November 18, 1999

How Mpitsang has overtaken Ntini

When he was launched five summers ago as the feared black cannon ball Makhaya Ntini was seen as the one most likely to partner Allan Donald when England next toured South Africa.

They would, so came the PRO blurb, create a heady mix: Wit Blitz (or White Lightning) and Cannon Ball Ntini. Wiping out the opposition on pitches made for the fastest of bowlers and put the wind up the opposition.

``If cannon ball don?t get you White Lightning will singe the hair under an England helmet with his blistering pace,'' was the confident prediction made.

So, England are here again and while Donald?s pace has failed to ignite thoughts of a serious scorched earth policy as the first Test looms a week off, Ntini?s own star is showing no signs of shooting into orbit either. In fact his bowling efforts at the Wanderers last weekend bore a remarkable likeness of a cardboard cut out impersonating one of the South Park characters: rowdy and aggressive and unable to take the umpire?s decisions.

Along the highway in Centurion we saw another young man: Victor Mpitsang a bowler for South Africa A, only 19 but even at this age he bowled with all the skill, care and attention of a thinking fast bowler (and, believe it or not, they do exist).

Mpitsang was most impressive: not only did his captain, Dale Benkenstein comment on how well he bowled against Sri Lanka A, both coaches were pleased with the results and the touring team?s manager, Brendon Kuruppu, one of their national selectors was moved to make a number of favourable remarks.

The point is that Mpitsang, who has emerged from the development ranks through the South Africa Youth World Cup (under19) squad of last year, has been coached the right way. Anton Ferreira and Vincent Barnes did a good job with him in January 1998 and he was worked through the system and correctly handled and advised.

He?s also a thinker; a young man who does not run up and bowl fast and furious; any Eddie Eagle cut out can do that. And it is all about bowling fast and generating outswing, some of it subtle some of it mixed with a touch of aggression. There is nothing wrong with that. It may be a season or so before he gets his chance to bowl for South Africa in a Test, but as he already zipped past Ntini in the pace stakes the young man now has all the opportunity to improve his game and develop his undoubted skills.

In the months ahead South Africa are sending a team to India and an A side to the West Indies before the visit to Sri Lanka mid-year. By then Mpitsang should, on merit, be holding down a place in the senior squad while Ntini may be lucky to get a trip to the West Indies.

Happily Mpitsang threw away his L plates in Centurion last weekend and is ready to move on, Ntini needs to re-evaluate his game and his focus.