Johannesburg - Thando Ntini, who, until his recent selection for the South African Under-19 side, was enjoying a blissfully private upbringing as the son of Proteas fast bowler Makhaya, has started following in his father’s footsteps.
According to Under-19 coach Lawrence Mahatlane, who selected Ntini for the series against the West Indies a couple of weeks ago, the 16-year-old was a tweaker just a couple of years ago.
Bowling in the nets
As lineages go, this was a bit like having a thoroughbred racehorse sire a mule. Thankfully, a growth spurt intervened and Ntini is now said to be 1.90m tall and he apparently bowls at speeds of about 130km/h.
Asked how young Ntini went from obsessing over his flight to liking the fright in a batsman’s eyes, Mahatlane said: “I think he just grew, started bowling in the nets and at club level and started to enjoy it.
“Historically, few bowlers bowled quickly at Under-13 level and went on to do it at senior level”.
Ntini, who turns 17 next month, is effectively two years ahead of schedule in terms of playing for the South African Under-19 team.
However, Mahatlane feels he’s already got the maturity to acquit himself well.
“I think he’s got great potential. He’s an exciting talent and he’s grown quite quickly in a short space of time,” he explained.
“That’s both physically – he’s a lot taller than his dad – and with his bowling. Two years ago, he was bowling spin and batted left-handed at number three”.
Mahatlane said that, while the genes of the 390 Test wicket-taker senior Ntini may have taken their time finding their way to the right spots in the younger Ntini, there are signs of his being a chip off the old block.
“His energy is obviously from his father. I’ve never heard him keep quiet on the field and he throws himself about. He’s obviously learnt a lot from his father in terms of work ethic. Makhaya was known for hard work”.
Mahatlane said there was a lot to enthuse about in the youngster’s playing qualities: “Because of his height, he bowls [right arm fast] from a high point and he’s bowling at a good pace. I heard rumours he’s bowling at 140km/h plus, but to me it seems more like in the 130km/h range.
“He bowls seam up, hits the seam and generally bowls a good length, like his father. Where he’s different to his old man is that he bowls a good yorker and uses the slow ball”.
Ntini opened the bowling for Border while at Selborne College in East London last year, before moving to Jacques Kallis’ old school, Wynberg Boys’ High in Cape Town.
While at school at Dale College, Ntini senior was known to hit a long ball on the odd occasion he got a hold of it. But he wasn’t exactly an all-rounder, and his greatest batting achievement for South Africa was a single he scored in a 438 game to give Mark Boucher the strike to win the match.
His son, however, has every chance to be an all-rounder, according to Mahatlane.
“He’s opened the batting and played at three. In the T20, they played him in the lower order,” said Mahatlane.
“But he’s more than capable with the bat and hopefully he’s not going to give it up as he grows older.
“He’s potentially going to be one of the more exciting all-rounders to grace South African cricket in the next five years”.
Mahatlane said the senior Ntini, who did not respond to calls from City Press to talk about his son, was doing a great job of taking the burden of expectation off his son’s shoulders.
“I’ve known Makhaya for a while, and one thing that’s stood out is how he interacts with Thando. He’s very supportive without putting Thando under pressure. He’s not that father who sits around the field giving instructions. He lets him know he’s there,” Mahatlane said.