The year was 1970. The ICC had voted to indefinitely ban South Africa from international cricket for practicing apartheid, which meant that they refused to select any colored cricketers in the national team or play against any countries other than those with white players.
After 21 long years, the African nation made a comeback on the international cricket scene in 1991, after the deconstruction of the evil, racist practice.
However, a few years later, the rainbow nation were to get a name that would soon become not only a vital cog in the cricket team but also an ambassador of the country and a ray of hope for hundreds of emerging black players, who could now think of finally giving shape to their long cherished dreams.
When Makhaya Ntini made his Test debut for South Africa in 1998 against Sri Lanka, few people who would have predicted how far he was going to go. But, after more than 10 years in international cricket and 100 Test matches, Ntini has emerged to be one of the most successful fast bowlers that South Africa have ever produced.
The story of Makhaya Ntini is a long and remarkable one. From a cowhearder, who used to walk behind his cows so that he could keep his feet warm in the pile of dung, to an emissary of the rainbow nation, the lively character has seen it all.
Even if you happen to overlook the obstacles that confront a black man in trying to act like a notable figure in a country, which until quite recently was dominated by white men, playing a hundred Tests and still have that vigour and vitality of a 20-year old is no mean achievement, whatever then the colour of your skin might be.
When Ntini was discovered as a raw talent, trying to make it to a Border Under-15 side, no black cricketer had ever represented the African nation. Though some may say that it was the pressure on the authorities to select a colored cricketer that majorly helped Ntini get into the side, his unrelenting performances over the years have silenced his critics once and for all.
Even his career has not been spotless and a major glitch on his road to fame came in 1999 when a young Ntini was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of raping a girl in the Buffalo Park Cricket Ground. The conviction was, however, overturned just six months later and the bowler was acquitted of all charges.
Not only on the field but off it as well, Ntini is one of the most loved characters by the South African people. His being voted as the country’s most popular sportsman not just once but four times in a row is a proof of just that.
Just a few days ago, Ntini was chosen as the game’s representative at the football World Cup draw in Cape Town, sharing stage with renowned names like David Beckham and Charlize Theron.
Ntini too has had his ups and downs. From trying to cope with the shift to an all-white school to the everyday beating that a fast bowler has to go through. It may not sound big but not many bowlers can boast of lasting over ten long and testing years in international cricket without suffering even a single major injury.
It is simply his grit and a strong belief in his ability that has helped him overcome the odds and emerge stronger every time.
Zeecric wishes Makhaya Ntini plenty more success in cricket.