South African all-rounder Thando Ntini wants to forge his own identity.
101 Tests, 390 wickets, and the best figures by a South African bowler, all while being his country’s first black international cricketer – Makhaya Ntini left an imposing legacy, a tough act for anyone to follow. When you’re his son and also a fast bowler, that becomes an even harder challenge.
But Thando Ntini doesn’t just want to emulate his father’s achievements - he wants to surpass them. “This World Cup is a massive opportunity to showcase my skills and show people that I can be better than him,” he said at the launch of the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup. “I have been trying to forge my own identity and make sure people know me for being myself, not being known as Makhaya’s son but being known as Thando Ntini.”
It’s a huge ambition, but even at a young age Thando has already achieved something his father never managed. “I’m the first person in my family to attend an Under 19 World Cup because my father didn’t have the chance to attend one,” he said.
Despite having a father whose importance to South African cricket is matched only by a few, Thando wasn’t always set on being a cricketer, and even when he did properly commit to the game, he did so as a batsman, and not a fast bowler.
“I kind of played almost every sport at school and then decided late on, about Grade 8 [the first year of high school], that I just wanted to play one sport and just practice in that and make sure I focussed on one thing only,” said Thando. “For me it took a big pressure off my shoulders that I can be able to express myself fully and be my own person and out of his shadow. I was originally a top-order batsman and didn’t bowl apart from in the nets. And then two years into my high school career I started fast bowling and it paid off, and I transitioned from being just a top-order batsman to being an all-rounder.”
Of his batting style, he said “I wouldn’t say I’m aggressive, I’d say I’m more laidback. It’s a touch game, I’m not a big hitter, I just nudge it round the gaps.”
His bowling style he described as “similar” to his father, with his main weapon not great pace, but movement off the pitch. He did however quickly re-state that “I could be better than him, still to find out.”
“You could say my main weapon is seaming the ball,” he said, “there could be days where I’m bowling 130 clicks, some days I’m bowling 120 depending on the body, but 99 per cent of the time my speciality is moving the ball around off the wicket.”
He must be looking forward to playing in New Zealand then, where the ball does a bit? “I’m very excited about that,” he replied, with relish in his eyes.
Ntini doesn’t seem the sort to try and hide his feelings or his ambition, even openly discussing what others might view as flaws – he said he prefers limited overs to long-form cricket because “my attention span is pretty short, it keeps me alive in the field, I can’t fall asleep”.
It’s a quality that feels more like a strength than a weakness. With all the expectation being Makhaya’s son must bring, it’s vital to be able to approach it head on, and his ability to do that is as sure a sign as any that he will be able to emerge out of his father’s shadow and perhaps even at some point surpass him.
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