Durban - South Africa’s Johan Botha is looking forward to the Twenty20 international, the first of its kind to be played at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Sunday, and wants to make sure it’s a special occasion when the Proteas meet India for the only Twenty20 game of the tour.
The match marks two significant occasions. Cricket icon Makhaya Ntini makes his final international appearance in front of a sell-out crowd of 50 000, the biggest to watch a cricket match in Africa, and the game will be followed by a Bollywood concert to mark the 150th anniversary of the first Indians to arrive in South Africa.
“Makhaya is such a sporting legend,” said Botha, the captain of the South African Twenty20 team.
“We’re all motivated to make it a special occasion for him.
“You can never say how things will work out on the field once we start playing, but we’re all keen to make it as special for him as possible.”
President Jacob Zuma will make a presentation to Ntini as well as to Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar and other prominent political and business figures representing South African and Indian society.
Ntini, 33, announced his retirement from international cricket this season after being left out of the national Test and one-day teams.
“On one hand, it’s going to be a tremendous occasion, but on the other hand, we want to do well and get our one-day campaign off to a good start,” said Botha who has not been involved with the Proteas for the three-match Test series, so is coming into the side “blind.”
“The guys are starting to accept it and it’s getting a bit easier for me. We’ve got a young team tomorrow and I always enjoy leading a young team.
“The main thing is to go out and have fun, but to still be competitive.”
The wicket has been prepared in a hurry as the ground is normally used as a soccer stadium.
“We haven’t been to the ground or seen the conditions yet, but we’ll have a fielding practice in the afternoon (on Saturday),” said Botha.
“We’re expecting it to be like a New Zealand ground because they also convert rugby grounds into cricket pitches at some venues.”
It’s been raining hard in Durban over the last week and the ground staff have not been able to roll the pitch. Thankfully, the sun was out on Saturday which will help head groundsman Phil Russell, who has been struggling with the hastily prepared wicket.
“It’s a new pitch and you have to get it consolidated, which usually takes a year or more, “said Russell, “but we’ve only had nine weeks to prepare.”
Graeme Smith will be rested to give his hand more time to heal tobe ready for the one-day series, and Jacques Kallis will be out for at least another three weeks. Kallis does not have a fracture but is suffering from a grade one tear to a muscle in the rib area.
'We'll give it our best shot'
India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, said it was always difficult to play a one-off Twenty20 match but they would give it their best shot.
“It’s a difficult one for us but it’s going to be such a special occasion and we’ll give 100%, that’s for sure.
“It’s always a good thing to have Sachin Tendulkar opening your batting, in any form of the game. You can’t get better than that,” said Dhoni.
“When Sachin plays, there is always something to celebrate. We, in the team, are used to that and he is also used to it. He is an ideal role model and hopefully he will score plenty of runs tomorrow.
“I hope it’s also a good game for Makhaya too,” said Dhoni who played with Ntini for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.
“We had a nice time together at the IPL. We had a lot of characters in our team and he was one of them. We got to know each other and to know about each other’s culture and traditions.
“I wish him (Ntini) a good life after cricket. Life doesn’t stop when the cricket stops.”