Colin Bryden

Can Makhaya still fire?

2009-11-18 16:07
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
Colin Bryden

I hope I am not being unduly alarmist but I am concerned about the bowling form of Makhaya Ntini ahead of the Test series against England.

In five SuperSport Series matches this season (effectively four because of the abandoned match in Benoni), Ntini has taken just three wickets at an average of 83.00.

Yet Ntini is guaranteed a place in the first Test starting at Centurion on December 16. It will be his 100th Test match, making him just the fifth South African to achieve the landmark.

"Makhaya will play at Centurion," selection chief Mike Procter said in a recent interview. Cricket South Africa is planning a major promotion to celebrate the achievement of a man who has become a sporting legend.

The question has to be asked, however. Is he still good enough to command a place?

Ntini is 32 and has already been dropped from the national one-day team. It's reminiscent of the situation with Shaun Pollock in the year or so before he finally retired, although in Pollock's case he lost his Test place while staying in the one-day team.

By all accounts, Ntini is bowling steadily but without the pace and penetration which made him such a formidable bowler a few seasons ago. 

He has been the most economical of the regular Warriors bowlers, conceding only 2.39 runs an over.

All three of his first-class victims this season have been opening batsmen - Jean Symes, Imraan Khan and Jacques Rudolph - and he has bowled on some lifeless pitches. It is nevertheless a meagre return for a player with such a fine career record.

There are two more rounds of SuperSport Series matches for Ntini before the Test series. He is a player who thrives on hard work and he will hopefully enjoy richer pickings.

Fortunately for the selectors, Morne Morkel seems to be bowling well enough to earn a recall. Dale Steyn and Morkel, when on form, are a formidable strike pair, so it is conceivable that Ntini can still play a valuable role as a support seamer.

I would like to be proved wrong but I doubt whether Ntini will be around long enough to achieve the goal he stated in an interview with me a few years back of beating Pollock's South African Test wickets record. Pollock took 421, Ntini currently has 388.

Colin Bryden is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times and current editor of the Mutual & Federal South African Cricket Annual

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