As I sat in the blistering heat, near the boundary, in the South Stand, Ntini, between balls, signed every bat, cap and match programme held out to him. He smiled, had a word, and joked with each an every person that hung out something for him to sign. Ntini is a legend of South African cricket, and a great guy. His speed may be decreasing with age, but his smile, patience and enthusiasm have not.
However this is sport. If being a great guy was enough to keep you in a team then Ntini and Shaun Pollock would be leading the South African attack forever. The way Strauss took Ntini apart in his only 3 overs on day 2 had the Protea’s alarm bells ringing loud and clear. There were calls in the media for de Wet, the debutant who was the pick of South African pace bowlers in the first Test, to keep his place at the expense of Ntini. However Smith and the Protea selectors back Ntini and he kept his place. Whether it was sentiment, hope and true belief matters little, for Ntini is not the bowler that has lead this attack for so long. Like all mortals his time has come.
Today, day 3 of the 2nd Test, has seen Ntini bowl better than his opening spell yesterday. But he is not effective. He doesn’t look like getting a wicket, no matter how hard he tries, and with Ntini the effort is never in doubt. As Cook and Collingwood take control of the match Smith is burdened with what is really a two man attack. Kallis is not fully fit to bowl, Harris is having a rare off day, Ntini is running in to no real avail, and Steyn and Morkel have to much to do in the sweltering heat.
Whatever happens in this Test, with 2 days and a session to go, all options are still open, the Protea’s must act accordingly and realise that they are lucky mistakes were made with games still to make up. In Cape Town next week de Wet should play in place of the fading Ntini. If political reasoning bully’s selection then either Tsotsobe or Parnell must play. Sentiment has no place in professional sport, no matter how much we think it should.
Watching Ntini with the kids one hopes that he can prove people wrong and bowl South Africa to a win here. All South Africans would love to see that. But this isn’t a player short of form, this is a player who’s age, and long career, have caught up with him. The extra yards of pace aren’t going to return through will. Ntini is a legend and must be remembered as such, and not as the fading speedster who’s struggling to make an impact.