SA look to ‘Makkie’ again

2009-12-16 00:00

IN the history of South African sport, today will mark one of the most auspicious occasions for the new South Africa.

The poster boy for black cricket, Makhaya Ntini, will join an elite band of cricketers this morning when he earns his 100th Test cap in the first rubber against England at Centurion.

Ntini, who has enjoyed the most remarkable of careers, has seen his powers go into decline of late, but there was simply no way that he would be left stranded on 99 caps. His contribution alone has guaranteed him legendary status in the history books, and the Mdingi Express will be eager to charge up the engine one last time against the old enemy.

His form in the domestic game has not been especially encouraging, but he was written off in the same manner ahead of last year’s tour to Australia.

Despite being seen as the weak link, Ntini performed with distinction, snaring key wickets and producing control when Graeme Smith needed it.

They will need it this week, as the England side that faces the Proteas has none of the timid tendencies of tourists that came before them.

Call it the influence of a number of “boytjies” in their ranks, but Andrew Strauss’ men have shown that they are not shy of going toe to toe against Smith’s charges.

Strauss himself has shown some bold stances, notably when he denied Smith a runner in the Champions Trophy at the very same ground.

That will not be forgotten, and in the unforgiving glare of five-day cricket, there will be no place to shy away from what should be a fierce affair.

The tourists’ batting card is full of runs, and not half short of bravado, too.

Kevin Pietersen is primed for a big knock on the big stage, and the emergence of fellow “turncoat” Jonathan Trott has probably relieved him of some of the pressure.

Trott’s start to international cricket has been just as remarkable as KP’s, if not quite as spectacular.

Trott, Strauss and Pietersen will form a strong backbone, and they will be eager to have a go at a South African attack short of confidence.

It is a funny old game, cricket.

Just the other day, the Proteas were supposedly on the way to world dominance.

A few failed limited-overs campaigns later, and they look like a team at a crossroads.

South Africa’s biggest problem in ODI cricket has been their predictability.

Sadly, that looks like the buzzword ahead of this Test match too.

They will rely heavily on the star-studded batting line-up, but they will cross fingers that Smith wins the all important toss.

The wet weather found its way up north, and what juice is on the Centurion strip will have to be extracted early by a home attack short of options.

Jacques Kallis playing as a batsman only means JP Duminy will do a lot more bowling than before, and he already has other things on his mind.

The left-hander was bullish this week, saying he was ready to take on England’s short-ball tactics against him. He will know, though, that he can only prove it out in the middle.

It is the rarest of occasions, but also the most common for this South African side.

Yet again they have to prove themselves. Mickey Arthur’s future as a coach has been increasingly questioned in light of recent, disappointing results.

It is the reality of life at the top. The climb is long, arduous but very rewarding. But the inevitable fall can be extremely sudden.

Arthur will not be judged on just one Test, but he and Smith will know just how crucial a good start is. Come 10.30 am today, Smith will be hoping to hand the ball to his faithful Mdingi Express, and let the rest take care of itself.

Ntini, for all his years of sterling service, will want to mark this occasion with another defiant performance of character and skill.

Now, for the hundredth time, his country needs him to be at his potent best.

 

South Africa (probable):Graeme Smith (capt), Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini.

England (probable): Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Graham Onions.

 

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