South Africa news November 2, 2010

An emotional departure

Makhaya Ntini's announcement that he was hanging up his international boots brought tears to the eyes of those involved

"When my body can take no more, and my arms are broken, that's when I'll go."

Those were Makhaya Ntini's own words playing out on a video that was being screened at a Cricket South Africa (CSA) press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday. It's not surprising that there was an air of disbelief in the lavish room at Summerplace Conference Centre in the swanky suburb of Hyde Park.

Everyone could see that Makhaya looked in perfect health. So why was there a mini-film recapping all the best moments of his career? Why was the biggest loudmouth in the sport looking so pensive? Why were there tears welling up in the eyes of the man we all thought was invincible?

On the stage, Gerald Majola, the CSA chief executive, sat with his head slightly bowed. He couldn't look up, almost as though doing so would hurt too much. As Ntini approached the stage, Majola couldn't hide that something hugely significant was about to happen. His pained face gave way to a trickle of tears.

Ntini was smartly dressed in a black suit and crisp, white shirt. His tie was a striped monochrome mix. Truth be told, he could easily just have stepped off a shoot for GQ magazine. "I wasn't sure what to wear today," he said smiling. "I thought I would wear my green and gold blazer before handing it back to Gerald but then I decided not to."

It was true. His body was not broken, but he was saying goodbye to international cricket. He had prepared well for this day, because he knew the people he was breaking the news to would not take it well. He was no ordinary cricketer, he was one man who represented almost 80% of the country's population. For over a decade, Ntini had been the face and voice of black South Africans in cricket. Although he had been out of the international fold for almost a year, and a comeback had always been unlikely, he was regarded as the one of the most popular sportsmen in the land.

"I know everyone will be grumpy and ask why I am deciding to leave, but it is time," said Ntini. His voice broke as he recapped his career, but he managed a grin when he spoke about his first match. "Playing for the first time for my country was one of the most tense situations I've been in. I don't know how I got through it. I was so tense and so nervous."

He painted a picture of himself in the early years that was completely different to the one the world had become used to. Ntini was known as a natural noisemaker. That, along with bowling, was his special talent and he put it on show whether or not he felt up to it. His attitude was always that he was an entertainer and whenever he was in public he had to do just that.

His eyes grew redder as his speech went on and the tears were always on the brink of spilling over. But he also didn't want to make anyone else cry, so he quickly reassured everyone. "I'm not done yet, you'll still see me on the Warriors team and I will be involved for as long as I am allowed to make sure that cricket in this country does not die. Whatever I do, I am not going to go away from CSA and I am going to try and work with them. I was meant to be a cricketer and I was meant to be a sportsman."

That was proof that Ntini saw the people involved in cricket as his family and he wanted them to prosper. He has pledged his time to nurturing young cricketers, in the same way he was once supported. Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka, president of CSA, said he believed Ntini was a beacon of hope for many. "There are many children in SA who have the same background of you," he told Ntini. "Children who live in a universe of despair and without hope. We hope you will give them hope and tell them that there is a place for them in this game of cricket."

The president was the last to bid Ntini farewell during the official proceedings. He usually reserves Tuesdays for his medical practice, but was in attendance at the special request of Majola, who said he didn't want to handle Ntini's retirement alone."It is the greatest pleasure of my life to share in this historic moment," said Nyoka. "Makhaya is by far the best black cricketer South Africa has ever had. He did was he was not expected to do and he fought against the odds."

Majola's tears were no longer disguised. He was clearly the hardest hit by the loss of his favourite son. The usually tough CEO was not ashamed of his emotions. "Makhaya meant a lot to all of us," he explained, before going on to heap lavish praise on the fellow Eastern-Caper. "I put him in the same category as Nelson Mandela because what Nelson Mandela meant for South Africa, Makhaya meant for cricket. None of us can do what Makhaya did."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 4, 2010, 11:32 GMT

    Best bowler SA ever produce, always smiling and nice person.

  • Wolver on November 4, 2010, 7:58 GMT

    Good player, we will miss him. @ pr3m and Gopi Nath - Ntini was very good but his form has been poor over the last couple of years, averaging close on 40 against top teams, he was very exposed when playing against England when Steyn was injured. Politics does interfare far too much in SA sport, but it is a big stretch to say this is why he was dropped, if anything politics was trying to keep him there. I had hoped he would find form and make a come back, unfortunately he has closed the door on that option.

  • Vijay on November 4, 2010, 6:06 GMT

    Great spirit and wonderful bowler, always full on smile and cheerful player...

    Good luck for future Ntini :)

  • Dummy4 on November 4, 2010, 2:21 GMT

    a true hero and a true champion. felt so lucky to have him in CSK, too bad they didn't exploit his talent well.BUT he is and will forever be the PRODIGAL SON of cricket.....HATS OFF TO MAKHAYA...... good luck with your life man....

  • Gokul on November 3, 2010, 18:54 GMT

    A true sportsman. All the best for ur rest of the life.

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2010, 17:36 GMT

    Makhaya Ntini is a far bigger hero than his deeds on the field and stats can tell. Rising above the political environ in which he grew up and the discrimination his people had suffered was a far bigger battle Ntini had to wage. One needs to get that perspective to appreciate what he had achieved.

    Gerald Majola was not far off the mark when he declared with emotion "I put him in the same category as Nelson Mandela because what Nelson Mandela meant for South Africa, Makhaya meant for cricket."

    Makhaya Ntini is a beacon of hope for exploited ppl all over the world. It is a lesson that before class and talent skin color is irrelevant however much some may try to argue. It gives a glimmer of hope to all those who still suffer massive injustice across the world.

    Makhaya Ntini was a blithe spirit on the cricketing field. A pure on off character who added color (no pun intended) to the game. May his life after active playing days be one of happiness and fulfillment.

  • Sibhi on November 3, 2010, 17:16 GMT

    Forgot to mention..... You should atleast include him for the India Tour.. Common that man "Deserves" 400 Wickets :(

  • Yasir on November 3, 2010, 13:02 GMT

    You will be missed Makhaya, missed very badly...that's all I can say for I am still in disbelief.

  • Vinod on November 3, 2010, 11:36 GMT

    PLAYER WITH A BIG HEART - i started liking him just a couple of years back becos before that, i somehow failed to follow his matches and to listen to his interviews and to know who he was. now, at the moment of his retirement, he stands as one of the very few cricketers whom i really admire. heartiest congrats to Makhaya on his brilliant career as well as for his academy. hope to see him with warriors and in shorter formats at least. let him know there are permanent supporters for him with a lot of space in their hearts always reserved for him:-)

  • diren on November 3, 2010, 11:17 GMT

    Everyone remembers ntini for the bucket loads of wickets that he took for Sa but……what about "the greatest ODI single " that he scored. I was there march 2006 -the 438 game….Ntini comes to the wicket…..5runs needed to win …..brett lee ran in and delivered a 145km/h short ball that Ntini calmly steered to third man of the 2nd last ball off the 50th over to give mark boucher the strike …..boucher smashed the last ball for four to win the greatest ODI game in history……Ntini and SA celebrated that single just as much as every wicket he took

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