Former Proteas fast bowler Makhaya Ntini has revealed the pain of loneliness and isolation he experienced during his time as a national team player.
In an interview on SABC’s Morning Live, Ntini spoke openly about being ostracised by his white teammates, and how Cricket South Africa unceremoniously cut ties with him as a player without the send-off reserved for other senior players.
Ntini spoke about how he was always alone and would run between the hotel and grounds to avoid the team bus.
“We would get to the stadium at the same time, I would bowl to them, we would wear the same clothes and sing the same national anthem. I had to find a way to overcome those things. I had to find a way, and that way turned out to be the best weapon in my life,” Ntini said.
“I would go to the driver of the bus early in the morning, and I would give him my bag. I would say to him, ‘I will meet you at the ground?’ I would put on my running shoes and run to the cricket ground. On my way back, I would give the bus driver my dirty clothes and say, ‘I’ll see you at the hotel’. I would run all the way back to the hotel.”
Ntini (43) said he couldn’t speak out about it at the time.
“I was running away from that loneliness of driving back to the hotel. If I’m sitting at the back, the rest of them are at the front,” he said. “I was forever lonely.”
“Being lonely is not having someone come knocking on your door and say let’s go for dinner. That’s loneliness on its own. You’ll watch friends calling each other, making plans right in front of you, and then you’ll be skipped. They will go along by themselves. They will have dinner, lunch and breakfast at the same time. If I was the first one in the breakfast room, the next guy will never come sit next to me.”
Ntini, who has played 101 Tests and took 390 Test wickets, said he had to step in when his son Thando also faced similar experiences of discrimination.
“I remember when they didn’t want him to be part of the under-19 camp. I had to fly from East London to sit in a meeting in Cape Town, with the doctors, the physios, the trainers. I asked them, ‘Do you want this guy to be a part of your system?’ They said, yes. Then I turned to Thando and asked him, ‘Are you injured?’ He said, ‘Dad, I’m not injured.’ I told them that if they take him to the camp and he doesn’t pass the fitness test, he will take ownership. If the stress fracture that you’re claiming that he has becomes a problem, then it’s my fault. But I want you to give him a chance, and let him prove that he’s fit enough, he’s strong enough, to be able to play for the under 19s.
“Later on he destroyed the West Indies under-19 team by himself,” Ntini added. “They called me up and asked ‘Which sangoma did you go to?’ I didn’t go to any sangoma. That’s an opportunity that you were closing to us. They said look at the bigger picture, and I responded that we’re all looking at the bigger picture.”
The right-arm fast bowler, born in Mdingi in the Eastern Cape, also said he was never afforded the same tributes reserved for retiring Proteas players, and his contract with CSA was terminated immediately after he retired.
“All of them, I watched them playing in every single city in South Africa because they were retiring. I was never given that opportunity. Mine was shut down immediately. A month later I lost my contract,” he said.
“These are things we thought we’d go to the grave with them. Even though they were painful, but at the same time you can’t go running around telling people what is happening to you because they will say you’re a sore loser who didn’t appreciate what was given to him.”
Ntini was among more than 36 former player and coaches to come out in support of fast bowler Lungi Ngidi’s comments on Black Lives Matter, after he was criticised by former Proteas Pat Symcox, Rudi Steyn and Boeta Dippenaar.
“This couldn’t have come at a better time. I think this is the right moment, the right time. We’re still young. We are able to sit down with our own kids, and we are able to reach them,” he said.