Peter Robinson

Ntini takes a step forward

2005-04-19 08:00

Was Makhaya Ntini given enough credit for his contribution to South Africa's second Test victory in Trinidad?

Going further, did the South African team get enough credit for prevailing in what was as hard-fought a Test match as you could ask for?

On balance, I think not. There was acclaim for Ntini and the South African triumph, but it all seemed slightly muted, particularly in the newspapers.

Budgetary restraints may have contributed to this in part, as well as the continuing, and completely senseless, controversy over Stuart Baxter's competence to coach Bafana Bafana and the mess South African rugby has made of the fifth Super 14 franchise.

Add to this the fact that the South African team had a miserable 2004 as well as losing to England this summer and the row that deprived the West Indies of their best team for the first Test and you create a climate in which a considerable victory is greeted with less than whole-hearted enthusiasm.

For it was a considerable victory as well as being Ntini's greatest achievement on a cricket pitch. He probably won't better these figures for the simple reason that 13 wickets in a match don't come around all that often, but the second Test match marked an important step forward for him.

In the absence of Shaun Pollock, of which more later, Ntini led the attack, bowling with vigour, control and intelligence. He has often been categorized as a willing trier, a workhouse whose fitness and enthusiasm outweigh his other qualities.

Relentless through two innings

In Trinidad, though, he set up batsmen to knock them over.

He has limitations, but this is not a criticism. He has worked out how to employ an unorthodox action to its best effect and he was relentless through two innings.

His fitness was a factor on the last morning when he knocked over the West Indies tail, but he bowled with brains as well as strength.

Perhaps for the first time he led the South African attack. Perhaps in the circumstances he had to. Andre Nel was a little out of sorts and Monde Zondeki seemed a little overawed by the occasion.

Zondeki remains something of an enigma. He's quick, but there are moments when you feel he's too self-contained. Too placid, in fact.

You'd like to see him bowl with of Nel's mongrel. It might not be a bad idea to room the two of them together.

Pollock should have arrived in the Caribbean in time for the third Test.

There shouldn't be any debate about playing him. He might be something short of complete match-fitness, but he's not going to get fitter watching from the stands in Barbados.

If South Africa want him to have an effect on the fourth Test and in the one-dayers, they need to play him in Barbados.

It would also be remiss not to mention Graeme Smith's contribution. He made 148 in the first innings and 41 in the second without ever looking really in. That's the sign of a good player, one who can make runs when he's out of touch.

There's one simply truth about professional sport, and that is that it's better to play badly and win than play well and lose.

Smith, like Ntini, took a step forward in Trinidad.

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