Rather, he was an icon for black people, black sportspersons and black kids. Just imagine carrying that load on your shoulders for more than a decade, in 101 Tests and 173 ODIs, day in and day out.

For a person like Ntini, who was born near a cattleherd and faced abject poverty, to rise to the highest level in the sport and inspire millions of others to do so, is truly remarkable.

The story of how his cricketing journey began is also nothing short of awe-inspiring. "I grew up in a family of seven, brought up by my grandparents. A friend and I would regularly walk past a place where we would watch kids playing in the nets from a distance. One day, when we were watching, they asked if we wanted to come in and have a bowl. That's it, they thought we had something special and they took care of us. I was 14 or 15," Ntini recalls.

As Makhaya Ntini made his ODI and Test debut in 1998, he became the first black player to represent South Africa. Soon after his debut, quotas or as the official language goes, targets were set in South African sports with it becoming mandatory to select a black player in your playing team.

Seven years ago, under pressure from the government, Cricket South Africa introduced quotas with black African players in focus both at the provincial level and the senior provincial level. The requirement was to include at least one black African and five black players in the team.

 

 

Five years after Ntini's retirement, in October 2015, it was reworked to 3 black Africans and a total of 6 black players. This is why, every injury and every bad day for Ntini was not the same as it would be for an ordinary player.

His every action, on and off the field, was monitored closely. Some prayed for him to keep rising, others were just waiting for an opportunity for him to falter, so that the validity of the quota system could be challenged.

Amid such pressure, Ntini picked up 390 Test wickets, the third highest by a South African bowler, only behind Dale Steyn and Shaun Pollock. His Test average of 28.82 and economy of 3.23 are not just mere numbers but are figures that scores of black youngsters look at and hope to surpass one day. Ntini thus inspired an entire generation of black cricketers in the country, and in the world.

Even if you remove the tag of a black cricketer from him and look at him just in terms of his performances, the numbers pass the test with flying colours. Among the bowlers to have consistently performed in the first decade of this century, i.e between 2000 to 2009, he was the second-highest wicket-taker with 380 wickets from 97 games, sandwiched between two of the greatest bowlers of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne.

Some of Ntini's most memorable performances include his 10-wicket haul at Lord's in 2003 as he became the first South African bowler to do so. His figures of 13/132 against West Indies in Trinidad in 2005 remain the best match figures for a South African cricketer in Tests.

When he reached the milestone of 300 Test wickets in January 2007, he was the third South African to do so. Ntini was named the South African cricketer of the year in 2005 and 2006. 

After having retired from international cricket in November 2010, Ntini has now jumped into the field of broadcasting. Hopefully, his innings behind the microphone will be as fulfilling and inspiring as his journey on the field.

 

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