Firstly, reaching 100 Tests is a milestone that can not be underplayed by anyone. What Ntini has achieved in his South African career is outstanding and for that he must be commended. When looking back on his remarkable career, those who remember him as a black South African cricket do him no favours. Politics has always merged with Ntini’s career, something he has never liked, but that is the world he lives in and there was no escaping that. Ntini has been a legend in South African cricket, as a South African cricketer, and not as a black cricketer. It’s important to see his achievements for what they are and not to skewer them with politics. His stats and records stand up with all the best players and that should be the defining marks of his career, not his skin colour.
Unfortunately with all our sporting hero’s there comes a time when they aren’t able to back up their stats and career moments on the field. The passage of time catches up to us all, and for sportsmen it can be most cruel. Ntini reached a milestone in the last test that few others in world cricket have. He became the 5th South African to reach 100 caps in Test cricket. The 4 others he has joined are Gary Kirsten, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher. That’s pretty good company. However his ability to take wickets has waned over the last season and being a strike bowler that is a problem. When Pollock, Ntini’s strike bowling partner for much of his career, and indeed the most successful parts of it, began to lose pace and wicket taking ability, he was replaced with Dale Steyn. Pollock hadn’t lost his line and control, was still able to do a containing role with the ball, was able to contribute with the bat, and hadn’t lost any drive or desire, but the selectors wanted wickets – 20 wickets win Test matches. Ntini has arrived in that exact situation. His experience has helped the new generation of fast bowlers in the Protea set up, but there comes a time when he can’t do it anymore and needs to gracefully move on. He has already lost his place in the ODI squad, and perhaps the hope was that by concentrating on Test cricket, they would be able to prolong his career. But the Ntini legs have done a lot of work during his career, and while they may still be willing to run in all day, the wicket taking ability is gone.
His performance in the last Test, his 100th, followed that of the last season or so. He never stopped running in, he didn’t quit trying, but it wasn’t there. He took only 2 wickets, and one was a ball that didn’t bounce. He was out shown by debutant de Wet. With Steyn set to return this weekend the logical thing to do would be to replace Ntini with Steyn and go in with an attack of Steyn, de Wet, Morkel, Kallis and Harris. However politics do come into affect in South African cricket and there will be a call not to drop Ntini, more so for his skin colour then his form. Is that right? Would Ntini be happy with that? I don’t think so. Replacing him with Parnell or Tsotsobe would also be an idea, both would give the attack a left arm variety that would be more than useful, but de Wet did enough on debut to keep his place. It would be highly unlucky, and unfair to drop him. This being South Africa that could very well happen.
For those throwing the race card out, suggesting that dropping Ntini would be a racist move, especially as he would be replaced by a white player, for those people I would suggest they think carefully about what they are saying. There views would be racist and not the dropping of a player short of form for one in great form. By reducing Ntini to a skin colour, they are making him a token in a racial argument that has no value or baring on the situation. They are suggesting that he has only been in the team for the 100 tests he has played because he is black. They are hurting Ntini and South African cricket. Ntini has played 100 Tests because he has been a great player. He has achieved all he has because of superior ability, and despite the hurdles that have been placed before him by such racist views.
Ntini needs to be remembered as a legend of South African and world cricket. He is a black South African but that is not the reason he has been in the South African team. He should be remembered for all the joy he has brought cricket fans and whenever his career winds down, be it this weekend or years from now, the end should be celebrated for all that has come before it and not be allowed to turn into a racial argument.
Salute Ntini, a proud member of the 100 Test club, and Proudly South African.