Ntini finds pace and passion in cowpat career

Last Updated: Wed, Nov 03, 2010 07:43 hrs

Dubai: It is not everyday that a cricketer wants to call his autobiography 'Cowpat' but having been discovered while tending goats in his home village of Mdingi, Makhaya Ntini believes the name sums up his sporting career.

"You know what I'm going to call my book when I write my life story... I will call it 'Ubulongwe' which means 'cowpat' in my language," said Ntini, who was the first black person to play cricket for South Africa and announced his international retirement on Tuesday having taken 390 test wickets.

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"They were very important when I was a boy looking after the goats because you needed to find a fresh one to stand in to make your feet warm on the cold winter mornings."

Ntini's feet have always played a crucial part in his career.

His talent as a fast bowler was first noticed by Greg Hayes, a white coach, during a travelling development clinic in Mdingi.

"He was bowling in an old pair of 'tekkies' (training shoes) and one of the soles was about to come off completely. It made a flapping noise when he ran in. It was amazing he could even run in them," Hayes recalled about the man who would eventually become one of South Africa's most popular sportsmen.

Keen to nurture Ntini's talent, Hayes purchased a pair of bowling boots with metal spikes for the teenager. But the first time Ntini tried to land in his delivery stride at the concrete nets, he collapsed in a shower of sparks.

He immediately learned to jump to the left in order to land on the turf next to the concrete net and that eccentricity became the trademark feature of his bowling action during a career that spanned 101 test matches and 173 one-dayers.

He is determined to leave his footprint on the South African cricketing landscape.

An academy bearing his name has been in the offing since 2008 and once it is up and running, Ntini is passionate about what it might achieve for "the poor black people of my region... and for the whole of South Africa."

"We must all pull together. We don't want to hear any more about 'where are we going to find black cricketers.' We must build the facility and give talented youngsters the chance to make something of themselves, a chance they might not have had otherwise," Ntini said.

He does not, however, believe they should have to pay to have that chance -- other than in blood, sweat and tears.

"I never paid when I started my cricket career, so why would I want to do that to others? This academy is not about your parents paying a lot of money to get you in, it's about anyone, even the poorest, getting the opportunity to achieve something if they are talented."

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Ntini made friends with some of the greatest players in the world during his decade-long career and said players such as Sri Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan and Indian great Sachin Tendulkar are keen to help him.

"They say they are just a phone call away," he said.

It is testament to the psychological strength of Ntini that he overcame the stigma of being convicted for rape in 1999. The conviction was quashed and he was acquitted five months later and he used his anger to drive his performances to even greater levels.

He may never have to stand in dung again to keep his feet warm but, as the title of his book will suggest, he will never, ever forget that he once had to.

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