South Africa news November 2, 2010

Makhaya Ntini retires from international cricket

Makhaya Ntini, the South Africa fast bowler, has announced his retirement from international cricket but will continue representing domestic sides. Ntini will be given a farewell during the Twenty20 international between South Africa and India at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on January 9, when he will make his final appearance for South Africa.

An emotional Ntini, fighting back tears, announced his decision at a press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday. He reflected on his journey from being the first black African cricketer to play for South Africa in 1998 to becoming one of the nation's premier bowlers.

"It has been a wonderful journey for me to represent my country," Ntini said at his retirement press conference in Johannesburg. "I have so many great memories, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. My career is by no means over; it just means that internationally my time has come to hang up my boots. Domestic cricket is thriving at the moment, and I want to be a part of the set up, as a player, for as long as possible."

Ntini said he made his decision "two months ago" but only announced it on Tuesday because he has been in meetings with Cricket South Africa over his future. "I was in Port Elizabeth and thought it's time to call it a day. I can't keep waiting to end something when I don't know when it's going to end. I didn't want to be pushed out of the game."

His international career spanned 13 years and he was the first black African player to represent the country, four years after democracy. It was the completion of a journey that began when, as a 14-year-old boy who could barely speak English, Ntini was given a scholarship to Dale College. The prestigious Eastern Cape school had deep cricketing roots and was where Ntini honedhis skills and made a name for himself. Seven years later, he was picked for South Africa, achieving what many thought was impossible.

"Nobody ever thought that we as black people would be able to compete, but I've done that. I've conquered and I've been through all the cricketing countries. I left footprints, I did everything that I needed to do to show that we as black people can manage, we can do everything."

He has never shied away from being the black face of South African cricket and acting as a role model to black youth. Ntini said in his time with the national team "all the coaches and the three captains, the late Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith showed me that it's not about your colour, it's about what you can do."

Ntini always maintained the combination of coming from a rural, poor background and his race meant that he had to work harder than anyone else. "I knew that challenges that would come in the years to come and I was prepared for it. I tied my laces, I ran every day because I wanted to achieve what no one else could," said Ntini.

The hours spent practicing could all have amounted to nought when Ntini was convicted of rape two years after making his debut. He reflected on that time as the worst in his life. "I thought I would never play again. The worst badge you could put on anyone is that of a rapist." The then United Cricket Board assisted Ntini in his appeal and he was subsequently acquitted but he still had a tainted reputation that took time to mend. "Some of the people of this country believed that if you are mentioned in that way (as a rapist), you'd done it, and to win all of them back was hard."

Despite the difficulty, he managed to do just that. In 2005 and 2007, Ntini was voted South Africa's most popular sportsman of the year in the BMI Adult SportTrack Report . By then, he had also become the first South African to take 10 wickets at Lords and had claimed the best return by a South African bowler in a Test match, with 13 wickets for 132 runs against the West Indies in Trinidad.

"Taking Test wickets was the most important thing that happened to me in my life," said Ntini, who quickly added that he has no regrets about retiring before reaching the magical 400-wicket mark. "It's just one of those things that happens." Ntini retired with 390 wickets from 101 tests at an average of 28.82.

His love of cricket has not dimmed and he is committed to playing for the Warriors for "as long as they will have me." He also plans to spend his part of retirement working at his academy in Mdantsane, near East London. The academy will focus on players between the ages of seven and 24 and will seek to assist players of colour. "I am sick and tired identifying a child and putting him in an academy and six months later, we don't see him again. We need to make sure we protect the new generations of cricketers," said Ntini.

Although the academy is an independent project, Ntini is in talks with Cricket South Africa (CSA) to assimilate with their development programmes. He will also be acting as a CSA ambassador. Gerald Majola, chief executive officer of CSA said that helping Ntini cope post-retirement is part of an initiative by the body so that "Makhaya can have a career after cricket." Majola said CSA aims to assist former players in accordance with their "calibre and level of skills."

Ntini 's effervescent personality makes him an ideal representative for CSA and will also ensure that he can keep to his promise of "making sure cricket in this country does not die." Most of all, he wants to remembered as a uniter. "Makhaya is not just a name, or a person, its energy, dedication, pride, all of us together. It's Ubuntu." The word originates from African traditions and focuses on communities. Its meaning, 'I am because we are,' captures how Ntini flew the flag for the black majority in South African cricket.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent