With his good-natured smile he charmed his way into the hearts of South Africans – Makhaya Ntini (33) was a role model for all SA youngsters from humble backgrounds who dreamt of making it to the top in sport.
In 1998 he became the first black player selected for the national squad after apartheid. Twelve years later, on 9 January this year, Ntini took to the pitch for the last time in Proteas colours to play against India in front of a crowd of 50 000 at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
The Mdingi Express might have retired officially from international cricket but his impact on the game will live on.
“It has been a wonderful journey to represent my country. I have so many great memories, which I will carry with me,” he says.
He’ll continue to play for the Warriors in PE and he’ll focus on his cricket academy in Mdantsane, near East London.
His talent was discovered by Border cricket development officer Raymond Booi in the village of Mdingi in the Eastern Cape. When Booi placed the small red ball in the young herdboy’s hands he knew he’d struck gold. He was stunned when the teenager hurled the ball at the wickets at lightning speed.
He described his find as “young, rough and wild but exceptionally fast” and organised to have Ntini enrolled at Dale College in King William’s Town. When the 14-year-old arrived for his first day at school he couldn’t speak a word of English.
1999 was a dark year. He was convicted of raping a woman at East London’s Buffalo Park Cricket Grounds. The verdict was overturned on appeal.
Those days must seem distant to Ntini. He’s since concentrated on a career punctuated by records.
Overall Ntini has taken 266 wickets in 173 one-day matches, at an average of 24,65 runs a wicket. He’s played in 101 Tests and hauled in 390 wickets, at an average of 28,82 a wicket – second only to Shaun Pollock.
Yet Ntini remains modest. “I simply want to thank everyone for their support. I love my fans. Thank you very much for every-thing.”
Read all about this remarkable sportsman in YOU, 20 January 2011.