On the Front Foot: When Ntini reaches his ton, it should be a whole new ball game

With the one-dayers finished, one sporting event is dominating the hearts and minds of South Africa. It is fair to say it is not the forthcoming Test series.

The entire country is in thrall to the 2010 World Cup. The place virtually stopped when the draw was made in Cape Town on Friday night and the enveloping gloom afterwards had nothing to do with the lousy Durban weather that caused the inevitable abandonment of the final match of the limited-overs series. As soon as Mexico were chosen as South Africa's first opponents in Group A, the groans were loud and long. When Uruguay and France followed, a sense of fatalism intruded. South Africans fear being the first host nation to be eliminated at the group stage.

As if it needed any further flattery, the World Cup is seen here as much more than a football tournament. It is an occasion which will show the planet how far this country has come. Football, they assume, is alone in being able to do that. There was a reminder at the draw, however, that it is not a footballer who most embodies the new South Africa.

It is the fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, who was one of the celebrities on stage in Cape Town. Ntini is the most famous sportsman in this country because of his stunning achievements. He went from being a sandal-clad goatherd in the old country to a great cricketer in the new one. He will make his 100th appearance for South Africa in the First Test and the firm suspicion that he is not the bowler he was does not mean anyone would dare drop him. He has 388 Test wickets and 400 is surely his objective. Incidentally, as South Africans lamented their draw, OTFF was able to offer some hope. The last host nation to have France, Mexico and Uruguay as their group opponents went on to win the tournament: England in 1966.

'Reviews' have less appeal

The International Cricket Council have staked their reputation on the so-called Decision Review System. The DRS is known to everybody else as referrals but the ICC are punctilious in avoiding the term, perceiving that it reflects badly on umpires. A review is deemed to be much less critical of their authority than a referral. Review, referral, appeal, call it what you will, it has some way to go to demonstrate its worth. Take Shivnarine Chanderpaul's dismissal in West Indies' first innings of their Second Test in Adelaide. He might have got a thin edge but hotspot, the predictive technology brought in for the purpose, was inconclusive. Australia's review was still allowed and Chanderpaul was given out on scant evidence, which hardly allayed the feeling that compensation was being made for an earlier referral that went against the Aussies.

Wright old record

England would be grateful for breaking their most enduring partnership record in the Test series. In March 1896, Hugh Bromley-Davenport and Charles Wright put on 154 for the eighth wicket at the Wanderers. It has never been surpassed against South Africa. In the same match, George Lohmann took 9 for 28, England's best figures against these opponents.

East London fish market

England, somewhat oddly, have based their Test series training camp in East London, a nondescript river port on the south coast. Ntini was born nearby but otherwise its only claim to fame is being the place where the coelanth, a fish thought to have become extinct 50 million years ago, was found still to exist in 1938.


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