Player of the Month – January

Few statements can be garnered in support of the quota system in South African cricket, and I do not presume to attempt any. But it does smack with irony that the two most outstanding cricketers of the month of January are both South African and both black. The irony stops there, however, as both Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini have not only established themselves as world class players, but have proven essential the South African match winning cause over the past month.

Sure, there is merit to the performances of Australia’s Mike Hussey and New Zealand’s Jacob Oram in limited overs cricket, and a thought to Chanderpaul’s brilliance in India, but the achievements of one-day cricket pale in comparison to the dramatic Test match achievements of South Africa at the start of this year. South Africa won three of the four Tests they played in January, including two hardfought victories to conclude series wins over India and Pakistan. And so much of the success hinged of the performance of two players. What Ntini did with the ball – inspiring his peers and ressurecting his team – Prince matched with the bat.

Very little the claim to fame of the South African lineup, Ashwell Prince is a quiet threat. Unassuming and diligent in manner of play, Prince is an overlooked talent in the South African lineup. Though the weight of his runs partnered by circumstance and impact speak volumes for the scale of his profile, Prince finds himself microscopic alongside the names of Smith, Kallis, Pollock and indeed, Ntini. Though this is not discount these players; certainly all the celebrity surrounding Ntini has come to be deserved. His spirited and wholehearted temperament has long made him a favourite among the fans, but over the past year Ntini has risen to prominence such that he may be consided the talisman of South African cricket. And at the start of this year he was met with the opportunity to spearhead his countries chase of consecutive home series victories.

The month started with match figures of 34-5-136-1 against India, but fortunes would soon be reversed in spectacular fashion. The arrival of Pakistan saw a return to form for Ntini and a continuation for Prince. Ntini’s 5-wicket haul was neatly complemented by an innings of 138 from Prince, encouraging a 104-run first innings lead, then a 7-wicket first Test win. The success left Ntini poised on historical accliam, 5 wickets short of becoming the third South African (after Donald and Pollock) to take 300 Test wickets. And he woud do so in typically clutch fashion. A burst of 6 wickets could not avenge his teams first innings showing of 124 all out, but it limited the damage inflicted by Pakistan. Nightwatchman Mohammad Sami was number 300, as familiar as ‘caught Boucher, bowled Ntini’. Pakistan went on to win the match and level the series and few surprises lay in its eventuality as the only match of the month that Prince failed to impact.

Prince, at times, seemed the lone hand of resistance in a desperately fragile batting lineup. Whilst not posing the grandeur of his ton in the first Test against Pakistan, two unbeaten innings in gritty run chases stand as equal measure if not greater. The scene was Cape Town, the opposition India and the context a series deciding 3rd Test. Entering at 132-4, Prince faced an attack finally realizing the requirements of defending a target of 211. It was not the most awe-inspiring or aesthetic display, but the crouching left-hander denied the tourists further joy of his wicket and he and Kallis added 77 of the required 79 runs in a five-wicket win. Prince’s 38 came from 103 balls, with all the glamour of two boundaries. He sensed a similar moment and symmetry to his January month when he took guard at the same venue some 22 days later. On this occasion the opposition was Pakistan and the target a lesser 161 runs, not the least due to a further 5 wickets in the match for Ntini. But in Mohammad Asif and Danish Kaneria, Pakistan presented a greater test than any of the Indian bowlers nearly a month earlier. Prince responded in the same manner, once again with Kallis at his side. A score of 59 not out was huge in the context of situation – 39 for 4 at his entry – and result – a five-wicket win.

South Africa emerged victorious in two of the most competitive Test series of recent times and sealed both results in the space of 27 days in the month of January. It was a team effort undoubtedly, and a refreshing one from a team so often characterized by choking. However, in the midst of the great expectations and celebrations, Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini stand paramount to success. Whether it is a claim to the rank of world’s best fast bowler or merely an above average impression of Mike Hussey, both merit our appreciation.

Cricket Web Players of the Month
Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini

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