South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Durban, 2nd day December 27, 2009

Ordinary Ntini falls into the spotlight

The pressure will be squarely on Makhaya Ntini during the third day in Durban with questions growing about his future

The pressure will be squarely on Makhaya Ntini during the third day in Durban with questions growing about his future following another below-par display with the ball. His opening three-over spell was dispatched for 25 runs, largely by a rampant Andrew Strauss, and he wasn't called on again by Graeme Smith before bad light and rain ended play.

The debut performance of Friedel de Wet in the first Test, when he took 4 for 55 in the second innings to bowl South Africa to the brink of victory on the final day, has added to the increasing talk about Ntini's place in the line-up. De Wet was dropped for this match with a fit-again Dale Steyn back in the fold, but his full-length approach would have been ideal in the swinging and seaming conditions on offer, instead of Ntini's hit-the-deck style.

Given his tremendous Test record of 390 wickets at 28.53, Ntini understandably has the backing of Smith and coach Mickey Arthur, but at some stage in the very near future he is going to have to reward that faith with performance. Of course, there is also the blurred line between cricketing and political reasoning which comes with Ntini's position, and that has the potential to cloud the issue.

Ntini managed just two wickets in the opening Test, which marked his 100th appearance amid an emotional atmosphere, and he was unable to claim the final wicket when entrusted with the last over of the match, ahead of de Wet. During his short opening spell on the second afternoon in Durban he was taken for three boundaries in four balls by Strauss, a pull, a drive and a cut, as he struggled to find the correct line. Bowling to left-handers has historically been Ntini's strength, but the concerns are growing that he has lost the edge needed for Test cricket, although his team-mates don't believe that.

"He wasn't in the best form of his life today but that's part of being a sportsman, you don't always play very well," said AB de Villiers. "He'll definitely be back tomorrow the way I know him, hitting the good areas and hopefully picking up some wickets. He's still fine, he's a strong individual."

Ntini's role in this match has taken on increasing importance because Steyn is returning from nearly a month without bowling following his hamstring injury. Jacques Kallis is also still only operating off a shortened run-up following his rib problem, and was comfortably dealt with during a two-over spell. Morne Morkel is currently South Africa's most dangerous option, closely followed by the unlikely threat of Paul Harris's left-arm spin.

However, none of the home attack escaped the wrath of Arthur after a slipshod opening effort allowed England to race out of the blocks in their first innings. South Africa had wrestled the advantage after Steyn's 47 from No. 10, which formed a final-wicket stand of 58 with Ntini, but a succession of loose deliveries allowed Strauss to launch England's reply at five-an-over.

"Mickey did come pretty hard and said we aren't really executing the basics very well," said de Villiers. "We were a little too short and will certainly try to go fuller tomorrow. I won't go into details but there were a few harsh words in that short [rain] break.

"Our bowlers were very slow to adapt. We bowled a lot better in the final half-an-hour, Morkel is in good form and it's good to have Dale back, but we were definitely slow to adapt. We were very poor in the first ten overs and the plan tomorrow will be to get the run-rate down."

South Africa's batsmen haven't been shy of criticising their bowlers when they feel they have let the side down, with Jacques Kallis offering a similarly stinging view after the second day at Centurion when England eased to 88 for 1. The home side's response was impressive on that occasion as they secured a useful first-innings lead. Right now, they are expected to produce a similar turnaround.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jeff on January 1, 2010, 20:37 GMT

    Ntini has been a wonderful servant for South African cricket.However, when your time is up it is time to go. I hope South Africa do not make the mistake Aistralia did with JasonGillespie in 2005.

  • Nahim on January 1, 2010, 18:09 GMT

    Much of the Ntini debate seems to implicitly assume that dropping Ntini would automatically mean the end of his career. He is still 32, and one of the fittest players around! Dropping him for a couple of matches now, when he is clearly ineffective, would give him time to work on his problems and perhaps return with a few more weapons in his armoury to make up for the loss of pace. Keeping him in the Newlands squad now would send all the wrong signals and perhaps even prompt Ntini to retire prematurely in the face of all the media pressure.

  • Fitzherbert on December 29, 2009, 16:47 GMT

    Form is temporary, class is permanent. Ntini has been written off so many times and yet he has bounced back. How did De wet supersede the left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe who averages 19.0 in one day internationals including 4 for 50 against Australia? What is South Africa's selection policy? Sentiment will always cloud Ntini's selection if other deserving players of colour like Tsotsobe are not given a fair run. Morkel was not very penetrative in the first test and Steyn was a huge disappointment in this test. Yet all the calls are for the head of a man who has taken 390 wickets at 28.53. If their failure in this test is solely his fault then what are the younger bowlers being paid for? South Africa must practise inclusiveness and avoid going back to the type of teams that do not reflect the environment in which they live. If Ntini has to go Tsotsobe must replace him. He has a better first class average than De wet and an impressive ODI average.

  • Tomek on December 28, 2009, 9:07 GMT

    Although I would agree that a more ruthless approach is necessary in these things there are also mistakes made there. Shaun Pollock I believe was shifted too soon, on the basis that there was all this pace coming on up, Andre Nel I believe was an example at that time and how long did he last. Ntini is and has always been a very fit individual and I believe has earned the right to have a few games to get 'it' back.

    Just a side note, uknsaunders mentioned Australia's recent ruthlessness. I believe that may be a little incorrect. I would suggest that most Australian (non-one-eyed) cricket fans would tell you that if they'd been allowed to pick the side, Australia would have the Ashes in hand right now. The only ruthlessness I've seen displayed by the Aussie selectors recently is a ruthless desire to hold onto their very well paid part-time jobs. And considering some of their appalling decision making I have no idea how they succeeded.

  • Mohammad Mahfuzul on December 28, 2009, 6:31 GMT

    SA dropping Parnell from the squad is puzzling. The fact that Ntini is playing ahead of de Wet in such a vital test is the kind of mindset SA have and the only reason why SA won't rule world cricket despite having all the ingredients to do so.

  • nicholas on December 27, 2009, 19:42 GMT

    Ntini is living on borrowed time. South Africa tend to have a very conservative approach to selection and I certainly think it was a mistake to retain Ntini - not that England will mind. Australia and even England have been far more ruthless in recent years. Take Hoggards dropping in NZ, it was rumoured he had lost his "nip" for a while but England didn't muck around and went on to win the series. SA need to take the hard decisions soon otherwise they could lose the series.

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