Makhaya Ntini on Brian McMillan November 20, 2009

The incredible hulk

A mentor who you could model your game - and life - on

I remember wondering how such a heavy-set man could have the power and destruction of an elephant and the accuracy of an eagle swooping down on its prey all at the same time.

I was only a schoolboy when I watched this hulk bowling for the first time. I remember how he banged every delivery in, each ball coming in harder than the previous one, and how he was always attacking the batsmen, not letting them settle down or relax at the crease. The more I watched him, his action, his technique and his skill, the more I realised I wanted to be like Brian McMillan.

When I was still playing cricket at school and was on the fringes of the Border set-up, I used to watch Brian whenever Western Province came to play in East London. At first I just used to sit and watch him, but as I became more involved in the set-up I was able to interact with him when we played against each other.

Even though I modelled my action on Malcolm Marshall, I modelled my approach to the game and to many different aspects of life on Brian.

I used to notice how he never showed signs of being tired and how seriously he took his fitness, even though he was such a big-built man. He had a jovial manner; he was always smiling, but at the same time he made sure his team-mates and the opposition knew that he wanted to be part of the winning side. Those were character traits that I wanted to adopt, and I think I have over the years.

After making my debut against Sri Lanka, I was selected for the tour to England in 1998. I was one of the youngest members of the team, and I had to choose a mentor for the tour. I immediately selected Brian. That meant we had to train together and work on different strategies and techniques, and it was during that time that I learnt a lot from him, about things both on and off the field.

I still speak to Brian for advice regularly. The most important lessons I have learnt from him are the things outside of cricket. We both believe in training hard for ourselves but also in playing a positive role in the team. We also have a good cricket-life balance, which is essential when you are professional sportsman.

As told to Firdose Moonda, a freelance writer based in Johannesburg