Only in the days of Sir Richard Hadlee has a bowler dominated an international season with the ball in quite the same way as Makhaya Ntini has done for South Africa this year. The difference between Hadlee and Ntini, however, was the lack of quality bowlers at the opposite end for New Zealand in the 1980s.
Ntini has had Pollock, Nel and Kallis in support – and more recently Dale Steyn. Yet since the team returned from Australia, Ntini has claimed an astonishing 39 wickets in five Tests at an average of 20. The rest of the team, between them, have taken 45 wickets at a cost of 44 runs each.
Ntini has collected five five-wicket hauls. The rest of the team, between them, has managed one – Steyn’s 5-47 against New Zealand in the first Test at Supersport Park.
There is a saying that great fast bowlers hunt in pairs, and that is true. Mostly. But every now and then a man comes along with the ability, stamina and mental strength to overcome the lack of wicket-taking support at the other end and still manage the get the job done.
When pressure is not being created at the other end, he has to create his own pressure and then still take the wickets. Not only has Ntini taken more wickets than anyone else this home summer, he has also bowled more overs. He has been both spearhead and workhorse, enforcer and negotiator. And his demeanour has remained unchanged throughout.
Ever the heart and spirit of the team, he has encouraged Nel through his struggles for form and fitness, placed an arm around Steyn’s shoulders and still treated Pollock as the ‘senior’ in order to convey respect in the hope that his wicket-taking days would return.
The more the season has become about Ntini, the more he has tried not to talk about himself. “Conditions were favourable,” he said with a smile yesterday, “one of the more enjoyable wickets we have bowled on.”
But the figures don’t lie. Makhaya Ntini hasn’t just carried the attack this season, he’s carried the team.
Bowling figures since returning from Australia:
Makhaya Ntini: 39 @ 20
Dale Steyn: 12 @ 27
Jacques Kallis: 9 @ 35
Shaun Pollock: 7 @ 48
Andre Nel: 7 @ 56
Nicky Boje: 7 @ 62
Andrew Hall: 2 @ 51
Ashwell Prince: 1 @ 2
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