By Robson Sharuko
Harare – It was a trans-Limpopo marriage, which appeared to have been made in heaven, but when the divorce papers were served last week, the beautiful love affair crumbled amid controversy that could only have been plucked from hell.
For two years, Makhaya Ntini, the former South African fast bowler who blazed a trail by opening avenues for a battery of others from the Rainbow Nation to pursue their dreams of representing their country in cricket, had found a good home in Harare.
Away from the razzmatazz of Johannesburg, Ntini – who always mourned about being given opportunities by his country in the wake of his retirement after a stellar career – started to build a coaching career across the Limpopo.
First recruited as the bowling coach of the Zimbabwe national cricket team, Ntini found himself being fast-tracked into the main job, on a temporary basis, after the sacking of the vastly-experienced Dave Whatmore.
A workaholic, for whom fitness was everything, Ntini eased into the Harare way of life and became a member of the upmarket gym located at the Borrowdale Race Course in one of the city’s best suburbs.
There, Ntini impressed his new friends with his commitment to working out, especially his love for lifting weights and had become a popular member of the gym.
When he was not working out, he was hanging out with his new friends at the Centurion, an upmarket pub located on the edges of Harare Sports Club where the Chevrons play most of their international matches.
“He was a jolly good fellow, he pushed himself to the limit all the time and it became clear to us that he was not just an ordinary guy but someone who must have been a serious sports star in the past,” Godfrey Japajapa, the former Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League fixtures secretary who is a member of the same gym, told The Southern Times.
“He never paraded himself as Makhaya Ntini, the superstar, but was just one of us and it wasn’t until about three months later that we got to know who he was.
“Even then, he never changed how he interacted with us and he kept pushing us now and again and showing us the values and benefits of fitness and he became very popular among the guys,” Japajapa added.
Ironically, others claim, it was his commitment to discipline and a relentless drive to always commit to the virtues of fitness, which would bring to an end his romance with a job he had started to love.
Sources claim there were some Zimbabwean players and staff members who were not happy with Ntini’s tough approach and called for him to be dismissed from his job.
It is a story that has been running for some time now and late last year speculation in the international media emerged that Ntini’s contract, which was due to be renewed at the end of this month, would not be extended.
And last week, Zimbabwe Cricket released a statement suggesting that Ntini had resigned from his job with immediate effect and the authorities had reluctantly accepted his resignation.
This came on the eve of the Chevrons tour of Bangladesh where they are set to play in a tri-series in preparation for the 2019 ICC World Cup qualifier to be held in Zimbabwe in March.
The top two teams at the ICC World Cup qualifier will book their place at the 2019 lCC World Cup in England and Wales.
The ZC authorities described Ntini as “charismatic, ever helpful, hardworking and always full of energy,” in their glowing description of the South African legend.
“Makhaya’s experience and immense knowledge of the game have helped to bolster the Zimbabwe cricket national team into a competitive outfit that went on to record Zimbabwe’s first ever away ODI series win over Sri Lanka in 2017.”
However, despite the gloss of the divorce letter signed by the ZC chiefs, it soon emerged that Ntini had not voluntarily stepped down from his job as claimed by the authorities.
Ntini told South African Radio 2000 that he had been forced to leave his post.
“The honest truth is that l didn’t resign, l received a text message from the MD (of Zim Cricket) saying that he would like to talk to me,” said Ntini.
He continued that “the first thing that he mentioned, he reminded me that we had a chat about four months ago regarding some players’ unhappiness. Some of the players and the staff members went to see him and reported that they are not happy with the job that l am doing and that the job was not meant for me.”
Ntini, who does not hold a coaching qualification, was also advised that he was “not going to be part of the tour that’s coming up, the Bangladesh tour,” and was also asked to step down.
“After l had that meeting with the MD, l called them straight away, the players and the staff and asked them, l said ‘guys l just came back from the MD and he says that some of you said the job that l was appointed for was not meant for me.
“‘Who is that person? And that person, if he had a problem with me, he should have approached me. None of them actually owned up.
“They were so shocked that was said about me.”
Ntini said he will always cherish the time he had in Zimbabwe despite the chaotic ending to his romance with the country’s cricket team.
“I don’t regret anything about me going to Zimbabwe. When I took the decision of going to Zimbabwe, l knew what was needed,” he said.
“There is so much to be proud of that l took the decision to go to Zimbabwe and l can tell you now that anywhere Zimbabwe goes and plays, they get respect.
“You must understand that Zimbabwe can now bowl teams out, to take 20 wickets in a Test match.”
A fiery character, Ntini shocked the world when he said he wanted to hang himself shortly after Zimbabwe lost by eight wickets to India in an ODI match.
“I almost hanged myself,” he said.
“If there was a tomato tree outside l would have hanged myself on that tomato tree.
“It’s no good, we have experienced players with us who can easily read the game.”