Ntini was weakest link

2009-12-21 10:58

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – It is a bit like telling the bride at the height of the wedding banquet that you don’t like her dress. But sometimes honesty is important, and tough, unsentimental decisions have to be made.

GALLERY: First Test - Centurion

GALLERY: Tribute to Makhaya Ntini

It was clear to everyone but the most rigid devotees of the Mdingi Express - whom we have all willed on for many years - that Makhaya Ntini looked flat at his own party.

The Centurion Test match against England, dressed up as it rightly was in celebratory ribbons for the 100th Test of the great soldier, served its purpose honourably in that respect.

But now there is just the disarming scent of stale beer and crushed cashews on the carpet.

The veteran fast bowler took his bows and doffed his cap to the avalanche of salaams. But try as he did, he simply could not muster the mojo to excel simultaneously for the national cause.

And if he could not do so on such an illustrious stage as his centenary match, what price the 32-year-old markedly rectifying things just a few days further on at Kingsmead after five days of punishing Highveld sunshine?

Gallingly, the most experienced of the three South African fast bowlers by a mile at SuperSport Park was the primary omission as a “go to” factor by Graeme Smith.

Morne Morkel and Friedel de Wet – yes, even a rookie on debut – were more commonly the men the captain would turn to.

They were faster, and more penetrative, only adding to the mounting perception that the once-champion stallion has become, or is very rapidly en route to becoming, mere workhorse.

Ironically, of course, Ntini was asked to send down the critical final over of the drawn thriller on Sunday.

I thought it was a fairly clever move, the possibility of a fairytale finish to the game for Ntini, on so symbolic an occasion, only cranking up the pressure on England’s last batsman Graham Onions. (For the record, I felt Friedel de Wet, hero only minutes earlier, had probably burnt himself out a tad on excitement and adrenaline by then.)

It is history now that Ntini could not penetrate the No 11’s defence. Not that he was at fault in any major way -- that’s cricket.

But Ntini, in broadest terms, has run low on gas, a bit like Shaun Pollock finally did after so many overs for South Africa. You cannot wish away the ravages of time, and there was even painful evidence of decline, in Ntini’s case, in lead-up fare in the SuperSport Series.

“Makkie” seldom lets teams down. That’s never been his way – how infrequently he gets truly walloped out of the attack is almost as much a feature of his stellar Test career as his once-consistent tally of scalps.

But not being carted is not enough. Strike bowlers have to … well, strike. And Ntini has not had a “five-for” since a dead-rubber Test against the very same opponents at the Oval in August 2008. Before that, it was Pakistan in January 2007.

On flattish decks, and never having been the type of bowler with a big box of varietal tricks, his 135km/h fare is beginning to look all too impotent; mere plug-an-end fare.

Two intelligent former England seamers, writing in their respective British organs on Monday, share this suspicion.

Mike Selvey wrote in the Guardian: “Ntini was out-bowled by the debutant. It will be hard to drop De Wet. The (final) ball to Onions … could be the last of Ntini’s illustrious career.

“Ntini’s pace was down. The single shooter in the final over, from one of the cracks in the pitch, was slow enough for Onions to jab down on.”

And Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph: “De Wet applied pressure (in his lethal burst on Sunday) by bowling fast down the corridor of uncertainty.

“South Africa were under-strength here and will have both Steyn and Jacques Kallis back bowling properly at Durban: Ntini is possibly the one to make way.”

Ntini has courageously defied odds against him before. Maybe he can do so again, and certainly all kudos to him if so.

But this, it is inescapable to suspect, would be the right South African line-up for Kingsmead, all customers fully fit: Smith (capt), Prince, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Boucher, Morkel, Harris, Steyn, De Wet.

Will they be brave enough to field it?

And will it get “clearance”?


  • Julian - 2009-12-21 11:04

    Agreed, Please keep De Wet. With Steyn back and hopefully Kallis can bowl in the next test, SA will be a much more balanced team.

  • Whitey - 2009-12-21 11:16

    ....Ntini is now only selected as a quota player... ..he doesn't deserve his place on merit.. ......not anymore...

  • Peter - 2009-12-21 11:17

    I agree with this article. Ntini must now bow out gracefully. For the record, I would have kept Harris on for the last 6 overs as he would have cleaned up the English tail and RSA could have had a satisfying win.

  • Patsy - 2009-12-21 11:18

    It's known that the more overs Ntini bowls, the better he gets, maybe he just had a bad test match. Pity he didn't get the story book ending that everyone was hoping for. Steyn & de Wet are so similar, it might not give Smith the right amount of variety if they play together.

  • thomas - 2009-12-21 11:24

    maybe your article is true. What do you think of Smith? we have a captain that we retain because he is the captain. He is the captained who we supported when he had cramps during a game. Cramps, what does that tell you about his fitness?

  • Sanjay Deva - 2009-12-21 11:26

    Probably a fair enough comment on Ntini, but is Morkel any better?? When has he taken any five wicket bags, or more than 2-3 for that matter? We don't have any bowlers that bowl stump to stump. I'd like to see Parnell, and Tsotsobe to me offers a nice option too. If Ntini should be dropped, so to should Boucher. He had a good test with the bat here, but his keeping wasn't great (other than a great catch late in the day!) and over the last 18 months his batting has been poor.

  • KOOS - 2009-12-21 11:26

    Hoekom het nitini die laaste over geboul. What a joke. Friedel het 3-4 paaltjies gevat in die laaste pa uur van die match en het goed gelyk. Omdat dit ntini se 100ste wedstryd was gee grame vir hom nou die bal om dit nou SPESIAAL te maak en die oomblik groter te maak. Gee die bal vir die ou wat die meeste paaltjies al gevat het en die kolwers mee sukkel. Dit is `n toets wat on speel om te speel, nie `n charity event vir nitini nie.

  • mad hatter - 2009-12-21 11:28

    Love the Ntini but he needs to innovate in the twilight of his career to maintain his position . His bowling was good but not as penetrative as before. I think that is the line-up for durban unless injury changes occur , i would like to see Parnell involved as a variation and to blood him as well as Jaques Rudolf in the squad.

  • Dgs - 2009-12-21 11:32

    Unfortunately, because of the colour of his skin, I doubt whether Ntini will ever be dropped. He should do the country and himself a favour and retire gracefully. He should have done this quite some time ago as, since his pace has dropped, he is nowhere near being the wonderful bowler that he once was. He seems to lack the necessary skill to be effective at his current pace.

  • Karabo - 2009-12-21 11:35

    It was one of those unlucky days for Makhaya. Performing below par does struck if its not your day. But hopelly the guy will recuperate.

  • Bob - 2009-12-21 11:37

    He may have been a weak link, but not as weak as Smith and Morkel in this test. Nice to see De Wet getting a few, but the bowling attack is as bad as England's.

  • CarloV - 2009-12-21 11:39

    Keep De Wet. There is no substitute for pure passion and guts. He's got that "feel good" factor going again.

  • Standing at Point - 2009-12-21 11:40

    And Prince, where was he at this match. and Smith, last over decision was mind boggling, should have gone to Harris. EnGLAND will tank this lot now 3 zip.

  • Love Africa - 2009-12-21 11:42

    Its your opinion, my opinion is that Dale Steyn is down on pace lacks that cutting thrust that made him the worlds best bowler. Given some match practice he would probably get back to his best. Ntini also has been playing in the ODI's so this runout was the first at this level for sometime, give him a chance. Morkel to me when he was dropped was bowling terrible he was nothing more than a free hit. He came back well but for me doesn't produce often enough. Harris doesn't spin the ball enough for an international spinner. My point I'm trying to make here is everyone can be singled out for a bad performances or short comings. I've come accross those who think Kallis is kak"Amazing". To me Ntini has been a great survant and has bounced back many times after been writen off. I believe he still has plenty to offer.

  • Neville - 2009-12-21 11:44

    I do not think the selectors had much option but to play Ntini. But let us be brave enough to drop him for good and wish him well.He has had his day. Bring on the young players.

  • Gazza - 2009-12-21 11:49

    Agree with Rob Houwing - Ntini has been a phenomenal player for the Proteas; truly, a modern legend. But just like Polly (who also falls into that category), every fast bowler has his time, and Ntini's is now, I'm afraid. It's clear that whichever of the teams learns to take 20 wickets a test first is going to win this series, and England are already on that track with the talk of playing an extra bowler (either Sidebottom or Plunkett, who'll do well on the Kingsmead track). The question is, will we learn this lesson in time, or are we happy to sacrifice the series and therewith, our touting as the world's number one test team, on the altar of politics? I'm afraid the answer is an unequivocal "yes".

  • Tina - 2009-12-21 11:51

    Pick Parnell in Ntini's place. He cannot possible do worse and he is the ONLY bowler in SA that can bowl a decent yorker. On top of that he is excellent at dismissing tailenders - which they always seem to stuggle with.

  • jc - 2009-12-21 11:53

    Why did Smith give Ntini the last over? Harris and de Wet Should have bowled the last few overs. This was a "sentimental" decision. It sucks. Cheers Ntini make way for the younger ones.

  • erewhon - 2009-12-21 11:55

    No one has mentioned Duminy. Since his heroics in Australia, he has not shaped at all. Maybe Rudolph?

  • Les - 2009-12-21 12:01

    The comment is fair, Makhaya did not perform at his optimum best to assist SA to take a lead in this test series. However, his lack of form is not new in the Proteas family, it happened with Gary Kirsten and also with Jaque Kallis, the selectors showed faith in them not because they were white of from CT but these two always had this potential of being world beaters in any stage you put them in. I think Makhaya needs another opportunity in the next test.

  • Raeez - 2009-12-21 12:01

    This is just a mean article. There were many other ways to say the things that were just said. Anyway, well done to Friedel De Wet.

  • Les - 2009-12-21 12:03

    The comment is fair, Makhaya did not perform at his optimum best to assist SA to take a lead in this test series. However, his lack of form is not new in the Proteas family, it happened with Gary Kirsten and also with Jaque Kallis, the selectors showed faith in them not because they were white of from CT but these two always had this potential of being world beaters in any stage you put them in. I think Makhaya needs another opportunity in the next test.

  • Louis - 2009-12-21 12:03

    Thanks for your 100 tests Ntini. We have all taken note of that. Now please retire gracefully!

  • Matibe - 2009-12-21 12:05

    I agree with the article fully that our beloved Mdingi Express's form has been less than satisfactory in the past 2 or so years. I have said this a number of times before, it's time 4 him to bow with grace. But do we really have to start the race issue here?? Let the man bow out with the respect and grace that he deserves, the same that this country accorded his predecessors (Donald, Pollock, etc). How many tests, and ODI's wins has he contributed to; too many to remember. The man might not be legend according to your "skin colour coded eyes", "backward thinking", stuck in the past", "we losing our country mentality", but he represented his country with commitment and work ethic like just like the greats before him. What a shame.

  • Donald Mathray - 2009-12-21 12:08

    Hi Rob I will back Ntini for Durban. He has had a great carreer and gave us much joy. I suppose we are now saying farewell to possibly S A best fast bowler. If you look back both Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock looked rather average in the final matches and anyway the England Batters just closed the door on the bowlers. I just think you are having a go at a Black bowler you want replaced.

  • Stephan - 2009-12-21 12:09

    Fair comment, but if you want to balme a single person for poor performance, then our Captain - Graham Smith should be the first to be critisized.

  • Skiballas - 2009-12-21 12:10

    Can't agree with slating Morkel. It is a miracle he didn't take more wickets, some of the balls he bowled was just too good to get the edge. He has to work on his consistancy though. With Steyn back, we will have someone with pace and outswing, De Wet gives us inswing, Morkel bangs it in and gets bounce, Kallis medium outswing and bounce, and Harris for spin, sounds pretty balanced to me. I reckon Ntini had a good stint, but he still cant get LBW's because of being so wide in his approach, he barely gets past 130km/h, doesn't swing it, relies on the angle. Ntini at 140km/h + was dangerous on the angle, now he is nothing more than a club cricketer (anyone saw the game earlier in the year where the u/18 kids smashed Ntini for a couple of sixes straight down the feild). It is up to Ntini (just as it was Pollocks decision) to bow out with respect. Don't be like Joost ;-)

  • Norts - 2009-12-21 12:12

    Makhaya you are a true servant of SA cricket and we all congratulate you on your great run in test cricket .... but its time to stand back and allow the young bloods to come through. Maybe you can settle into a mentor role for the new boys coming through - especially Morne who seems to have dropped the word consistency from his mental capacity

  • Qminati - 2009-12-21 12:14

    One bad performance and Ntini is a worn out / bad player? What a load of bullsh*t!!! This is his first test in a while and he needs time to reclimatise at this level, which is the only fair thing to do. I can remember how SA has in the past kept faith in the likes of likes of Boucher, Smith, Kallis, De Villers, Prince et al when they were off form. What's different about Ntini? I say they should keep him on and allow him to regain his confidence at this level...just like the rest of the players mentioned above.

  • Speed - 2009-12-21 12:15

    Parnel has only played ODI's and has gone for a lot of runs, but has taken wickets. We need wicket takers in the test team. Will also add variety, being left handed. Also, why do they persist with Harris - he does not spin the ball, even on day 5 of a test. Anyone can take 5 wickets if they bowl 250 overs in an innings! Roelof is a much better bowler, batsman and fielder.

  • Marvin - 2009-12-21 12:20

    Hmmmmmmm........ Ntini was average to be honest but so was Morkel and Kallis(because of injury of course!!) but truth be told , we need Parnell or Tsotsobe to come in and replace Ntini if nad when he retires. He just had a bad day that's all in all fairness :-)

  • Andre - 2009-12-21 12:25

    It doesn't matter what Rob or anyone here thinks...the selectors' team will play on the day. What does matter is that our bowlers did not produce enough variety and/or aggression. I didn't see one good yorker bowled and hardly any good bouncers. Agreed, there were some good rising deliveries on the off stump and quite a few resulted in wickets, but not enough to make the batsmen squirm. Whoever is picked to go into the next match as bowlers need to offer the fire and variety that we're all looking for in the "replacements".

  • Mabure - 2009-12-21 12:26

    I totally agree that Ntini has lost his pace, but I must say yesterday was not his day. My worry is with the captain, he has let us down in so many occassions, but he head is not on block. Could it be that he's more equal than others or he captains better on the stands? Or just that we are just turning a blind eye coz he's just a captain. He's not leading by example. Ntini hard lucky, but I think retiring now would be a good thing for you. You've done a lot for your country and you've accomplished the unthinkable.

  • Cleaning up - 2009-12-21 12:32

    GREAME SMITH HAS GOT TO GO ASWELL, he's still hiding behind he's captaincy and he wont score until the last test and the last innings where he then "redeems" himself......and not forgetting poor decision to let NTINI bowl the last over!!

  • Gladwin - 2009-12-21 12:37

    It starts with the captain. Just like Shaun, Sachin, Saurav, Mahela, etc., who were brave enough to say that: "Im a better asset to the team as a batsman than a captain. I think Graham is a good captain but will be an even greater batsman if he were to reliquish the captaincy. You can't buy experience over the counter at a shop. With 100 tests, Makkie should be treasured and maybe given another chance, otherwise drop him, Graham, Duminy and Morkel, then it's justice. Hashim (capt) should open with Graham, then Jakes, AB (vice Capt), then you can work on the middle to lower order. One bowler would deffinitely have made a diffirence, Wayne Parnell, for some swing and variety.

  • Ian - 2009-12-21 12:38

    Ntini has been GREAT for South African cricket - regretably a time comes for one to move on.

  • ray - 2009-12-21 12:40

    I cannot understand how often SA bowl well wide of the wicket or even lack delivery of decent "yorkers". We need the opposing batsmen to play the ball more often to allow our fielders a catching or run-out chance. And why so many no-balls, surely we are experienced enough to measure our "run-ups" correctly?

  • DC - 2009-12-21 12:41

    Bye Ntini , we will miss you, and thank you for your contribution to SA cricket. Can we have boucher's head too?... we dont need another captain behind the wicket, we could do with a wicket keeper/batsman/bowler..... we may have found the weakest link is that of our fast medium bowling, Paul harris is amazing with his spin bowling. ...we need another steam train..... another young shosholoza express.

  • ray - 2009-12-21 12:42

    I cannot understand how often SA bowl well wide of the wicket or even lack delivery of decent "yorkers". We need the opposing batsmen to play the ball more often to allow our fielders a catching or run-out chance. And why so many no-balls, surely we are experienced enough to measure our "run-ups" correctly?

  • Clive - 2009-12-21 12:46

    Why don't we have any "nasty" bowlers? I'm refering to Lee; Johnson; Waqar etc. Even the England bowlers had one of our batsmen (Morkel) flat on his back with a rising ball to the head. Our bowlers do the "stare the batsman down" bit, but there's nothing to go with it.

  • Leg over wicket - 2009-12-21 12:48

    "Makkie" you served SA well, thanks for many wickets, you will always be remembered for you spirit and character.China i think its time to go now,go and have a nice relax festive season and think about your future.Why waste youre time with the Smith-circus and the suurgat Poms. Bring us a young fit guy to bowl them to pieces.

  • Madoda - 2009-12-21 12:48

    @Dgs-"Unfortunately, because of the colour of his skin, I doubt whether Ntini will ever be dropped." WTF?? Makhaya has just been recalled to the team,he's been dropped before,they just wanted to give him the 100th test match.The people kept in the national team for the color of their skin are Smith,Boucher and Mickey.Up yours man!

  • sony - 2009-12-21 12:55

    Ntini's time is over, i hope they drop him and bring in someone with more pace and variety Makkie has served the country well like no other and now for the captain, i think Smith should be dropped as captain cos he is underperforming with the bat and who in their right mind would give Ntini the last over? Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid and Mahela all did well without the captaincy, even better i dare say

  • Cricket fan - 2009-12-21 13:04

    Ntini should be included... You cannot blame him if the likes of AB cannot hold onto simple slip catches. Furthermore there is so much of talk about dewet....this guy had a lucky first test.... one cannot substitute experience for just a lucky debut. Dewet also does not appear in the top 5 bowlers in our local supersport series.. seems like he is in the same shoes as Mickey Mouse if he is selected. NOW this is proof that there is defintely somebody on his side in the selection panel.

  • Semloh - 2009-12-21 13:06

    Mack please bow out gracefully. Well played Boucher, I was one of the people calling for him to be dropped but looks like he still has some fight in him. As for those calling for Smith's head, you are idiots. He is the best opener since SA's return in 1994 (G Kirsten next). Proteas play 10 months of cricket, 1 match where he cramps does not mean he's unfit, especially seen that he scored 141. Smith is a big match player and will score when it matters in the series, not in a match where SA was not in danger of losing. I challenge anyone to name one opener in current domestic scene that will top score against Australia in OZ when chasing 400 to win a test match. Then next match top scores again to chase down total and to win the series. Going back a bit further looking for an opener that can score 150 out of 280 on a crumbling wicket to win series against the Poms in England. Kallis is a great player (and all-rounder) but there is only one player that stands up when it matters most and thats Biff.

  • Quotas - 2009-12-21 13:10

    Who mentioned quotas?

  • Ntini Fan - 2009-12-21 13:14

    Makhaya Ntini has been a true inspiration to many aspiring cricketers and fans for many years. It is not sad to say that he has lost his venom - everyone does eventually. It is the great player that we must celebrate and remember, but there must be a new strike bowler in his place. In a professional cricket world and in a country where sport can do so much good (usually in victory), we have to act on the truth. Positions cannot be filled by sentimental nor political nor developmental selections (look at how Donald had to leave) - it is the joy of winning with passion and love that inspires people of all backgrounds. A bowler from the Proteas should invoke fear, doubt and respect from the opposing teams, ready to strike with every ball, playing the game with his body, mind and soul. Even if he still believes in himself, he would want his team to be the best they can be - even if it means without him.....

  • Middel pen - 2009-12-21 13:17

    It's Graeme Smith ! Not Graham, Gream or Grame. Fast with the comments get your spelling correct first!!!!

  • john wewege - 2009-12-21 13:17

    A pace attack consisting of De Wet, Morkel, Steyn and Parnel, backed-up by Kallis, Harris and Dumeni is far more ballanced and potent! Ntini should call it a day.

  • Middel pen - 2009-12-21 13:20

    It's Graeme Smith ! Not Graham, Gream or Grame. Fast with the comments get your spelling correct first!!!!