Mabhida still best for soccer?

2011-01-10 12:58
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Purpose-built for the soccer World Cup, although versatile within reason, some commentators have been gushing that Sunday’s maiden cricket experience at Moses Mabhiba Stadium is worth repeating.

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I watched it on television and, by all accounts, it was a vibrant day – aided by the essential Bollywood injection, mind - and a fitting send-off for Makhaya Ntini, one of the South African game’s favourite and most poignant sons.

Cricket South Africa had marketed and hyped the occasion – officially, questionably a Twenty20 international but clearly less orthodox than that – to a quite unprecedented degree, and we are led to believe that they got their much-desired sell-out and thus record domestic once-off audience for the sport.

For the record, India won by 21 runs but few, including several smiling, bantering participants, seemed to care too greatly about the outcome – the match oozed sentimentality and a relaxed, carnival vibe and was light years shy of the intensity seen during the majestic Test series between these superpowers just before it.

Mind you, the Indians were in no special mood to give the match’s supposedly central figure any charity: if this was really a football-style testimonial, aren’t you supposed to let the goodbye boy run around the proverbial goalkeeper for a beautifully stage-managed “hat-trick”?

Instead Makkie got thumped for 46 runs in his four overs, which went a long way, actually, to ensuring that India currently boast having won more cricket matches on their South African safari than they have lost: the more serious business of the five-game ODI series is the Proteas’ opportunity to turn that mildly disconcerting state of affairs around.

In fairness, let’s not forget that T20 was never Ntini’s strongest suit: he sports an economy rate of just under 10 runs to the over from 10 appearances in the format and I, for one, far prefer to harbour memories of his enormous durability, relish and athleticism in the Test arena at the height of his powers.

At least he may now be at peace with himself at last that quitting international cricket altogether is the right thing for him at 33: there were some rumblings last summer that he felt prematurely marginalised and was even suggesting some sinister undertones.

Former coach Mickey Arthur makes specific reference to the subject in his new book “Taking the Mickey”, expressing his passionate indignation that Ntini, he believed, had implied racism on the part of himself and national captain Graeme Smith in his gradual fading from the Proteas scene.

If Sunday showed one thing, in Ntini’s case like so many others in sport, it is that the perfectly natural phenomenon of ageing cannot be reversed -- even if somebody like Jacques Kallis shows freakish signs to the contrary with staggering regularity.

Also in the Mdingi Express’s defence, the square boundaries at the Moses Mabhida were predictably and painfully small, meaning a mishit might land up in Row M, and the pitch was a threat only to shins and kneecaps from a bounce point of view - thus all but eliminating a once spicy string to Ntini’s bow.

In terms of the actual mechanics of cricket, the whole experience somehow struck me as uncannily parallel to one of those rather soulless, synthetic “New Zealand rugby stadium” environments for the game, even down to the rather leaden skies.

Based on this experience, should the Mabhida Stadium magically morph into some sort of new national hub for T20 cricket?

I don’t think so.

 Once our goose pimples have settled, and the iconic Makhaya Ntini has begun his stated quest to “move on with my life and help people across a wider spectrum”, I prefer to think sanity will prevail.

After all, just down the road Durban boasts a specialist cricket venue of some renown and tradition.

It is called Kingsmead, and it is, not unimportantly, an oval ...

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