Young Ntini carving out own path with bat and ball

Thando Ntini during the SA U-19 Tri-Series final against England at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom
Picture: Sydney Seshibedi

Son of star bowler off to U19 World Cup

Thando Ntini, the son of legendary former Proteas opening bowler Makhaya Ntini, is already on his way to building his own legacy, away from the seemingly unescapable pressures of his father’s shadow.

The 17-year-old’s demeanour is that of a humble, well-spoken and respectful young man. He displays composure and a focus that seems to be well ahead of his years.

Perhaps that is why it has come as no surprise that he has usually played in age groups above his own.

During his time at Selborne College until the end of last year, Thando managed to get into the first-team cricket side at the tender age of 15.

But it is perhaps the feat of being called up for his debut in the South African U19 cricket side that highlights his undoubted potential. How did he approach that game?

“Well it’s just about expressing yourself fully and not thinking about one’s age,” he said. “I just told myself, it’s like a normal school game and that’s how I played well.” Played well indeed. He took four wickets in his debut against the West Indies in Durban, an achievement he described as a morale booster.

“It does boost your confidence a lot, to see that you are one of the best of the best in the country just to be there.”

But he keeps his feet on the ground at the same time.

“You have to think about the next game and be humble in moving forward.”

Having been part of the SA U19 set-up since he was 16, he would have been used to hearing the selectors calling his name. But how did he feel when he was selected for the World Cup squad?

“Very excited, it’s been a good four-year journey, tough as well, with its ups and downs, but it was very pleasing to hear my name being called out”.

He has just completed Grade 11 at Wynberg Boys’ High School and his cricket development has fallen into the hands of the Western Cape.

Already having to deal with the pressure that comes with his surname, it perhaps has not helped ease matters with Western Cape Cricket Academy coach Siya Sibiya saying Ntini jnr could potentially become the “first true” black all-rounder produced by the country.

Thando, however, seemed to be unfazed and decided to draw the positives from the prediction.

“It doesn’t put too much pressure on me yet. It just helps me see that I have a support structure behind me and to see that people have faith in me to do greater things. I really do appreciate coach Sibiya’s support.”

Sibiya’s belief in Thando was justified when he was selected to play for the Cape Cobras Colts (U23) side earlier this year, a call-up Thando admits he was not expecting.

“It was a massive shock when coach Siya called me up to go on tour with his side to Potchefstroom,” he said.

He added the time playing with older players was testing but that he was determined to prove his worth.

“To play with adults is a bit tough because they take you lightly and I had to prove them wrong, showing them that I was there and meant business as well.”

Thando confessed he had faced a few challenges settling into a new environment but it had not taken long for him to feel at home.

“Well obviously, in a new environment the family is not around, so it’s a fresh start. New people, new faces, as well as new personalities, one has to adapt to. You just need to be strong mentally, it builds character as well,” he said.

“It was only tough to settle in for about the first two weeks, but after that, I felt accepted and they took me in as one of their own”

The character he speaks of also proves to be what he believes has been the greatest growth aspect of his game over the past year.

“My character has seen massive growth over the last 12 months. I really think that has had an impact on my performance.”

With the young Ntini developing into an all-rounder, he already seems to be creating his own path in the “gentlemen’s game”.

Being an allrounder, he relishes the chance to perform with both bat and ball.

“I think for me it was to start my own legacy in terms of building my name as Thando Ntini.

“Also, if you are an opening batsman and you get a first-baller, that’s your Saturday done. So I decided to at least have a second chance at something. It has worked out pretty well so far.”

He smiled, admitting he still prefered batting over bowling “any day”.

His father, who claimed 390 test wickets for South Africa, is not the only family member who has inspired Thando to play cricket.

He lists his uncle Sivuyile Mapukatha as his other cricketing role model.

“He didn’t play international or provincial cricket, but has been playing a massive role in my cricket development.” he said.

“We used to play cricket in the front yard. Play from like 9am to 6pm.”

Thando, who will begin his 2018 with the U19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand from January 13, has very simple objectives for the tournament.

“I just want to make the family proud and lift the country’s flag high. I want to make history,” he said.

When asked about where he would hope to find himself in five years’ time, he did not mince his words.

“Hopefully opening the bowling for the Proteas,” he said boldly.

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