Ntini sets up five-wicket win for South Africa
After six Test matches spread out over nearly three years, Makhaya Ntini finally established himself as an international bowler in his own right as South Africa won the first Castle Lager/MTN Test against New Zealand by five wickets at Good year Park in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
Ntini, now 23, took six for 66 as New Zealand were bowled out for 342 in their second innings on Tuesday, leaving South Africa to make 101 to win. As straightforward as the target should have been for the home side, they made heavy weather of it, losing practically their entire top order before Mark Boucher took it upon himself to finish it off.
Three swept boundaries off successive deliveries from the leg-spinner Brooke Walker carried South Africa home and finally ended the home team's fears of a shock New Zealand victory.
In reality, though, it was never likely after Ntini had worked his way through the New Zealand lower order before and after lunch. By most estimations, the Goodyear Park had lain down and died sometime on Sunday, but Ntini, whose boundless energy can exhaust anyone in his vicinity, ran in over after over after even Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock had started to look ordinary.
The key wicket on Tuesday, however, went to Jacques Kallis rather than Ntini. Kallis scored a magnificent 160 in the South African first innings, but his fast-medium was more medium than fast during this Test match before he slowed one up even more against Craig McMillan and made a vital breakthrough 20 minutes before lunch.
McMillan, who went in on Monday evening, had taken up 272 minutes for his 78, but he failed to read Kallis and went through with his shot to give up a catch to mid on.
Ntini had had Walker caught at the wicket an hour into the morning and he came back after lunch to wrap up the tail, taking three wickets in three overs. It was a Herculean effort and he thoroughly deserved his share of the man of the match award with Kallis.
When Ntini was chosen for this and the second Test, selection convener Rushdi Magiet said that his fitness had given him the edge over Roger Telemachus. You had to be fit to keep going on that pitch, and as the New Zealanders ruefully acknowledged afterwards, if one or two or even three of the South African fast bowlers weren't coming at them, there was always the fourth to do the job.
The victory target had just enough in it for nuisance value as Daryl Tuffey finally took first three wickets in Test cricket. It was the sort of situation in which the side batting last is on a hiding to nothing - the side batting last should win easily, but the fielding team have nothing to lose by giving it a go.
And so Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Boeta Dippenaar lost their wickets before tea and Daryll Cullinan and Lance Klusener there's after the interval before Boucher finished it off.
The match, though, had been won and lost during the first innings, when South Africa built up a handsome total and New Zealand responded poorly. New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming acknowledged as much while Pollock was pleased with a performance from his side that, barring the last rites, had been polished and professional.
The fact remains, though, that New Zealand were unable to bowl South Africa out once, let alone twice and it is the bowling that is the real difference between these two teams.