The Mak daddy

2010-10-23 00:00

THERE are icons, and then there are icons.

And then there is Makhaya Ntini, formerly of the MCC and an honoured guest at the “other MCC” in London.

Years ago, before many of his followers were even born, Ntini starred in a television advert charting his path to cricketing stardom.

Those who struggle with the technological aspects of their phones will probably recall those simpler days more readily.

Remember when the Boks were world champions, when cricket was clean and Bafana were in the world’s top 20?

It all seems like yesterday.

The first MCC in Ntini’s life was the Mdingi Cricket Club, where fielders had to negotiate their way in among oblivious cattle grazing in the outfield and concrete wickets that forced him to adapt his trademark, “wide of the crease” approach.

Yes, the herdboy from Mdingi has done good.

But Ntini says he is not done yet — far from it.

With his role in the national set-up diminished, the Mdingi Express is rolling up his sleeves for a project that he feels very strongly about.

Plans for the Makhaya Ntini Academy were revealed a few months ago, and Ntini was quick to explain that this will not merely be a passing interest.

When I met him during the Dolphins-Warriors clash at the Oval, he had to run the gauntlet of autograph-hunters, well-wishers and even curious Jack Russells, all intrigued by the presence of one of South Africa’s most admired personalities.

Kevin Pietersen may have hogged the headlines, but Ntini’s cheerful nature was lapped up by the locals.

Ntini is conscious of his standing, and explained that he plans to use this for the betterment of the next batch of Makhaya Ntinis.

“I have come the long way round, bra,” he says without a hint of the trademark grin.

Truly, Ntini has trudged the long walk to stardom.

From walking 16 km with a kitbag in tow to get a taxi to go to a match, right through to running harder than anyone else when he broke into the Proteas squad, Ntini has never shirked a bit of toil.

“I grew up tough, but I am not complaining.”

Being brought up in the rural areas by his grandparents, Ntini soon embraced the spirit of ubuntu, and he now wants to pass that on to the next generation.

“When you are the first one, you pave a way for the next guy, which means it should be easier for him to follow in your footsteps,” he explains.

Ntini’s academy is set to be an institution rooted in accountability, because those given the chance of a lifetime will have just about all the tools they need to be a success.

“Not everyone will be a Protea, but the plan is to make sure that each guy grows and learns, and when they leave they have the chance to have a career.”

The “academy way” has seen a fair few discards stuck in limbo when their time is through, and this is something that Ntini is dead set on preventing.

He insists that he will take on a hands-on role in the running of the programme.

“I will still be playing for Warriors, but I will know everything that goes on there,” he says.

The style of named academies is often that the star billing is at the launch and then hardly ever seen.

But according to Ntini, this will be his baby.

Indeed, it will be his legacy.

“This is the first academy in that area. It is the first academy by a black cricketer in this country. Of course I want this to succeed,” he says, with the steely determination back in his eyes.

The measures that he has already insisted on suggest that he is as serious as his bouncer was searing when he was in his prime.

For instance, his decision to have an indoor grass net.

“You know, you see guys go through the winter in an academy. They practice indoors on a nice hard surface. Then you put them out in the middle, on a turf wicket, and they have no idea. I don’t want that to happen to my boys,” he says.

Ntini is leaving nothing to chance.

He has already sounded out his crop of coaches, who will handle the day-to-day running.

Even they were chosen for specific reasons.

“This is not a money-making scheme,” he says matter-of-factly.

“This is about unearthing talent, and making sure that guys who wouldn’t have the chance to go far have the opportunity to make it,” he continued.

“That is how I became a professional cricketer. Someone saw something in me and decided to give me a chance.”

But with that chance, comes responsibility.

Ntini is eager to find a balance between cricket and the classroom.

“Without education, you cannot go far,” he points out.

His intake, who are likely to range in age from 13 to 18, will have to maintain their standards in the class before they take to the field.

“School comes first, and we have already spoken to schools in the area about bursaries,” Ntini reveals.

Clearly then, everything will be provided to give youngsters every chance of success.

Ntini, still as bubbly as ever, says the spirit of ubuntu that was instilled in him all those years ago is the driving force behind this major assignment.

“You know, where I come from, there is an understanding. I can not eat alone while you sit there starving.

“It’s just the way I was brought up. You look out for the guy next to you, because tomorrow you might need him to do the same for you.

“This is my legacy. I have played and I have set an example, I think. I think that I proved that if you work hard, it doesn’t matter where you come from. You can make it.”

It is this ethos that Ntini is looking to instil into the next batch of Protea hopefuls.

From Mdantsane to Maritzburg, Ntini and his scouts will search for talent and then look to provide the means to give SA cricket the next Makhaya Ntini.

In truth, of course, that will never happen, because there will never be quite another “Makkie”.

He is a once-off, and the journey that he is now taking is typical of a man who is not shy of working up a sweat.

The Makhaya Ntini Academy is set to launch at some point next year.

If the man behind it is anything to go by, it will provide South African cricket with a steady stream of potential.

The “Mak Daddy” will make sure of it.

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