Ntini's Lord's carnage leaves cattle restless

At any celebratory event in the rural Eastern Cape village of Mdingi, Makhaya Ntini's late grandfather would slaughter one of his prized herd of cattle.

After the fourth day's play at Lord's on Sunday, who knows how the herd would have been decimated had Ntini's grandfather been alive to witness his descendant's exploits?

For they were magical exploits indeed. Only nine non-English players had achieved the feat of grabbing 10 wickets in a Test at Lord's and Ntini was the first South African to do so.

While the England coach, captain, selectors and media mull over a desperately poor performance by their side, South Africa can look back on a courageous performance by a man who has needed bucketloads of bravery, determination and practice to get to where he is.

It was no easy task bowling on that flat pitch at Lord's.

But the first show of courage came when Graeme Smith shunned tradition by opting to field first.

The captain showed supreme confidence in his bowlers to make the most of what was in the pitch on that first morning and to stick to carefully outlined game plans to each batsman.

Ntini's opening spell would be the key. So it didn't help matters when in the fourth over of the match, it was the captain himself who dropped a fairly simple chance at second slip that would have resulted in the dismissal of English opener Marcus Trescothick.

What that dropped chance did though was to show Ntini's courage and determination. He returned a few overs later and bowled Trescothick before embarking on a remarkable spell either side of lunch which decimated England.

But as well as Ntini bowled in that first innings, there was a sense that perhaps too many of his wickets were gifted to him by the England batsmen.

If anything that makes his second innings performance - statistically worse than his first innings figures - that much more impressive. For by that stage the wicket was as flat as a pancake and pretty much lifeless.

In addition South Africa were a bowler short as a result of Dewald Pretorius's hamstring injury.

Someone needed to step to the fore. Ntini did so courageously.

Each time Smith needed a wicket he turned to Ntini, and on each occasion Ntini delivered. It was the hallmark of a truly outstanding fast bowler.

Ntini said afterwards it had meant a lot to him that Smith had stopped Andrew Hall after a one-over spell to give him the chance to get his 10th wicket.

"It showed me how much the entire team wanted me to achieve that target."

Ntini has needed to become an outstanding bowler. For South Africa's formerly well-stocked fast bowling cupboard has been decidedly bare over the last two years.

Somebody needed to step forward.

It certainly hasn't been an easy road for Ntini. Plagued by the spectre of being the "quota player" at the start of his career, Ntini has had to prove himself more than most.

Add to that a charge of rape shortly after he arrived on the international scene and Ntini's rise is that much more remarkable.

But if anything has helped his growing maturity and sense of responsibility at international level, it was being dropped from the Test side before the first match of the series in Australia, in the 2001/2002 season.

He subsequently regained his, rhythm, form and focus and by the time Australia arrived in the country for the return series he was spearheading South Africa's attack and had become an indispensable part of the national set-up.

Ntini, does not have a natural fast bowler's action, like an Allan Donald or a Michael Holding. But he makes up for that by being extraordinarily fit and showing a great willingness to learn.

Ntini is more of an aggressive stock bowler - a player who can bowl for hours - rather than an opening bowler. It speaks volumes for his skill that he has succeeded as he has.

And let's hope he keeps performing as he has done until the cows come home.

sign up