Makhaya Ntini, the former South Africa paceman, has revealed he was “forever lonely” and made to feel like an outcast during his time with the international side.
Ntini was speaking on SABC Morning Live, when he highlighted some of the things he went through during his time as a South Africa player, adding that he was emboldened to speak out about his experiences due to the Black Lives Matter movement that’s gaining strength the world over.
Ntini’s comments come at a time when cricketers in South Africa are divided over their stance on the BLM movement, with Lungi Ngidi, the young pacer, facing flak for calling on CSA to support the movement.
“I was forever lonely because the first thing that comes mind is not to have someone knocking at your door and say, ‘Let’s go for dinner,’ Ntini explained. “That’s loneliness on its own. Where you will watch friends calling each other and then having plans right in front of you, and you will be skipped and they will go by themselves.
“They will have dinner, lunch, breakfast and at the same time when you walk into the breakfast room if you are the first one in the breakfast room you will see the next person that walks in, he will never come and sit next to you.
“That’s loneliness but you are playing with him in the same team together, getting into the same bus, drive all the way to the stadium and then practice at the same time and bowl to them and wear the same clothes and then we sing the same national anthem. I had to find a way to overcome this.”
Ntini, who became the first Black player to play international cricket for South Africa when he made his debut in 1998, played alongside some of the greats of the game, including Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs.
What a wicket-haul this is!?
Happy birthday, Makhaya Ntini! pic.twitter.com/ul7BkZXObi
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) July 6, 2020
He revealed how he would avoid travelling in the team bus with the rest of the squad when the marginalising became too much. “I found a way that became one of the best weapons of my life, whereby I will go to the driver of the bus early morning and then I would give him my bag and say to him, ‘I’ll meet you at the ground’. I would run to the cricket ground.
“And then the same thing on my way back, I would give the bus driver my dirty clothes and I would say, ‘I will see you at the hotel.’ I would run all the way back to the hotel. People never understood why I was doing that and I would never say to them this is why I am doing this – to avoid A, B, C, D.
“It became my best thing ever, right through my cricket career, not having to worry about someone else and telling them I will meet them at the ground, because I’m running away from that loneliness from driving from the hotel 20 minutes to the ground and driving from the ground 20 minutes to the hotel.”
Ntini highlighted other forms of subtle discrimination he would face in the team, and said the BLM movement had convinced him that the time had arrived to speak out about his experiences rather than “going to the grave with it”.
“Let me set the record straight – I have scored more T20, limited overs, first-class and Test hundreds than Boeta [Dippenaar], despite him playing longer than me. Yet, I am referred to as a ‘quota player’.”https://t.co/dMmdOFDhxM
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) July 16, 2020
“Running around taking five-fors and 10-fors and high-fiving… it’s a joyful [expression] of the pain you’ve gone through,” he said. “You wish you were collectively happy with everyone who surrounded you, and that not only in that moment are they happy for you. Then, when the team loses, you are the one who has fingers pointed at you.
“Those are the kind of things we, as players, thought we would take to the grave. Even though they were painful, you can’t run around telling people what happened to you, because there was that sense that, ‘He’s a sore loser; he didn’t appreciate what was given to him’. These little things in our minds, they also destroyed the young fellows who came after us. We didn’t want to scare them about the life coming ahead of them.
“It could never come at the right time. This is the right moment and the right time. We are still young. We are able to sit down with our own kids rather than wait until you are 65, when you tell your grandchildren.”