Makhaya and the phone bill

A dozen years ago Makhaya was on his first overseas tour with the Proteas, to Australia. The first port of call, as usual, was Perth. The young man had been told about the famous pace of the WACA pitch but knew he wasn’t likely to experience it first hand during the first Test.

But that didn’t matter because the nets were even quicker than the middle and he had never experienced anything like it. He became an instant terrorist to such an extent that he was threatening to derail the top order batsmen’s preparations with a stream of quick and wild bouncers. He was a like a kid experiencing his first taste of a gourmet candy store.

As always, he wanted to bowl all the time – and did. Towards the end of the first net session a well padded Brian McMillan strode slowly and carefully into the net to have a hit. He passed a comment to the young tearaway about ‘keeping it full’ and there was ‘plenty of time for that sort of bowling to the Aussies.’

Like a puppy being teased, however, Makhaya didn’t fully understand what playing with the big boys really meant. So he immediately bounced ‘Big Mac’, squealing and whooping with delight when the big man ended up on his backside in the Western Australia dust. He had no idea of the consequences.

Half an hour later a tight jawed McMillan suggested to coach Bob Woolmer that it might be a good idea for the new kid to have a bat at the end of the session. And that he was also happy to break with convention and have a second bowling session instead of putting his enormous feet into an ice-bucket and resting his bear-sized muscles. What followed may rank as amongst the shortest – but quickest – spells McMillan ever bowled in a Proteas shirt.

“I thought he was trying to kill me,” remembers Ntini. “Actually, he was. I’m sure he was.”

“No, I just thought he would benefit as a cricketer by learning early that fast bowlers who like to bowl bouncers need to be able to look after themselves with the bat,” says Big Mac with a trademark grin. “Yeh, I gave him a couple of short ones…but you know what? He couldn’t bat, but he never walked away, or even backed away. It was impressive. I got it out of my system and we got on beautifully after that. He used to babysit my son, Josh, after that. But he used to eat Josh’s food as well as his own, so that didn’t always work. But he invited me to his wedding!”

“Big Mac taught me a valuable lesson in cricket and life, the lesson that you have to look after yourself and grow up quickly,” remembers Ntini with affection.

A day later Ntini was seen shoveling A$1 coins into a phone box almost more quickly than he could talk. It’s not cheap at a dollar a time between Australia and the Eastern Cape of SA. But what about his recently issued sponsor’s mobile phone?

“I left it behind for my girlfriend. It’s more important for her to be safe in her village,” he said.

Many things have changed in his life, but not the important stuff.

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