Makhaya Ntini is one of the most improved fast bowlers in world cricket and also one of the most underestimated. On this first day here he also showed the value of the experience he has gained from 32 Test matches... In his first spell, his length and line were all over the place and his first six overs cost 41 runs although he significantly found the right line when he persuaded Marcus Trescothick to edge the ball into his stumps.
When this spell came to an end he will have reflected on what had gone wrong. By the time Graeme Smith brought him back into the attack he was ready with corrective surgery. Bowling from wide of the crease, his length was now excellent and he did not give the batsmen any width to work with.
He is deceptive, too, because he makes the ball skid through on to the batsman quicker than he expects. It is no surprise to learn that he modelled himself on Malcolm Marshall. When he came back for his second spell shortly before lunch he had tempted Michael Vaughan to hook and deposit the ball into the hands of deep fine leg. There was an element of luck in this, but the ball seemed to arrive with Vaughan fractionally before he expected, which could have been the reason why he only got his top edge to it.
Ntini, who is 26, started off from the Nursery End after lunch and in his first over Alec Stewart tried to pull, hit the ball high up near the splice, a sure sign that the batsman had misjudged the pace, and was easily caught at square leg. By now, Ntini's rhythm, which had earlier been missing, had fully returned and there was an irresistible momentum about his approach to the wicket.
In his eight overs after lunch he took three wickets for 17 runs, taking his tally for the innings to five and assuring himself of a place on the honours board in the visiting dressing-room. There are many good bowlers who have failed to do that. It was a display which had shown what an experienced bowler he has become. He understood all that had gone wrong in his first spell and had the composure and the know-how to put things right.
The batsmen were now given no free offerings and he played on the nerves of batsmen who grew increasingly tense as the wickets continued to fall. One could not help making the comparison with James Anderson on that awful first day at Edgbaston when he could find neither length nor line nor rhythm. In a year or two's time when, like Ntini now, he is playing in his 33rd Test, Anderson will also be in the position to work it out for himself.
The England bowlers were also given their customary object lesson by Shaun Pollock whose first spell was exemplary: 9-4-10-1. It made him seem an old-fashioned fast bowler because he obeyed all the time-honoured first principles. His example was followed by Andrew Hall when he went through the middle order, picking up 3 for 18 in 10 overs. The South African bowling, apart from Ntini's first spell, was superbly disciplined.Reuse content