Kolkata: Centurion, Johannesburg, Cape Town - venues which do not usher in great memories for the Indian cricket fan. The last visit by Virat Kohli & Co saw a resilient performance as they won in Johannesburg but lost the series 2-1, and Makhaya Ntini feels the visitors could be in with their best chance to buck the trend this time.
Ntini, a pathbreaker in South African cricket and one of their greatest fast bowlers since their return to mainstream from the apartheid era, is all keyed up for what he feels will be a ‘big series,’ starting with the Boxing Day Test at Supersport Park in Centurion. ‘‘It’s a fact that India have never won a Test series in South Africa, but we are a team in transition now. The batting looks thin on experience after the retirement of the likes Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla with Dean Elgar, the Test captain and most experienced batter, having an experience of playing 60-odd Tests. They will be up against a strong Indian pace attack this time,’’ said Ntini, who finished with 390 Test wickets from 101 matches.
Quite a cult figure in their country’s cricket as he was the first coloured cricketer to be a part of the senior national squad in 1998, Ntini felt during an exclusive interview with Gulf News on zoom that the five-member Indian pace attack is rich on variety while their batters are seasoned customers on overseas conditions. ‘‘During our time, they had two seamers in (Javagal) Srinath and (Venkatesh) Prasad. Then came Zaheer Khan, but he was also not express. But now, you have got bowlers can hit 140 clicks and can swing the ball through the air - wickets in South Africa are going to suit them and our batters have to keep it in mind.
‘‘Kagiso Rabada, our main bowler, is not much of a swing bowler but a banger of the cricket ball, Lungi Ngidi can bring the ball back to the right-handed batsmen while Anrich Nortje (set to miss the first Test due to injury) relies solely on pace,’’ explained Ntini, who had formed a lethal pair in the past with the likes of Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn and had been a part of emphatic series wins against India at home in 2001 and 2006-’07.
Duanne Olivier, a former Kolpak player who has been recalled to stand in for Nortje, can be quite quick off the wicket and Ntini feels he can provide adequate support to the main strike pair of Rabada and Ngidi. “In the art of fast bowling, it’s always important to know what’s your follow-up delivery and our bowlers often lack that,’’ he felt.
While Ntini agreed that Indian batting revolves a lot around skipper Kohli, who was in heady form during the 2018 tour, he feels their top order batsmen have a a lot of class wealth of experience - with someone like Cheteshwar Pujara coming back for his fourth tour of the rainbow nation. He seemed to hold Pujara in high esteem notwithstanding the latter’s prolonged lean form as he said: ‘‘Pujara can really stick around, he did it in England, Australia while KL Rahul is another batsman who is a delight to watch. The Indians have been always wonderful stroke players and now, they can cut and pull - strokes which are bread and butter on these wickets.’’
The longevity of Ntini’s career, which spanned from 1998 to 2010, was an enviable one. How does he see the likes of Rabada and Ngidi shaping up to carry on his legacy?
Breaking into almost a smug smile, Ntini said: ‘‘The only thing they need to do is to challenge themselves in order to be effective in Test matches. They play a lot of 50-overs matches and T20 series but if you see, they hardly play as many Test matches. During our time, we used to go on a tour of England for say three months, play five Tests and seven ODIs. Now, the trend is if they visit India, they would probably two Test matches at a gap of two days and spend playing white ball series the rest of the time.
‘‘The idea is they need to be ready to bowl a first spell of 10 overs and then at the same speed with an old ball throughout the day. I needed to run 15 kms a week to keep my body in shape and that’s the only way,’’ he added.
Ntini keen on opening academy in Dubai
Ntini, now 44 and employee in the Ministry of Sport of the federal government of South Africa, is quite keen on joining the big names in starting a signature pace academy in Dubai. ‘‘It’s an exciting idea and I have been talking to a number of people about it. I would really like to create a footprint by having an academy in the Middle East for the pace bowlers.
‘‘Look at Afghanistan, they are developing fast bowlers nicely. UAE has grown in stature as a cricket venue and did a great job in hosting the World Cup,’’ he felt.
When pointed out that a number of renowned international stars had launched their academies in Dubai in the past but then didn’t spend enough time to nurture them, Ntini promised: ‘‘No, I plan to be as hands-on as I can. I don’t want to be a billboard and will spend a considerable time there. I had been a part of the MRF Pace Foundation with the great Dennis Lillee and can groom young fast bowlers. It need be necessarily just a pace academy but a combination of all as you need batters too at a pace foundation. Otherwise, how will these fast bowlers test themselves?’’