England in SA

Ntini recalls tough early days

2009-12-19 16:13
Tough start (File)

Centurion - Makhaya Ntini, who has become only the sixth fast bowler in history to play in 100 Tests, has admitted that he did not immediately feel completely accepted in the South African dressing room when he made his debut 12 seasons ago.

"It was a hard stage," he said. "Sport was still white-dominated but I (decided to) stick around and wait for so much longer until I break through. That's when I realised that I belonged in this country and in this particular sport."

He said the significance of his selection as the first black African to play for South Africa had not struck him at first.

"Not at all. I was still trying to find my feet. Only with time now, when I see what players of colour have achieved, I look back and think I have done something."

Ntini said the South African team was genuinely representative of the "rainbow nation" and had become "one big family".

He said Cricket South Africa's policy of making sure representative teams had a minimum number of black players had succeeded.

"It made us feel comfortable and nobody feels left out," he said.

Achieving the landmark of 100 Tests has made him feel proud.

"I am one of those guys that was so lucky to be found in the rural areas," said the son of a domestic worker who used to herd animals in his small village in the Eastern Cape.

Asked why he was the only black African to have secured a long-term place in the Test team, he said he was confident there would soon be more.

"From my side I knew what I wanted to do. When people told me cricket could be my job I looked at it like anyone doing a job and wanting to get to a senior position. For me to succeed I have put a lot into it."

He said the biggest highlight in a career which has now brought him 390 Test wickets was that he had managed to stay fit and avoid serious injuries.

Ntini has become one of South Africa's sporting icons, twice topping a poll to establish the country's most popular sportsman, beating out players from soccer, the most popular sporting code.

He is the only South African to have taken ten wickets in a Test match on four occasions and has the best match figures of any South African, 13 for 132 against the West Indies in Port of Spain in 2004/05.

He is second behind Shaun Pollock (421) on South Africa's all-time list and still plans to overtake the man with whom he shared the new ball in many Tests.

Although Ntini is now a revered figure in South African sport, his career was almost cut short when he was convicted of raping a 22-year-old woman in a cricket ground toilet in 1999 and sentenced to six years in prison.

He was withdrawn from South Africa's team for the 1999 World Cup but resumed playing later in the year when his conviction was overturned on appeal by a Supreme Court judge who found that "the probabilities were overwhelmingly against the version of the complainant".

He said he had overcome that and other setbacks in his life through positive thinking.

"You take the positive things and come back a stronger person," he said.

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