South Africa introduced another talented young pacer named Lungi Ngidi at Centurion and he created an impact with pace and skill. The tall boy can hit the deck hard and has the habit of picking the wickets of big fishes. Ask Virat Kohli.
The young talent
Cricket South Africa introduced racial quotas for the national team across all three formats in an attempt to increase the number of black players in a sport still dominated by the whites. In a season, there must be an average of six black players out of which at least three must be African blacks. Because of this, most of the times, people have tended to ignore their talent when they simply suggested that a particular black player in the team is due to the new rule.
When 21-year-old Lungisani ‘Lungi’ Ngidi was named the replacement for the injured Dale Steyn for the rest of the ongoing Test series against India, on social media sites, the surprise news was more related to the racial quota system than the youngster’s potential. Yes, everybody has their own opinion but it is just not fair to ignore the player’s talent and slam him as a product of the racial rule.
It is a possibility that the Lungi Ngidi’s inclusion was not completely taken on a positive note because of his nature of being injury prone. Before Ngidi became Proteas Test Cap No. 99, he only had nine First-Class matches under his belt and a tonne of injuries, latest being the stress fracture that kept him sidelined for four months last year. He only returned to action at the end of October for the Titans, starring in a nine-wicket victory against the Lions at the Wanderers, where he finished that match with figures of 9 for 82, having picked up six wickets in the first innings. Those were his best innings and match figures in the First-Class arena.
Injuries have played spoiled-sport on more than one occasion in his career. The worst being so far when he had injured himself shortly before the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in 2014, which the South African side, led by Aiden Markram, won. However, his career graph skyrocketed when he was roped in by the Titan franchise. He was the part of the Titans team that has won the last three domestic T20 Challenge titles. In the previous edition, he picked nine scalps in 11 games and that earned him his maiden South Africa call.
Ngidi played his debut international series during South Africa’s three-T20I series against Sri Lanka last year in January. It was an impressive debut as he finished the series with six wickets, including a best of 4 for 19. That’s when he showed that he had the potential to perform at the highest level and a Test debut could be around the corner. He shared a lot of similarities in his action with South Africa’s current sensational pacer Kagiso Rabada. Like the latter, Ngidi also took a short runup and that made his action deceiving and when the batsman does not expect him to bowl quick, he had the knack to throw some surprises. His raw pace, which allowed him to strike 140-145 was an added advantage.
In his nine First-Class matches, he already has three five-wicket hauls among his 31 wickets. Even the South African Captain Faf du Plessis had not seen Ngidi play until his debut but he had heard all sorts of good things about the youngster. Ngidi was picked not in the racial quota but for his wicket-taking abilities that were quite famous among the Titans players. The Titans had watched the 21-year-old bowl and they knew he had the hunger to pick wickets. Ngidi could hit the deck hard and according to the batsmen, he could vary the ball away from the batsman or bring it back to him.
Since the starting line-up of the Proteas side already had six Titans players, Ngidi’s First-Class teammates, the latter was positively welcomed into the South African dressing room ahead of the second Test. A debut Test is special but since Ngidi made his debut at his home ground only bettered the moment for the kid. There had been enough discussions going into this series of watching Rabada and Ngidi bowl from each end and that was soon going to turn into reality. South Africa batted first so the Centurion crowd had to wait till the next day to get their local’s first action in Test cricket.
Big wicket of Kohli
Indian wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel became his maiden victim in the whites but the moment that would forever make his debut special was reserved for the final innings. South Africa set India a target of 287 with more than a day left in the Test. The Indian openers came out to bat with the series on the edge. Rabada, as usual, tested their patience before Murali Vijay finally broke. The Indian skipper Virat Kohli decided to walk out at No. 3. The dismissal brought smiles across the stadium but there did not go overboard as they knew how important the wicket of Kohli is in Test cricket, the batsman who kept India fighting in the series with his best-ever Test knock of 153 in the first innings.
Faf du Plessis handed the ball to Ngidi in the 12th over. Call it beginner’s luck or anything, Ngidi struck in his very first delivery when KL Rahul guided it to Keshav Maharaj at point.
In his next over, the youngster played mind games with Kohli. While he bowled straight lines to Pujara and in contrast to that he bowled outside off to Kohli, knowing the latter’s weakness. In his third over of the day, Ngidi bowled a series of outside offs to Kohli before he suddenly nipped it in, kept it low and trapped the skipper LBW. He obviously reviewed and the snicko showed that Kohli was not even close to flicking it to the leg side. Kohli had been trapped lbw and was left clueless. It sure was humiliating but the wicket surely made Ngidi’s Test debut unforgettable. He had dismissed the big fish and a victory in the second Test and a series win was not very far from the hosts.
“It was a dream, really. To make my debut, on my home ground, it was a dream,” Ngidi said at stumps of Day four in Centurion.