Lungi Ngidi has one simple wish after making a sensational Test debut for South Africa.
“I’d like this to be a long career,” he said on Wednesday after picking up the man of the match award in the second Test against India at SuperSport Park.
Given his history with injuries, it is hardly a surprising ambition for the strapping 21-year-old.
Ngidi impressed in the first innings with a direct-hit run-out and some high-paced bowling, even though he only picked up one wicket. He came into his own with six for 39 in the second innings to bowl South Africa to a 135-run win.
Ngidi was something of an experimental selection when he played in three Twenty20 internationals against Sri Lanka almost exactly a year ago. But he got people talking when he took two for 12 and four for 19 in his first two matches.
Then, in the third game, he dived in the field and suffered a tear to his abdominal wall. He missed a one-day series and a tour of New Zealand but travelled with the South Africa A team on a tour of England in June. He played in three one-day games and was then diagnosed with a stress fracture of the back.
History is littered with promising young fast bowlers who have had their careers ruined by stress fractures but Ngidi believes he has come back fitter, stronger and wiser.
“I know many people talk about how injuries have affected me in the past,” he said. “I feel like this is a new start. In the past I didn’t know what I was doing to be honest but now I have found my feet, the right path that I am going down and the right formula for me as a cricketer.”
That formula involved months in the gym and on a physiotherapist’s table, a diet and lifestyle change which saw him lose eight kilograms – and what he described as “a few hard chats behind closed doors” with his Titans franchise coach, former Test wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.
Kohli wicket ‘very special’
“I got a lot of time to reflect and get to know myself as a person, and I got through it. I am a lot stronger than I thought I was,” he said.
A speed gun at Centurion timed one delivery at 150.5 kmh and he was able to bowl consistently in the 140s. He thought he had trapped Virat Kohli leg before wicket in the first innings but a faint inside edge saved the Indian captain.
There was no reprieve for Kohli in the second innings when he was dismissed by a similar delivery. “The captain’s wicket was a very special moment. I felt like I had worked hard and sort of figured out a game plan for bowling towards him.”
Like his new team-mate, Kagiso Rabada, Ngidi went to one of South Africa’s leading private schools. Rabada was at St Stithians in Johannesburg, Ngidi attended Hilton College near Pietermaritzburg, the alma mater of Mike Procter among 11 other Test players before Ngidi.
Ngidi was lured to Pretoria to attend Pretoria University, where he is studying for a labour law degree. It is also home to South Africa’s cricket academy, so he can study and improve his cricket at the same time.
South African captain Faf du Plessis said he was impressed with Ngidi’s maturity. “I was incredibly impressed with his control. When guys come into the team it’s important to make them feel they belong.
“But for them to perform they need mature heads on their shoulders (so) they don’t see the occasion as too big, they just see it as another game where they can perform. Not ever when I looked at Lungi did I see any nerves, he was really calm, he just wanted to bowl.”