Johannesburg - Proteas fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, remains the most popular cricketer among the youth of South Africa, according to the latest BMI Junior SportTrack report for 2009, which lists him as the fourth most popular sportsman in South Africa.
Ntini , who was bowled over by the support from his many fans, said: "I truly appreciate the public's support. They have always been behind me throughout my career.
"I was touched by the support I received during my 100th Test celebration. They can be assured I will always give my 100% every time I play."
A number of cricketers have again been voted into the list of most popular sports stars among the youth, including Graeme Smith who moved up the ranks from ninth in 2008 to sixth in 2009.
Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy also made it into the Top 20.
Cricket had no less than six stars in the list, with only soccer performing better with nine stars in the top 20.
Cricket participation has shown solid growth over the past year among juniors aged 13-18. The annual growth rate of 3.9% means cricket remains one of the fastest growing mass participation sports in the country.
There are currently 572 000 cricket participants at all levels of participation within this age group in South Africa making it a top five sport among the more than 40 sports codes BMI measures and reports on in their annual Junior Sporttrack report.
Cricket remains the second highest participation sport among boys behind soccer, still managing to remain ahead of rugby.
The highest growth is at club level, which has grown by almost 5% year on year, while school participation has grown at 3.4%. There has been a marked increase in coloured participation (9.9%) while black youth playing cricket also increased significantly (4.6%).
Commenting on the latest BMI Junior SportTrack Report, CSA president Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka said: "Our vision is to make cricket a truly national sport of winners and to this end we will continue to work at all levels to ensure that we get closer to our goal with every effort and we encourage all communities to do something today that will shape tomorrow.
"Cricket builds character and the youth of today can benefit greatly from taking up this great sport.
"We have heroes like Ntini and Kallis who have made names for themselves in world cricket and they certainly stand out as role models along with Graeme Smith and the rest of the Proteas team."
A successful Proteas season (2008/09) resulted in growth in spectators as well among juniors aged 13-18 years old with a total following of 2.84 million.
Cricket remained the second most popular sport among junior spectators behind soccer.
While the overall spectator numbers among these juniors declined by over 2% in 2009 compared to 2008, cricket was one of only 12 codes to show growth, increasing by 3.1% year on year, with the highest percentage growth coming from white and Asian youth.
CSA CEO Gerald Majola said he was encouraged by the support for cricket shown by the youth.
"CSA is actively pursuing the emerging market of supporters and we are delighted with these encouraging statistics. The youth are asking CSA to communicate in new and innovative ways and this has translated in improving spectator numbers among our young supporters."