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Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Ntini reaches 100-Test milestone

First Test: South Africa v England
Dates: 16-20 December Start time: 0830 GMT Venue: SuperSport Park, Centurion Coverage: Listen to Test Match Special on BBC Radio 4 Longwave, 5 Live sports extra, the Red Button and BBC Sport website. Text commentary on BBC Sport website. Also live on Sky Sports.

Makhaya Ntini celebrates taking the wicket of Ricky Ponting in February this year
Ntini has taken 388 Test wickets since making his South Africa debut in 1998

By Joe Wilson

When South Africa take to the field for the first Test against England on Wednesday, Makhaya Ntini will be representing his homeland for the 100th time. Incredibly, he never expected to win a single cap.

Ntini claims to feel "lucky" that he was found, plucked from an unlikely source to become a Test regular while barely out of his teens. It was an incredible rise, from cattle-herder to symbol for racial equality, and would have been too much for many people, Ntini surviving the changed status in part because of his relaxed attitude.

Talking to Ntini, the humour is never absent for long. Referring to his role in the recent football World Cup draw he revealed he had questioned David Beckham over the rumour that he never wears the same underwear twice. The rumours, Ntini was able to reveal, are all lies.

Makhaya Ntini arrives in Cape Town
Ntini arrives at the football World Cup draw

But there were big things to discuss, serious matters. At Centurion, Ntini will become just the fifth South African and sixth bowler in total to reach 100 caps, it barely needs stating that he will be the first black South African to reach the landmark.

"I never thought I'd play for South Africa," the 32-year-old admitted. "Being one of the only black cricketers coming from rural areas and reaching the stage I'm at now, it's something you can't explain to anybody."

Ntini's elevation from a cattle herder in the Eastern Cape was rapid. He made history by becoming the first black cricketer to represent South Africa in a Test when he appeared aged 20 in 1998.

And although black cricketers might not have represented South Africa in the numbers hoped for, Ntini's inclusion and success set a platform that would enable Ashwell Prince to become the country's first black captain in 2006.

Ntini's importance cannot be overstated, according to former England captain Michael Vaughan.

Ntini proud to reach 100 not out

"Nelson Mandela has made the biggest change in South Africa," Vaughan told me. "But Makhaya can say he's made the biggest change in terms of cricket.

"He's been questioned for the majority of his career, a lot to do with the race side; was it his colour or the fact that he deserved to be in the side?

"But he's fully justified playing in the South African side for many, many years."

For Ntini it seems clear the quota system has worked. The controversial system that saw teams pick four "players of colour" was introduced to help redress years of racial discrimination, but also led to some white players being denied their chance, Kevin Pietersen notably quitting South African cricket for England.

Ntini though is unequivocal. "It has made us become one family," he said.

But with Ntini moving into the twilight of his career, are there other players from similar backgrounds to be found?

606: DEBATE
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"If I can take you to where I come from there is only one thing you will see in each and every street," he said. "Every single kid will be carrying a cricket bat, even if it's not a proper cricket bat!"

If that's the inspirational power of Ntini's career, then South Africa owes him an enormous debt. But we are still waiting for the real evidence - black players taking their place in the national side in significant numbers.

However, his are big boots to fill. He requires just 12 wickets to reach 400, 17 to enter the top 10 Test wicket takers and 34 to surpass Shaun Pollock as his country's leading Test wicket taker of all time.

I wondered if I was to come back in five years whether I'd see more black players representing South Africa.

"Without a doubt," Ntini answered. "Especially if I retire and take over."

Given his achievements to date, that suggestion made half in jest might be one South Africa's cricket authorities would do well not to ignore.

Happy 100th, Makhaya.



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