African cricketers should emulate Ntini

Well, you do find me well. I have to be well. You would be well too if you were in my shoes. Well, except that I am not wearing any shoes right now as I am walking on the beach. There is nothing more natural than feeling the sand give way under your feet, feeling the sometimes softly sometimes crisply sharp sea-shells negotiate for space in the sand under your weight. And in the background the sound of the sea as it laps continuously and constantly, systematically ‘ I think for the heart it would be all that systolic and diastolic business-the shore in the timeless pattern of tides. And you step on the sand without worry about the sands of time because here time is another world. This world is white sand, brown sand, blue sea mirroring blue sky, grey sea, often-times green sea near you and blue and bluer as it recedes as far as the eye can see. We were taught way back then that that is the horizon. That place where land, in this case sea, and sky seem to meet. Ah well, as the French say in French- Mr Banda, please, would the French speak in Portuguese now? Ah, well, as I was about to say before you interrupted me, mon ami, the French say c’est la vie. That is life. But, Mr Banda, you seem to be enjoying yourself so much there, glorifying the love for the game there and not having a moment to say about our passion for it here. Is it because of something in the lobster cakes you are eating? No, no, my friends. Surely you know me better than that. I can never forget my own and mine. No sea, sand and sun would make me do that. And so, even while here, I have been celebrating the achievements of the man South African sports fans love to love. The man who is Number Two in the world bowling ranks. One of South Africa’s highest paid cricketers. And a role model. I am also celebrating the positives from the Zimbabwe cricket tour of the Caribbean, now in Week Two. But more of that later. For now, ladies and gentlemen, please stand up, put your hands together and let me hear you give it up for Makhaaaaya Ntiiiiini! The first black African to play cricket for South Africa, eight years later he has moved from the small Eastern Cape village of Mdingi, where he was born in 1977, into the big time. The former herdboy now the head bowler of the Proteas’ attack. From grazing field to rare field. Ntini has taken 259 wickets in 65 Test matches. A class act, his 10 wickets for 145 runs in the first Test against New Zealand in Centurion a fortnight left him the first South African to garner four 10-wicket hauls in Tests. Earlier last month, Ntini became the first South African to take 10 wickets in consecutive Test matches with his 10 for 178 in the third Test against Australia in Johannesburg. Associated Press quotes the results of an independent survey released in December as showing Ntini to be South Africa’s most popular sports person. It is another first for cricket in a country where, as is the manner in our part of the world, soccer is the staple. Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar is widely referred to as The Phenomenon. But Barcelona, Brazil and many a neutral fan recognise Ronaldinho as such. Nay, here there is only one man who should wear that crown in the world today. And that man is neither of the above. He Lara. That is to cite the local claim verbatim. But in our region, Ntini is, undoubtedly, the phenomenon. The gregarious Ntini should rue his feats. He is now in a class of his own! And the Zimbabwean youngsters will do well to keep their aim on that class. They have lost the first two Digicel One Day International (ODI) matches against the West Indies: the first by five wickets and the second by 98 runs. Both were played at the Antigua Recreation Ground in Saint John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, last weekend. The third ODI was set for the Bourda Cricket Ground in Georgetown, Guyana yesterday and the fourth is underway today. If you are reading this newspaper early, as you should, then the match is not yet on. If you are reading this article late, and I am not saying you should, chances are the match is still on because Zimbabwe is six hours ahead of much of this part of the world. Six hours, Mr Banda? Yes, my friends, six. As in half a day. Reviewing his team’s performance, Zimbabwe coach Kevin Curran has pointed out that, coming out, it was clear that it was always going to be difficult touring these lands with a young team replete with talent, yes, but woefully short on experience. He says emphasis should be placed on the learning process and not the results, and that as long as there is progress up the learning curve then there is progress. So far he says there has been, backing that up with performances such as the bowling of off-spinner Prosper Utseya who took three wickets for 35 runs in 10 overs in the first ODI and pace-man Tawanda Mupariwa, three for 46 in 10 in the second. It is early days yet but the brightest spark of the Zimbabwe performance has come from the blade. Nineteen year-old Chamunorwa Justice Chibhabha the bladesman. From Highfield in Harare to Bourda field in Georgetown Guyana. From the dusty streets to the peacock colours and big band sounds of the Caribbean cricket, the local scene condensed in the pay-off line of the Digicel 2006 Series: “Cricket’it’s a West Indian thing.” It is early days yet, and one needs to be careful not to heap too much praise on young shoulders that will be so burdened by that load the owner will tumble, fall and crumble. But my brothers, of course and sisters, the first two matches have been this youngster’s. Of course not his team’s. But his personal numbers are looking good. A gutsy 55 runs in the first ODI and a delightful 67 in the second. The two giving him an average over 50. An average of 61 to be precise, and that when veteran West Indies opener Chris Gayle had an average of 42, Ramnaresh Sarwan third well under 40, followed by two West Indies greats with totals less than Chibhabha’s average: former captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul 49, and the re-appointed skipper Brian Lara 45. It is early days yet. This thing will go on until Match Seven. Only then can the full story be told. However, there is no rule against celebrating a war in a battle. We should. As long as we do not lose sight of the big picture. Ntini is part of that big picture. And Chibhabha and his lot will do well to emulate him.

May 2006
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