Makhaya Ntini’s super summer

10 May 2006

A look at the latest International Cricket Council test bowling ratings shows South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini in second place, behind only Sri Lanka’s prolific Muttiah Muralitharan. His elevation comes on the back of a sensational summer.

Ntini has been the hottest bowler in world cricket, despite facing Australia in two test series, and New Zealand in another. He has truly shown his class against the best in the world.

Roaring start
At the beginning of the summer, the Proteas faced the Aussies Down Under. In the first test, played at the WACA in Perth, Ntini got away to a roaring start, snapping up 5 for 64 in the first innings and 1 for 113 in the second innings as South Africa held the world champions to a draw.

The second test proved to be a cakewalk for the Aussies as they cantered to a 184-run victory. Ntini, though, bowled tidily, picking up 3 for 70 and 0 for 17 in eight overs.

Supremely fit, he was unfortunately injured for the final test. Without the Border paceman in the South African ranks, the Australians surged to an eight-wicket win to wrap up a two-nil series victory.

Ntini also missed out on the VB Series due to his injury but, as Proteas’ coach Mickey Arthur would later say, the break did him the world of good, and the results are hard to argue with.

In prime form
Not long after the series Down Under, Australia headed for South Africa’s shores for another showdown against Graeme Smith and company. This time, Ntini was in prime form, ready for the challenge of the world’s top ranked team.

On a below-par pitch in Cape Town, he claimed 2 for 76 and 3 for 28 as the Aussies won the first test within three days. Essentially, one good partnership for the Australians in their first innings, between Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, secured the victory as all others failed around them.

In the second test in Durban, Ntini was a little off his best form, picking up 3 for 81 and 1 for 62 as Australia secured a series-deciding 112-run win. He, however, hit back with a vengeance in the third test.

Sterling effort
At The Wanderers, Australia secured a nail-biting two-wicket victory which, had it not been for some doubtful and curious umpiring decisions, could have gone the other way. Their win came about despite a sterling effort from Ntini.

In the first innings, he felled opener Justin Langer in the first over of the game, sending the 100-test veteran to hospital and out of the contest. He also went on to remove six Australian batsmen, capturing 6 for 100.

When Australia batted again, Ntini knocked over 4 for 78 to finish with a 10-wicket haul in the match, but the series whitewash went the way of the visitors despite his sterling effort.

Making the most of the conditions
Next up, New Zealand tackled the Proteas at Supersport Park in Centurion. On a spiteful pitch, South Africa won the match by 128 runs in four days, but credit to Ntini for making the most of the conditions.

The Black Caps managed to muster 327 in their first innings to lead SA by 51 runs. Ntini’s contribution was a haul of 5 for 94.

The Proteas hit back with a fighting 299 in their second knock to give themselves a chance of victory and Ntini and Dale Steyn did the rest, working the Kiwis over with some vicious deliveries. Ntini snapped up for 5 for 51 and Steyn 5 for 47 as the visitors were bundled out for 120.

His match figures of 10 for 145 meant he had become the first South African cricketer ever to capture 10 wickets in successive tests.

Batsmen-friendly pitch
Next up, in Cape Town, a batsmen-friendly pitch saw both South Africa and New Zealand post scores of over 500. The Kiwis declared their first innings on a massive 593 for 8, thanks to a double-century from Stephen Fleming and a maiden test ton from James Franklin.

Despite the huge score, SA’s bowling cornerstone returned the fair figures of 4 for 162 in 43 overs.

South Africa posted 512 all out in reply to New Zealand’s first innings and the Black Caps reached 121 for 3 in their second innings as the game ended in a very tame draw. Ntini picked up 1 for 25 the second time around.

So, on to Johannesburg for the conclusion of the summer’s tests and again Ntini was to the fore as South Africa claimed a four-wicket victory.

Blasted through their batting
Batting first, the New Zealanders limped to 119 all out as Ntini blasted through their batting to return figures of 5 for 35 in 16 overs.

South Africa, in reply, managed only 186, so their lead looked somewhat shaky. The feisty Kiwis managed 283 in their second innings to make a game of it, with Ntini surprisingly going wicketless, conceding 44 runs in 17 overs. Nonetheless, South Africa went on to haul in the New Zealand total, reaching 220 for 6 to secure a series victory.

Ntini was named player of the series.

Summer haul
In total, during the summer, he dismissed 47 batsmen at a cost of 24.43 per wicket. Remember, his efforts came against the world’s number one team – twice – and the New Zealanders who, it has been statistically proven, have test cricket’s most efficient lower order – there are no easy wickets to be taken.

During the course of the summer, Ntini moved past the 250-test wicket mark and by the end of it, his total had reached 269 victims. At his current strike rate, and also considering his excellent fitness, and his age of 28, he should be a lock to reach the magical 300-test victims mark, and then to soar way beyond that.

It appears Makhaya Ntini is all set to become the highest wicket taker in South African test history.

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