/ 19 April 2007

Dropping Ntini a ‘difficult decision’

Struggling South Africa fast bowler Makhaya Ntini is battling to save his Caribbean World Cup dream.

The 29-year-old was dropped from the team for the crucial Super Eights match against England in Bridgetown on Tuesday despite a Kensington Oval pitch having both pace and bounce.

It was the first time in six years that Ntini, a powerful role model at home, had been axed from the team on anything other than fitness grounds.

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith admitted it was very tough dropping Ntini, his team’s spearhead for many years but who has been struggling in the ongoing tournament with just six wickets in seven matches.

”It was a very difficult decision,” Smith said after leading his team to a crushing nine-wicket victory for a place in the semifinals.

”The discussion started after the last game. We were looking for more throughout the 50 overs. Shaun Pollock and Charl Langeveldt bowled superbly with the new ball and they are capable of changes of pace at the end.

”Makhaya’s a great team man and we’ll be reassessing before the next game.”

South Africa play their semifinal in St Lucia next Wednesday, probably against defending champions Australia, where the pitch is expected to be low and slow.

If they qualify for the final they will return to Barbados where the wicket has been favouring pacemen.

Ntini, the first black African cricketer to play for South Africa, has so far conceded 4.65 runs an over, with only one spell (2-26) against Sri Lanka in Guyana doing justice to his stature.

But Ntini, who modelled his action on that of former West Indies paceman Malcolm Marshall, has shown that he has it in him to defy heavy odds.

On his return to the squad after being falsely accused of rape in 2000, he jolted New Zealand in Bloemfontein with a six-wicket haul in the opening Test.

That Ntini had become a much-improved paceman was underlined when he became the first South African to grab 10 wickets in a Lord’s Test in 2003.

Two years later, he finished with 13 wickets against the West Indies in the Trinidad Test, the best by a South African.

Ntini was on song in the Champions Trophy in India last year as he took eight wickets, including 5-21 in six fiery overs against Pakistan at Mohali.

He has so far bagged 308 wickets in Tests and 237 in one-dayers since making his international debut in 1998.

Defending champions Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa have qualified for the World Cup semifinals. The final will be played here on April 28. – Sapa-AFP