Eccentric, manic and extremely relentless are only some of the adjectives you could use for the enigmatic Makhaya Ntini. He not only broke new ground for black Africans across the country, he was an inspiration to an ethnic class that had always struggled to hold its own with the whites on the cricket field. His story was a fairytale at all levels, be it his humble beginnings as a cowherd in a hilly village in the Cape Province, the urban legends about him bowling with no shoes on or his sudden rise to be part of a South African pace attack with Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock at just 21. His career itself was a rollercoaster ride, but he rode it with gusto, free-spirit and an indelible smile to end up as one of the most successful fast bowlers to have donned the Protea jersey.
IF Allan Donald was famously referred to as White Lightning, then Mfuneko Ngam was Black Thunder. For some, he was the black Donald. And there were those in South Africa who dreamt of seeing Ntini and Ngam share the new-ball for the Proteas one day. Incidentally, it was Donald who Ngam replaced in the Test squad when he was fast-tracked into the side for a Test match against New Zealand at Jo’Burg in December 2000. ‘Chew’ Ngam, as he was nicknamed, resembled Michael Holding both in looks and his raw pace, snared 11 wickets at 17.18 apiece in his first three Tests and looked the real deal. Unfortunately, that’s where his international career, which lasted less than a month, stood as he never recovered from subsequent stress fractures in his legs and Ngam’s case forever remained one of what could have been.
When he first burst into the scene, Zondeki was looked at as the next Ngam in terms of being young, quick and promising. But ironically, his career would mirror that of his predecessor in more ways than one, and the lanky pacer only appeared in 6 Tests, and he continued to suffer bad luck in terms of injuries. Eventually it was his back that proved to be the real villain in the piece, as Zondeki spent more time recuperating than hustling to the crease and hurrying opposition batsmen up in the middle.
Compared to the three black-African fast bowlers who played before him, Tsotsobe was more of an honest trundler, who always seemed more effective and suited for the shorter formats of the game. He was given a run as the third seamer in the Test team for a seven-month period, but he simply couldn’t back up the efforts of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, and only appeared in 5 Tests with limited success. The emergence of Vernon Philander though made sure that Tsotsobe was back to being labelled an ODI specialist.