Lord's, London Sunday, 3 August
Makhaya Ntini had taken more important wickets during South Africa's emphatic victory at Lord's but it was the dismissal of Stephen Harmison which brought about the most memorable moment of my summer.
As a contest the second Test was already over when a delivery from the fast bowler found the outside edge of Harmison's bat and flew towards second slip. England were eight wickets down and still needed a further 138 runs to make Graeme Smith's side bat again.
Smith, indeed, had played his part in sealing England's fate by clubbing Michael Vaughan's bowlers for 259 runs, a week after he had amassed 277 in the first Test at Edgbaston, but his heroics failed to overshadow the significance of this wicket which, after Andrew Hall had taken the catch, saw a jubilant Ntini mobbed by each of his team-mates. They knew that the former cattle-herder from Kingwilliamstown had become the first South African to take 10 wickets in a Test at the home of cricket.
Then, after 30 to 40 seconds of hugs and back-patting, Ntini broke free from the throng and walked alone to the middle of the pitch. Nobody seemed quite sure what he was about to do.
Ntini toured England in 1998 and played in two Tests but he did not make the final XI at Lord's. He was the man Darren Gough dismissed lbw at Headingley to win the series for England. This disappointment, and the fact that non-English fast bowlers may only get three opportunities to play Test cricket at Lord's, ensures that all of England's opponents are desperate to make the most of every chance they have to play there.
Playing at Lord's is different to playing at other grounds. You are aware of the history of the place and the walk through the Long Room on the first morning of a Test is as nerve-racking as any you will experience. Many fine players have struggled to cope with the pressure of the occasion but the honours boards that stand proudly in both the home and visitors' dressing-rooms are littered with the greats of the game.
Watching Ntini sprint in to bowl is a wonderful sight. He owes his athleticism to running with horses when he was young and it has allowed him to bowl long spells in high temperatures. During this match he was expensive but England had no answer to his hostility and five batsmen perished with ill-advised attempts to take on the short ball. The other five fell in a more conventional manner but it was his ability to extract life out of an excellent batting surface which won the game for his team.
After taking five wickets in England's first innings, Ntini suggested that his grandfather would sacrifice a cow to celebrate. When the 26-year-old sank to his knees with the ball in one hand, the pitch could well have been the altar. However, he just bent over and kissed the wicket before raising his hands and acknowledging the applause of a capacity crowd.
In an era when many sportsmen appear to judge their success by the amount of money it brings in, it was wonderful to witness a player realise his dream and react in such a simple and meaningful fashion. What touched me most was seeing that it still meant so much for a player to perform at cricket's most famous ground.Reuse content